Complementary treatments and arthritis – from turmeric to cannabis oil
People use complementary medicine for many different reasons, including:
- wanting to use more natural treatments
- their symptoms aren’t fully controlled by conventional medicine.
Read more about complementary therapies which can help to ease the symptoms of arthritis, from yoga to meditation.
Are they right for me?
As with all complementary treatments, different things work for different people and it isn’t possible to predict which might be the most useful or effective.
There are some key points to consider if you’re thinking about using any complementary treatments.
- What are you hoping to achieve? Pain relief? More energy? Better sleep? Reduction in medication?
- What are the financial costs?
- Is there any evidence for their effectiveness?
Are complementary medicines safe?
Complementary medicines are relatively safe, although you should always talk to your doctor before you start any new treatment.
In specific cases they may not be recommended, for example, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or they may interact with certain medication.
A starter for five
Here we share a spotlight on the most popular complementary medicines that people call our helpline about.
It’s thought that turmeric can possibly reduce inflammation, which could help people with arthritis.
People with knee osteoarthritis who took part in a research trial reported improvements to their pain levels after taking turmeric. The evidence is limited however, as it is from just one trial. What evidence there is suggested that people only had minor side-effects after taking turmeric.
Turmeric can be bought from health food shops, pharmacies and supermarkets in the form of powder.
Glucosamine sulphate and glucosamine hydrochloride are nutritional supplements. Animal studies have found that glucosamine can both delay the breakdown of and repair damaged cartilage.
The results for the use of glucosamine for osteoarthritis are mixed and the size of the effect is modest. There’s some evidence that more recent trials and those using higher-quality methods are less likely to show a benefit.
Capsaicin is taken from chilli peppers. It works mainly by reducing Substance P, a pain transmitter in your nerves. Results from randomised controlled trials assessing its role in treating osteoarthritis suggest that it can be effective in reducing pain and tenderness in affected joints, and it has no major safety problems. Evidence for its effectiveness for fibromyalgia is related to a single trial.
Other names: Axsain®, Zacin®, chilli, pepper gel, cayenne
Capsaicin is licensed in the UK for osteoarthritis and you can get it on prescription in the form of gels, creams and plasters.
There are no major safety concerns in applying capsaicin gel/cream. A review of capsaicin applied to the skin to treat chronic pain (not specifically related to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia) concluded that around one third of people experience a reaction around the area where the treatment is applied. It’s important to keep capsaicin away from your eyes, mouth and open wounds because it will cause irritation. There have been no reported drug interactions.
Fish oils are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Fish liver oil is also a rich source of vitamin A (a strong antioxidant) and vitamin D (which is important for maintaining healthy joints).
Evidence suggests that fish body oil can improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Unconfirmed evidence also suggests a combination of fish body and liver oils might also be useful in the long term, particularly in reducing the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). There isn’t enough evidence for the use of fish liver oil for osteoarthritis.
Omega-3 fatty acids also play a role in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood, so they can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in people with inflammatory arthritis.
In the UK, dietary guidelines recommend eating two portions of fish a week, including one oily. Fish oil is considered to be well tolerated at this dose.
At the correct doses, side-effects are usually minor and uncommon.
Cannabis oil (CBD)
CBD is type of cannabinoid – a natural substance extracted from the cannabis plant and often mixed with an oil (such as coconut or hemp) to create CBD oil. It does not contain the psychoactive compound called tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) which is associated with the feeling of being ‘high’.
Research in cannabinoids over the years suggests that they can be effective in treating certain types of chronic pain such as pain from nerve injury, but there is currently not enough evidence to support using cannabinoids in reducing musculoskeletal pain. We welcome further research to better understand its impact and are intently following developments internationally.
CBD oil can be legally bought as a food supplement in the UK from heath food shops and some pharmacies. However, CBD products are not licensed as a medicine for use in arthritis by MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority) or approved by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) or the SMC (Scottish Medicines consortium).
We know anecdotally from some people with arthritis, that CBD has reduced their symptoms. If you’re considering using CBD to manage the pain of your arthritis, it’s important to remember it cannot replace your current medicines, and it may interact with them, so please do not stop/start taking anything without speaking to a healthcare professional.
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Best CBD Products for Arthritis UK (2022)
CBD oil has been found to hold benefits for both pain and inflammation, and is growing in popularity as a supplement used to help manage numerous conditions. Since arthritis is a form of inflammation that can cause chronic pain, CBD is used more and more commonly by arthritis sufferers.
But not all CBD oils are created equal. If you’re going to ingest a product daily to manage something as debilitating as arthritis, you need to be taking a high quality product that is offering all of the benefits of CBD oil for arthritis with as few downsides as possible.
With that said, what is the best CBD oil for arthritis in the UK?
Evopure Relief CBD Balm
Evopure’s organic CBD balm provides a soothing topical CBD blend that calms muscular soreness, reduces pain in joints and leaves a cooling sensation. While this makes it a perfect topical treatment for arthritis, it can be beneficial for most forms of muscular or joint pain.
What places Evopure’s balm offering above other CBD balms is two main things:
One is the significant amount of care taken to ensure you experience the full benefits of the hemp plant.
This CBD balm doesn’t just contain any old CBD – it is made up of organic hemp from EU farms, offering the best quality hemp available which impacts the effectiveness of the product. This attention to detail also stretches to sustainable harvesting and extraction – making Evopure’s impact on the environment significantly less than most CBD companies.
The second thing that makes this the best CBD balm in the UK is the range of additional ingredients. While CBD alone has already been suggested to provide anti-inflammatory effects , this balm also includes peppermint, eucalyptus oil, juniper oil, wintergreen oil and more – all of which provide additional pain and inflammation-busting benefits.
The end result is a soothing balm that leverages all of the benefits of CBD for arthritis in the best way – while providing additional benefits at the same, all with minimal impact on the environment.
Eden’s Gate CBD Balm for Muscle & Joint Relief
Eden’s Gate provides a CBD balm focused on joint pain relief. While this may sound similar to Evopure’s offering, this one uses completely different active ingredients – (ginger & arnica).
Despite not being quite as packed full of beneficial ingredients as our #1 pick, and not being as clear about it’s sustainability credentials – this remains a high quality CBD balm that is likely to give quick pain and anti-inflammatory relief in most relevant cases.
It may be focused on more general pain and inflammation as opposed to arthritis specifically – but all of the ingredients here have been found to hold benefits for arthritis regardless.
The balm is also full spectrum, which means it does have a slight chance on a drugs test – but this is minor and only a factor for those who are tested regularly as part of their jobs.
Vibes CBD Oil
A fairly new entry to the UK CBD market, Vibes has already developed a glowing reputation. While they are a relatively small company with a very limited range, the products are of the highest quality. The CBD oil comes in a choice of 2 strengths and is combined with hemp seed oil and a fruity flavour to make it a little easier to take for those with a sensitive palate.
Vibes’ CBD comes from Colorado farms, and includes lab analysis reports to offer peace of mind. 100% vegan and THC free, it’s also suitable for most people regardless of career or dietary requirements.
Provacan CBD Balm with Cocoa Butter
This is by far the most expensive product on our list – with one jar of CBD balm being 2.5x the price of Evopure’s balm and 3x the price of Eden’s Gates. As a result, this probably isn’t the ideal choice for a first time user who’s just looking to see whether CBD works for them.
With that said, it also contains a huge 900mg of CBD, and includes expensive ingredients like cocoa butter – so if you already know CBD works for you and are looking to push the boat out with a more “luxury” product, you’ll struggle to do better than this.
Bud & Tender 10% CBD Oil
Bud & Tender offer a premium CBD oil that has been comprehensively filtered to provide a smooth taste and contains a massive 1000mg of CBD per bottle.
While it doesn’t have additional pain-reducing ingredients like most other entries on our list, and isn’t suitable for topical use, the luxury packaging, high standard of filtration, and very high dosage make it an excellent choice for CBD connoisseurs.
It has won numerous industry awards for it’s flavour and quality and is broad spectrum, meaning you get the full benefit of the entourage effect with none of the potential legal or health risks associated with THC.
Raised Spirit Organic CBD Body Balm
Handmade in Oxfordshire, Raised Spirit’s CBD body balm gets a lot of points for being 100% organic from natural ingredients, vegan, and full spectrum.
While the only active ingredient in terms of pain and inflammation is CBD itself, the balm also includes numerous skin protecting ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter, lavender essential oil and sunflower lecithin. This makes it a useful pain reliever for arthritis sufferers and effective soothing balm for moisturising skin and providing antioxidants at the same time.
It does fall to a lower position on our list due to a surprisingly high price point – £49.99 per jar, but with free shipping only coming into play on orders over £70, most will be paying a little more.
With that said, it is still a high quality product made with love, and is made with ingredients so natural that the consistency can change with mild changes of temperature.
If you’re looking for a high quality CBD balm for arthritis that’s handmade in the UK and offers additional skin soothing and protecting benefits, this is a top notch choice.
What is CBD?
CBD , short for cannabidiol , is an active ingredient found in hemp and cannabis plants.
These plants contain over 100 naturally occurring organic compounds known as cannabinoids.
The two most well-known cannabinoids are THC (the psychoactive compound that gets cannabis users “high”) and CBD (which has no psychoactive effects), with most other cannabinoids being relatively unknown (and less common in plant material).
For decades, clinical trials into CBD and its benefits were few, far between, and vague, largely due to the legal issues surrounding cannabis in many countries. In recent years however, growing legalisation for medical and recreational purposes around the globe has read to huge growth in such studies.
This has led to evidence being found that CBD can provide numerous health benefits, including both for pain and inflammation – spurring the thought that CBD balms and other products could potentially be an effective pain reliever for arthritis sufferers.
Now that CBD is legal for use in the UK, many arthritis sufferers have found positive results from such products.
Does CBD Work for Arthritis Pain?
With CBD only becoming commonly available commercially in recent years, evidence is still in its early stages.
While some people may wish to be cautious and wait for further evidence to develop, what has been discovered so far does seem to be mostly positive.
A 2008 study found that CBD offers both analgesic and anti-inflammatory benefits that are able to reduce joint pain.
There are also numerous animal studies that have found positive results when treating arthritis with CBD, including a 2016 trial using transdermal CBD on rats which found that “transdermal CBD gel significantly reduced joint swelling, limb posture scores as a rating of spontaneous pain, immune cell infiltration and thickening of the synovial membrane in a dose-dependent manner.”.
Is CBD Legal? Can it Get Me High?
CBD is legal as long as it contains less than 0.2% THC content. THC of a higher concentration is still considered an illegal recreational drug in the UK.
However, all CBD products in our list, like all legal CBD products in the UK, contain either zero THC (broad spectrum CBD) or less than the above figure (full spectrum CBD).
As a result, the answer is no . CBD products provide zero psychoactive effects and cannot get you high, outside of illegal CBD products or those from other countries which may potentially contain higher volumes of THC.
Does CBD Have Side Effects?
CBD is generally well tolerated and doesn’t have any significant risk of serious side effects.
However, in some cases it can cause mild side effects such as dry mouth, loss of appetite or fatigue. In such cases, cease use immediately and consult your GP.
CBD does also have an interaction with grapefruit which can potentially inhibit the metabolic process and so CBD products should not be taken alongside ingesting the fruit.
How Does CBD Work for Arthritis?
The answer lies in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) .
Still relatively unknown and a recent discovery compared to most of the other bodily systems (think the immune system, respiratory system, endocrine system, circulatory system etc), the ECS interacts with all of these systems to help maintain homeostasis .
Homeostasis is the term used to describe the ideal delicate balance between all of these systems – essentially a state of overall wellbeing. This means the ECS directly interacts with essential processes to help manage pain, inflammation, immune response, and more.
The human body creates endocannabinoids internally, which can activate cannabinoid receptors and make these changes. However, an enzyme in the body can inhibit endocannabinoids over time and prevent this process from happening effectively. CBD use has been found to block the effects of this enzyme, supporting the beneficial effects of the ECS.
There is also some evidence that CBD can impact other systems that affect pain and inflammation, potentially providing numerous benefits for arthritis sufferers in different ways.