By Miguel Ordoñez

Rheumatism (also called rheumatoid arthritis or just arthritis) describes a health condition that is characterized by chronic inflammation with stiff and painful joints, tissues and muscles. It is estimated that more than 50 million adults in the US suffer from the disease alone. The causes for rheumatism can be many: the symptoms can appear with advanced age or as a result of wear and tear on the body. Rheumatism is sometimes also the result of immune system deficiencies.

Unfortunately, there is no real cure for rheumatism. People who suffer from it are usually being treated to reduce the symptomatic pains and the underlying inflammation.


Rheumatism (or arthritis, both are essentially the same) belongs to the large group of autoimmune diseases. Just as is the case with multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus and many more conditions, it is a disorder of the body’s immune system. What happens is that the immune system, for some reason, becomes over-active and attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake. The result is a permanent inflammation in the body resulting in pains and other symptoms. If someone suffers from rheumatism, the aches and the stiffness of the joints can make even everyday tasks such as driving, preparing meals, or dressing difficult.

What is Rheumatism


It is known for quite some time that cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates important bodily functions. This way, cannabis can affect our immune system responses, can alter pain perception and can regulate our appetite, sleep, and mood — just to name some of its effects on our body.

The US Food and Drug Administration has just approved[1] the first drug made with CBD from the cannabis plant for the treatment of epilepsy. Yet, when it comes to treating rheumatism with CBD, the studies on its effectiveness for this condition haven’t been as conclusive. This explains why some researchers are still wary about the use of CBD for rheumatism.


A 2014 study[2] conducted by medical doctor Mary-Ann Fitzcharles outright concluded that cannabis had been shown “inferior to all other analgesic classes other than opioids.”

She is also cautioning that there is“little scientific evidence for CBD’s[3] effectiveness in reducing pain in rheumatic individuals”.

However, other scientists are still digging deeper into the matter. In 2016, researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in the US tested out transdermal CBD gels on rat models of arthritis to see how it affected pain and inflammation[4].

Scientists from the University of Australia are also exploring the presence of the endocannabinoid system[5] within joints, as well as the role of this regulatory system in the pathophysiology (the process leading up to the disease) of rheumatism. Future findings in this area could pave the way to new cannabinoid-based innovations.

Cannabis Moisturizer Cream


Today, doctors are not shying away from prescribing opioids, steroid injections and similar treatments to sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis. While some of these drugs may provide a certain level of relief for patients, so do they come with their own, sometimes significant drawbacks. The chronic use of strong medications such as opioids poses significant health risks including addiction and overdose. Many of these pharmaceuticals also have severe side effects, which can include liver, kidney and bone damage, as well as other unwanted effects such as weight gain or stomach irritation.

Furthermore, as patients are treated with these drugs, their bodies will adapt to them over time so that they will require higher doses for their pain relief. This will exacerbate the side effects even more.

Plus, opioids are highly addictive and result in tens of thousands of overdose[6] deaths each year. In contrast, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that “CBD is generally[7] well tolerated with a good safety profile”.


While preclinical studies help to paint a picture of how CBD works in models of inflammation, pain, and rheumatism, they don’t reflect the efficacy of the cannabinoid in humans diagnosed with the condition. High-quality clinical trials are required to assess if the cannabinoid may help in the real world.

Greg Gerdeman, assistant professor of Biology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, said it best while speaking at the Annual Meeting of the Congress of Clinical Rheumatology, stating that future studies “need to include research with patient populations who are already using cannabis and are seeking it. And the research structure—physicians and scientists—need to be less shackled by policy so that they can research with this population”.

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External Resources:
  1. FDA Approves First Drug Comprised of an Active Ingredient Derived from Marijuana to Treat Rare, Severe Forms of Epilepsy | FDA
  2. The Dilemma of Medical Marijuana Use by Rheumatology Patients
  3. Efficacy, Tolerability, and Safety of Cannabinoid Treatments in the Rheumatic Diseases: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials - PubMed
  4. Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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