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Trial Explores the Feasibility of Transdermal Cannabidiol for Hand Osteoarthritis

Published: 31/05/2024

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common problem that affects the joints. It causes the cartilage and bones in affected joints to wear down, causing pain and making it hard to move. When OA affects the hands, it can make daily tasks difficult. There are different types of hand osteoarthritis, like erosive hand OA, nodal hand OA, and thumb-base OA.

Current Treatments for Osteoarthritis

Right now, there aren’t any treatments that are proven to stop OA from getting worse. Instead, doctors focus on helping people manage the pain and keep their hands working. They often use creams or gels called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that help reduce pain and inflammation. Sometimes, when these creams don’t work well enough, people have to take tablets or capsules by mouth, but these can have side effects like stomach problems and heart issues.

What About CBD?

Some studies in animals and cell models have examined the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. The authors of a recent study aimed to explore the effects of CBD gel in people with hand OA.

Methods of the Study

The study took place in 2022 in Victoria, Australia. They had 15 people with hand OA.

It started in the first week with a run-in phase. During this time Participants practiced using a device to measure their grip strength and reported their pain levels. This was followed by a four-week phase where participants put 0.25ml of a 4% CBD gel (~ 30 mg CBD per day) on their most painful hand three times a day. Every day, they reported how much pain they felt and measured their grip strength.

Pain was measured using a scale from 0 to 10 to rate their pain in three ways. This included current pain, average pain today, and worst pain today.

Other measures included assessing grip strength using a squeeze ball, a questionnaire about hand function, and questions about fatigue, stiffness, and sleep quality.

After four weeks urine samples were collected from participants to confirm CBD was being absorbed through the skin.

Results of the Study

Self-reported current, average, and maximum hand pain was improved in the hand to which the gel was applied. However, data suggests the reduction in pain between patients was variable.

Grip strength also changed in the hand to which CBD was applied. In comparison, the grip strength of the other hand remained unchanged.

Participants reported changes in subjective measures of anxiety, stiffness, and fatigue, but not sleep quality.

Urine tests confirmed that some CBD was absorbed into the bloodstream.


While significant limitations, such as the non-randomised design and small sample size, should be acknowledged, the current findings indicate that transdermal CBD gel was associated with changes in pain and grip strength in individuals with hand osteoarthritis.

The authors conclude these findings warrant further exploration in a randomised controlled trial. They recommend that “further research should incorporate a double-blind, randomised study design with greater participant numbers and more comprehensive pharmacokinetic and biomarker analysis.” This type of research will be necessary to determine the true effects of CBD gels before they may be commonly prescribed for hand OA.

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