Prevalence of Cannabinoid Use in Patients With Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis
From the Department of Orthopedics, Mayo Clinic Arizona, Phoenix, AZ (Dr. Deckey, Dr. Lara, Dr. Hassebrock, Dr. Spangehl, and Dr. Bingham), and the Department of Orthopedics, Loma Linda Medical Center, Loma Linda, CA (Dr. Gulbrandsen).
Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CCBY), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
State legalization and widespread marketing efforts have increased the accessibility and consumption of off-label, non–FDA-approved, cannabinoid (CBD) products. Although clinical evidence is largely absent for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain, patients are experimenting with these products in efforts to relieve joint pain. Assessment of the prevalence, perceived efficacy compared with other nonsurgical modalities, and usage patterns is warranted. The purpose of this study was to report the prevalence and perceived self-efficacy of CBD products in patients with symptomatic hip and/or knee osteoarthritis (OA).
Two-hundred consecutive patients presenting with painful hip or knee OA were surveyed at their initial evaluation at a large academic center. Using Single Assessment Numeric Evaluation (SANE) scores, survey questions assessed perceived pain and effectiveness of CBD products, in addition to other nonsurgical treatment modalities. Chart review provided demographic factors. Descriptive statistics were used to characterize the data.
Of the 200 patients (80 hip OA, 108 knee OA, and 12 both), 66% were female, and average age was 67 years (range 36 to 89 years). Twenty-four percent (48/200) of patients endorsed use of CBD products before their presentation. The average presenting SANE score (range 0 to 100) for non-CBD users was 50.8 compared with 41.3 among CBD users (P = 0.012). Sixty percent of patients learned about CBD through friends, and 67% purchased CBD directly from a dispensary. Oral tinctures (43%) and topical applications (36%) were the most commonly used forms. In addition, 8% of participants in this study had tried marijuana for their pain.
A 24% incidence of CBD usage was found among patients presenting with hip or knee OA. No significant perceived benefit of CBD use seems to exist compared with its nonuse, as patients who used CBD reported significantly worse SANE and visual analogue scale scores than nonusers at baseline. Follow-up studies are warranted to assess these findings.
State legalization and widespread marketing efforts have increased the accessibility and consumption of off-label, non–FDA-approved, cannabinoid (CBD) products. Subsequently, these products have been promoted for the treatment of numerous ailments, including joint pain. Although clinical evidence is largely absent for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain, patients are experimenting with these products in efforts to relieve joint pain. 1,2,3,4,5,6 If proven effective, these medications could provide multimodal pain control in the treatment of arthritis-related pain.
Surgeons should be aware of the effects of over-the-counter medications, especially non–FDA-approved medications that their patients are consuming. Given the increased availability of CBD products, investigations into the prevalence and perceived efficacy of CBD for treatment of osteoarthritis (OA) are warranted. To our knowledge, data evaluating the prevalence and perceived efficacy of CBD products for the treatment of OA are limited. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to report the prevalence and subjective efficacy of CBD products in patients with symptomatic hip and/or knee OA presenting for an initial orthopaedic surgery consultation.
After institutional review board approval, 200 consecutive patients presenting with painful hip or knee OA were surveyed at their initial arthroplasty clinic evaluation at a single high-volume academic center. As part of the initial intake screening, patients were asked to complete a 21-question survey. Questions concerning function and perceived efficacy of treatments were assessed using Single Assessment Numeric Evaluation (SANE) on a 1 to 100 point scale, with a score of 100 indicating the highest perceived benefit (SANE). 7,8 In addition, medical chart review was undertaken for background demographic factors.
After completion of questionnaires (see appendix for questionnaire example, Appendix 1, http://links.lww.com/JG9/A108), answers were categorized and tabulated. Average SANE scores for interventions were calculated as well. Questions results were binary (yes/no), numeric (SANE/visual analogue scale [VAS]), or free text (ex “Question 14: ‘How did you hear about CBD?’”). Free text answers were manually reviewed for each respondent and categorized into nominal reviewable outcomes (Table (Table5). 5 ). Radiographs for every patient were reviewed by two independent reviewers. Descriptive statistics were performed to characterize the population; T-tests were used to compare the variation of continuous variables. Comparison of proportions for sample populations was performed with z-tests. All statistical analysis was performed with JMP statistical software (SAS Institute).
Characterization of CBD Use and Procurement Among the Sample Population
|Frequency of use|
|Three times daily||2|
CBD = cannabinoid, HCP = healthcare provider
Of the 200 consecutive patients, 100% completed the survey. Sixty-six percent were female, and the average age was 67 years. Knee OA was the most common complaint (n = 108) followed by hip OA (n = 80), and a minority of patients had symptoms in both joints at presentation (n = 12). Thirty-seven percent of these patients were symptomatic on the right side, 31% on the left side, and 32% presented with bilateral complaints. Knee OA had an average Kellgren-Lawrence OA grade of 2.7 (range 0 to 4). Average Tönnis scale grading of the affected hip OA was 1.8 (range 0 to 3) (Table (Table1 1 ).
Demographic and Radiographic Variables of Arthroplasty Clinic Sample Population
|No. of patients, n||200|
|Age (y) (±SD)||67.21|
|Female, n (%)||112 (56)|
|Joints, n (%)|
|Laterality, n (%)|
|Knee osteoarthritis grade a (n = 159), n (%)|
|Hip osteoarthritis grade b (n = 107), n (%)|
Twenty-four percent (48/200) of patients endorsed use of CBD products before their presentation. The average presenting SANE score (range 0 to 100) for non-CBD users was 50.8 compared with 41.3 among CBD users (P = 0.012). The average VAS score (range 0 to 10) for non-CBD users was 5.7 compared with 6.6 among CBD users (P = 0.036). No difference in the asymptomatic contralateral joint SANE score (range 0 to 100) was found when comparing non-CBD users with CBD users (81.9 versus 75.9, respectively, P = 0.129) (Table (Table2 2 ).
SANE and VAS Scores Among Non-CBD and CBD Users, Respectively
|Factor||Non-CBD Users (n = 152), n (%)||CBD Users (n = 48), n (%)||P Value|
|Symptomatic joint SANE (average)||50.8||41.3||0.012|
|Contralateral unaffected joint SANE (average)||81.9||75.9||0.129|
|VAS pain rating (average)||5.7||6.6||0.036|
CBD = cannabinoid, SANE = Single Assessment Numeric Evaluation, VAS = Visual Analogue Scale
Among non-CBD users, 73% had tried NSAIDs for symptomatic relief compared with 90% among the CBD using group. A statistically higher percentage of patients in the CBD group had used NSAIDs for symptomatic relief compared with non-CBD users (P = 0.017). No significant difference was found in the number of patients who had tried bracing treatment, steroid injections, or viscosupplementation injections between the two groups. A significantly higher percentage of marijuana use was found among the CBD group compared with non-CBD users (31% versus 1%, respectively, P < 0.001) despite similar rates of “Other” recreational drug use (15% CBD users versus 11% non-CBD users) (Table (Table3 3 ).
Frequency of Alternative Treatments for Symptomatic Osteoarthritis Used by Study Sample Population Non-Cannabinoid (CBD) and CBD Users, Respectively
|Factor||Non-CBD Users (n = 152), n (%)||CBD Users (n = 48), n (%)||P Value a|
|NSAID||111 (73)||43 (90)||0.017|
|Bracing treatment||43 (28)||26 (54)||0.289|
|Steroid injection||79 (52)||28 (58)||0.119|
|Viscosupplementation injection||30 (20)||11 (23)||0.575|
|Marijuana||2 (1)||15 (31)|
|Recreational “other” drug use||16 (11)||7 (15)||0.928|
A significant difference was seen after NSAID use; non-CBD users reported an improvement with an increase in the average SANE to 52.7, whereas CBD users decreased to a SANE of 39.0 (P = 0.012). Otherwise, the differences in SANE scores between the two groups after bracing treatment, steroid injection, viscosupplementation injection, or marijuana use were not statistically significant (Table (Table4 4 ).
SANE Score Averages Among Two Groups After Nonsurgical Treatments
|Average SANE Scores||Non-CBD Users (n = 152), n||CBD Users (n = 48), n||P Value|
CBD = cannabinoid, SANE = Single Assessment Numeric Evaluation
Among CBD users, 60% of patients learned about CBD through friends, and 67% purchased CBD directly from a dispensary. Oral tinctures (43%) and topical applications (36%) were the most commonly used forms of CBD. Twenty-two percent of all the patients in this sample reported ongoing CBD utilization (Table (Table5 5 ).
In this prospective cohort of 200 consecutive patients, 24% (48 patients) reported trying CBD-containing products for relief of their arthritis-related pain before their initial orthopaedic surgical consultation. Although CBD use has not been previously characterized in this population, its prevalence is similar to the reported 15% to 22% of the general US population that reported marijuana use. 9,10 However, this reported CBD use is much higher compared with marijuana use in an older population. Han and Palamar 11 found that 9% of adults aged 50 to 64 years and 2.9% of adults aged 65 years and older reported marijuana use, which was similar to the 9% of patients who reported marijuana use in our study. This large difference in CBD and marijuana usage in a similarly aged population demonstrates the growing trend and popularity of CBD utilization. Given that more and more patients will arrive in clinic having tried or wanting to try these products, it is crucial that the orthopaedic surgeon is aware of CBD products and current trends in utilization. In addition, in the setting of the opioid crisis, it is imperative that we continue to identify new and potentially less-addictive modalities for pain relief. The goal of this study was to characterize and analyze CBD usage and perceived effectiveness in patients presenting for primary consultation with hip and/or knee OA.
To understand why CBD has become such a rapidly growing trend, a brief history is helpful. The passage of the US Hemp Farming Act of 2018 removed hemp (defined as cannabis with less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]) from Schedule I Controlled Substances. 12 CBD can be derived from cannabis, which comes from the plant Cannabis sativa. Virtually overnight, a new US industry was created. This industry brought with it a legal, unregulated product with broad claims of treating anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, and reducing pain and inflammation. Although not containing high percentages of THC, hemp can still contain CBD, which augments the body’s endogenous CBD system primarily through CB1 and CB2 receptors in both the central and peripheral nervous system. These receptors have been shown to play roles in modulating nociception and inflammatory pathways. 13 However, the full effects of CBD are still not fully understood. Although animal models have shown CBD to decrease OA-related pain, 14,15,16,17,18,19 its efficacy in humans has not been fully supported. 18,20,21
As the stigma surrounding THC and CBD use decreases and these products become more readily available, the prevalence of their use will likely increase. Previously, research has been hampered by lack of funding and the Schedule I classification of cannabis. Given the wide availability of CBD in the United States at present and movements to remove cannabis from the Schedule I classification, it is believed that more knowledge about how THC/CBD functions will come to light. A study using National Inpatient Sample database showed that marijuana/THC use was associated with decreased mortality in patients undergoing total hip arthroplasty (THA), total knee arthroplasty (TKA), total shoulder arthroplasty (TSA), and traumatic femur fixation. 22 In addition, two previous, recently published studies in the orthopaedic literature have explored the use of CBD and THC in arthroplasty. 4,5 Hickernell et al 4 examined the use of dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC, in a multimodal pain regimen after THA and TKA surgery. In their study, the group taking a prescribed dose of drocannabinol had significantly shorter stays and significantly fewer total morphine equivalents. However, this was a small (81 patients) retrospective study and warrants further studies to fully support this trend. Runner et al 5 found that 16.4% of patients following TKA or THA reported use of CBD or THC in the perioperative period. Compared with nonusers, no significant difference was observed in the length of narcotic use, total morphine equivalents used, postoperative pain scores, or the length of stay. Patients in this study were self-medicating without uniformity, which is in contrast to the prescribed dose of drocannabinol used in the Hickernell study.
Our study, however, showed no significant perceived benefit of CBD use compared with nonuse, and patients who used CBD actually reported significantly worse SANE and VAS scores at baseline than nonusers. The symptomatic joint(s)’ SANE score significantly differed between CBD users and nonusers at initial presentation (41.3 versus 50.8, P = 0.012). Previous literature has suggested that the minimally clinically important difference for knee injury interventions is approximately 7 to 19, suggesting that perhaps baseline presentation SANE scores may have been statistically different but not clinically measurable. 23 In addition, VAS pain rating for CBD users was significantly higher at baseline than nonusers (6.6 versus 5.7, P = 0.036). Interestingly, patients who used CBD products were also significantly more likely to use NSAIDs. This finding suggests that the patients taking CBD products may have had more symptomatic OA or more prone to self-medicating. Patients who reported CBD use were also significantly more likely to report marijuana use.
Several limitations of this study must be acknowledged. Although this was a prospective study, recall bias may be present as patients were asked to recall use of treatment and its effectiveness leading up to their first visit. In addition, only patients presenting for primary hip and knee arthroplasty consultation were included in this study. This restriction limits the generalizability of our findings to other orthopeadic specialties. Future studies are warranted in other subspecialties, such as sports medicine, where injuries are more acute. The perceived efficacy of CBD products may be different for acute pain than for chronic pain. The source of CBD product and route of administration was also not standardized, which may play a role in its effectiveness. In addition, this study had a limited sample size of 200 patients and as such may be subject to type 2 error when concluding no difference. Therefore larger, multicenter studies are needed to fully evaluate CBD use in this population and to enhance generalizability as well as a randomized controlled trial with placebo and a controlled dose of CBD. Finally, a substratification of severity of OA in either group would be useful in future studies attempting to determine the efficacy of CBD in symptomatic relief.
To our knowledge, this is the first prospective study to evaluate the usage of over-the-counter CBD products in a hip and knee OA population. A 24% incidence of CBD usage was found among these patients. We found no significant perceived benefit of CBD use compared with nonuse, and patients who used CBD actually reported significantly worse SANE and VAS scores than nonusers.
None of the following authors or any immediate family member has received anything of value from or has stock or stock options held in a commercial company or institution related directly or indirectly to the subject of this article: Dr. Deckey, Dr. Lara, Dr. Gulbrandsen, Dr. Hassebrock, Dr. Spangehl, and Dr. Bingham.
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Does CBD help with arthritis pain?
If you have chronic arthritis pain, you may be wondering about cannabidiol (CBD) as a treatment. CBD, along with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other chemicals, is found in marijuana. But unlike THC, CBD is not “psychoactive” — that is, it does not cause the intoxication or high associated with marijuana use.
There’s a good chance you’ve tried it already: according to a Gallup poll in August of 2019, about 14% of Americans report using CBD products, and the number one reason is pain. The Arthritis Foundation conducted its own poll and found that 29% reported current use of CBD (mostly in liquid or topical form), and nearly 80% of respondents were either using it, had used it in the past, or were considering it. Of those using it, most reported improvement in physical function, sleep, and well-being; of note, a minority reported improvement in pain or stiffness.
Perhaps you’ve been tempted to try it. After all, most types of arthritis are not cured by other treatments, and CBD is considered a less addictive option than opiates. Or maybe it’s the marketing that recommends CBD products for everything from arthritis to anxiety to seizures. The ads are pretty hard to miss. (Now here’s a coincidence: as I was writing this, my email preview pane displayed a message that seemed to jump off the screen: CBD Has Helped Millions!! Try It Free Today!)
What’s the evidence it works? And what do experts recommend? Until recently, there’s been little research and even less guidance for people (or their doctors) interested in CBD products that are now increasingly legal and widely promoted.
But now, there is.
A word about arthritis pain
It’s worth emphasizing that there are more than 100 types of arthritis, and while pain is a cardinal feature of all of them, these conditions do not all act alike. And what works for one may not work for another. Treatment is aimed at reducing pain and stiffness and maintaining function for all types of arthritis. But for certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, conventional prescription medications are highly recommended, because these drugs help prevent permanent joint damage and worsening disability.
In addition, individuals experience pain and respond to treatment in different ways. As a result, it’s highly unlikely that there is a single CBD-containing product that works for all people with all types of arthritis.
What’s the evidence that CBD is effective for chronic arthritis pain?
While there are laboratory studies suggesting CBD might be a promising approach, and animal studies showing anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects, well-designed studies demonstrating compelling evidence that CBD is safe and effective for chronic arthritis pain in humans do not exist. A randomized trial of topical CBD for osteoarthritis of the knee has been published, but in abstract form only (meaning it’s a preliminary report that summarizes the trial and has not been thoroughly vetted yet); the trial lasted only 12 weeks, and results were mixed at best. One of the largest reviews examined the health effects of cannabis and CBD, and concluded that there is “substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.” But there was no specific conclusion regarding CBD, presumably because definitive studies were not available.
Of course, there is anecdotal evidence and testimonials galore, including reports of dramatic improvement by people who tried CBD in its various forms (including capsule, liquid, topical, and spray) for their pain. But we are still waiting for well-designed, scientifically valid, and rigorous clinical trials (such as this one in progress) that are so badly needed to answer the question of just how helpful CBD may be to people with chronic arthritis pain.
Are there downsides to CBD treatment?
As with any treatment, there can be downsides. CBD is generally considered safe; however, it can still cause lightheadedness, sleepiness, dry mouth, and rarely, liver problems. There may be uncertainty about the potency or purity of CBD products (since they are not regulated as prescription medications are), and CBD can interact with other medications. For pregnant women, concern has been raised about a possible link between inhaled cannabis and lower-birthweight babies; it’s not clear if this applies to CBD. Some pain specialists have concerns that CBD may upset the body’s natural system of pain regulation, leading to tolerance (so that higher doses are needed for the same effect), though the potential for addiction is generally considered to be low.
There is one definite downside: cost. Prices range widely but CBD products aren’t inexpensive, and depending on dose, frequency, and formulation, the cost can be considerable — I found one brand that was $120/month, and health insurance does not usually cover it.
Are there guidelines about the use of CBD for chronic arthritis pain?
Until recently, little guidance has been available for people with arthritis pain who were interested in CBD treatment. Depending on availability and interest, patients and their doctors had to decide on their own whether CBD was a reasonable option in each specific case. To a large degree that’s still true, but some guidelines have been published. Here’s one set of guidelines for people pursuing treatment with CBD that I find quite reasonable (based on recommendations from the Arthritis Foundation and a recent commentary published in the medical journal Arthritis Care & Research):
- If considering a CBD product, choose one that has been independently tested for purity, potency, and safety — for example, look for one that has received a “Good Manufacturing Practices” (GMP) certification.
- CBD should be one part of an overall pain management plan that includes nonmedication options (such as exercise) and psychological support.
- Choose an oral treatment (rather than inhaled products) and start with a low dose taken in the evening.
- Establish initial goals of treatment within a realistic period of time — for example, a reduction in knee pain that allows you to walk around the block within two weeks of starting treatment; later, if improved, the goals can be adjusted.
- Tell your doctor(s) about your planned and current CBD treatment; monitor your pain and adjust medications with your medical providers, rather than with nonmedical practitioners (such as those selling CBD products).
- Don’t make CBD your first choice for pain relief; it is more appropriate to consider it if other treatments have not been effective enough.
- Don’t have nonmedical practitioners (such as those selling CBD products) managing your chronic pain; pain management should be between you and your healthcare team, even if it includes CBD.
- For people with rheumatoid arthritis or related conditions, do not stop prescribed medications that may be protecting your joints from future damage; discuss any changes to your medication regimen with your doctor.
The bottom line
If you’re interested in CBD treatment for chronic arthritis pain or if you’re already taking it, review the pros, cons, and latest news with your healthcare providers, and together you can decide on a reasonable treatment plan. Depending on the type of arthritis you have, it may be quite important to continue your conventional, prescribed medications even if you pursue additional relief with CBD products.
We may not have all the evidence we’d like, but if CBD can safely improve your symptoms, it may be worth considering.
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About the Author
Robert H. Shmerling, MD , Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School. … See Full Bio
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