FOR THE TENS OF millions of Americans with arthritis, the pain, stiffness and other symptoms from the chronic disease can be stubborn.
There are various treatments for alleviating the symptoms of arthritis, but no cure. Options can include steroid injections into affected joints and even joint replacement surgery for some with advanced osteoarthritis, where cartilage in the hips, knees or other joints has worn away. For those with another common form of arthritis, the autoimmune disorder rheumatoid arthritis, antirheumatic drugs may also be used to slow the progression of the disease that also causes severe joint pain.
But for many, conventional therapies aren’t enough to relieve the discomfort. So, in addition to alternative treatments like acupuncture, some people with arthritis turn to cannabidiol, or hemp extract oil, an active ingredient derived from the cannabis plant. This is the same plant from which THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces a high, is extracted.
The chemical compound hemp extract oil is frequently taken orally in oil, gel tablet or even gummy form, and it can also be applied topically in lotions and creams. Although hemp extract oil can contain up to 0.3% THC, it’s not been found to be habit-forming or able to give a person the same high. (By comparison, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, average THC levels in marijuana have risen in recent decades and are around 10%.)
Is It Safe?
Nevertheless, even with a paucity of data available, some clinicians recommend trying hemp extract oil for arthritis pain. A primary reason some doctors still recommend it is because it’s generally considered safe.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug Epidiolex – hemp extract oil that’s taken orally – for treatment of certain rare, serious forms of epilepsy. This is the first drug “comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana” that’s been approved by the FDA, the agency pointed out in a press release. Safety studies done in the run up to approval provide some insights on the risks associated with hemp extract oil, which experts say tend to be modest.
The most common side effects that occurred with Epidiolex were sleepiness and sedation, decreased appetite, diarrhea, rash, insomnia and poor quality sleep, according to the FDA.
“As is true for all drugs that treat epilepsy, the most serious risks include thoughts about suicide, attempts to commit suicide, feelings of agitation, new or worsening depression, aggression and panic attacks,” the agency notes. “Epidiolex also caused liver injury, generally mild, but raising the possibility of rare, but more severe injury. More severe liver injury can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue, anorexia, jaundice and/or dark urine.”
But experts say generally the most notable effect some experience from taking hemp extract oil tends to be drowsiness. In fact, some people take hemp extract oil before bed for that reason. However, that needs to be considered if one is planning to take hemp extract oil and drive, especially as it can contain up to 0.3% THC, doctors caution.
With any drug or supplement it’s important to let your doctor what you’re taking to make sure they don’t interact poorly with other medications
Is It Legal?
The evolving way in which hemp extract oil is being regulated complicates the legal picture.
The 2018 Farm Bill supported legalizing the growing of hemp, the low-THC variety of the cannabis plant from which most hemp extract oil is derived. But, just as with marijuana, the Drug Enforcement Agency still categorizes cannabis-derived hemp extract oil as a Schedule 1 substance: drugs that are considered to have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse and for which access is highly restricted.
Yet experts point out hemp extract oil doesn’t have a potential for abuse, and the FDA’s own recent approval of Epidiolex indicates it has a medical use as well. The complicated and contradictory legal tangle is further demonstrated by the fact that the DEA lists Epidiolex as a Schedule V substance, the least restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act – even though it’s hemp extract oil.
On a state level, laws vary on using marijuana for medical or recreational purposes – and state laws allowing marijuana use clash with federal statutes forbidding it. While the sale and purchase of hemp extract oil isn’t tightly regulated, experts say it’s important to check on any possible restrictions where you live.
You could also possibly fail a drug test if you’re taking hemp extract oil with THC in it. Experts say while it’s definitely no certainty you will fail a drug test if you’re taking hemp extract oil, that scenario has landed some employees who work for companies with strict drug policies in hot water. “So, if you’re drug-tested and they care about marijuana – a lot of places don’t, but if they do care about marijuana – you have to be very careful about using hemp extract oil,” Grinspoon says. “You might want to talk about it with your boss.”
How Should I Buy Hemp Extract Oil?
“It’s not regulated,” Grinspoon says. “So you need to make sure you get it from a reputable source.”
Past research has found that hemp extract oil labels frequently misrepresent what’s in their products. “When the government did some random testing, some had no hemp extract oil, some had wildly different levels of hemp extract oil than they advertised, and some had much more THC than it was supposed to have,” he points out. So, make sure to confirm any hemp extract oil product you’re considering buying has been independently tested to ensure its safety and that ingredients and dosing (like milligrams of hemp extract oil, and THC content) match what’s on the label. MarvelRoots.com independently tests and reviews all its products. It’s key to have that kind of independent confirmation, Temple says.