It may not be pleasant, but the ability to feel pain is essential for our safety and wellbeing. It’s like a red flag, warning us that something is not right. For example, if you put your hand on a hot burner, it’s the intense sensation of pain that tells you to move away immediately.
Sometimes, though, pain is not so helpful. Rather than a red flag, for people with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the sensation can feel like an airhorn ceaselessly blasting day and night. That’s not to mention other RA symptoms like stiffness and swelling. With the body constantly on alert and uncomfortable, it’s no surprise people with RA often feel chronically fatigued and weak and may not be able to partake in or enjoy life as much as they’d like. This, in addition to the psychological effects of chronic pain, can also cause depression and anxiety, presenting even more challenges.
I know, we’re off to a grim start. But there is good news. CBD may be able to help RA sufferers get their life back. Here’s what you should know about RA, the causes, and how CBD can help.
WHAT IS RA?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RA is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease. The immune system is responsible for mitigating threats to our health, but in people with autoimmune diseases, the immune system perceives healthy cells as a threat and attacks them by mistake. This can trigger immune responses, such as inflammation (swelling), that causes pain and stiffness.
There are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis that can affect different parts of the body. But pain is one element they all have in common. RA, in particular, mostly affects the joints, specifically the synovium, or the lining in the membranes around your joints. It occurs most often in the hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It can also affect organs, like the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, as well as the eyes and skin.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the inflammation caused by RA thickens the synovium. Over time, this can erode the joint cartilage and bone and cause surrounding ligaments and tendons to weaken and stretch. This can lead to deformity, making it even more difficult to use the joint.
WHAT CAUSES RA?
So you know RA is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells. But why? Well, the short answer is, no one knows for sure, at least not yet. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, doctors think genetics, specifically the HLA (human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes, is one likely culprit. While genes can’t cause RA, they may make you more susceptible to it.
According to the CDC, other risk factors include:
- Age: People of all ages can get RA, but it is more prevalent among older adults, especially those in their sixties and older.
- Sex: RA is significantly more common in women than in men.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking can increase your risk of developing RA and make it worse. Secondhand smoke exposure can also increase your risk.
- Not having children: Women who have given birth may be less likely to develop RA compared to those who have never given birth. Breastfeeding may further decrease the risk.
- Obesity: Research indicates people who are obese are at higher risk.
So, what can you do to avoid getting RA? While there’s no surefire way to prevent it, especially if you have a family history of the disease, living a healthy lifestyle (i.e., don’t smoke and try to maintain a healthy weight) may reduce your risk.
If you do get RA, there are ways to manage symptoms and slow disease progression. Prescription treatments include medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological response modifiers. Of course, many people use CBD to support their bodies too.
HOW CAN YOU USE CBD FOR ARTHRITIS?
Studies have found most people who use CBD products do so to help with the symptoms of a medical condition, such as chronic pain or arthritis. According to a survey by the Arthritis Foundation, a vast majority of respondents have used, are currently using, or are considering trying CBD for pain relief and arthritis management. And nearly 90% of those who currently use it do so every day or several times a week.
Here’s why it works:
The body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for a range of bodily functions, including pain sensation and immune function. Compounds called endocannabinoids act as messengers (neurotransmitters). There are two types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. Most CB1 receptors are associated with neurological functions such as mood, cognition, memory, and appetite. But CB2 receptors have more to do with the immune system, including the body’s response to pain and inflammation (e.g., RA).
People use CBD to support their bodies during arthritic attacks because it has a positive influence on CB2 receptors. CBD specifically stimulates cannabinoid production in the body, which can support the body’s immune system and help you have a more healthy reaction to the inflammatory response.
Many also use CBD for arthritis topically by applying it directly to sore joints (rather than ingesting it). When you apply a CBD oil, cream, or lotion, it can have essentially the same effect: it helps the body have a healthy response to damage and inflammation.
Research confirms what many RA-sufferers already know about the benefits of CBD for arthritis. A study published in the journal Pain in 2017, for example, found CBD prevented and reduced osteoarthritis pain and joint neuropathy by reducing inflammation and protecting the nerves.
The FDA hasn’t approved CBD for use with RA or any other condition. We can’t guarantee results.
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with RA or another condition that causes inflammation and pain, CBD is a safe, natural supplement to help you feel good and stay active.