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When you hear the words ‘arthritis’, you generally think of an older person right? That was my impression until my own early diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis in my 20s. I was young, had just got engaged and had plans for a healthy and active future with a big family around me. It’s safe to say my diagnosis floored my considerably.
My symptoms first began during the winter so I didn’t do anything about it for a while. I merely thought that the sudden cold weather had made me run down and that the fatigue and joint aches were all part and parcel of being under the weather at that time of year. I would be tired all the time, wake up feeling unrefreshed with stiffness that barely subsided throughout the day, particularly in my hands.
I noticed that my engagement ring, which I’d only had for 2 months, was tighter than it had been previously and I couldn’t get it past my swollen knuckle. After a number of weeks and little change in my symptoms, I went to my GP for help. There were many more months of waiting, tests and examinations before I finally got my Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis.
I accepted my diagnosis as positively as I could. I was put on a treatment plan and given lots of advice on how to look after myself and alleviate my symptoms. The process involved a bit of trial and error and I didn’t find the right medication straight away. Eventually, I found a drug called leflunomide that suited me, which caused very few side effects. I had a couple of happy and mostly pain-free years with this medicine.
During this time, my fiancé and I got married and soon after, we began talking about starting a family. We had been advised that I would have to be off leflunomide for two years before we could start trying for a baby. Thus, having a baby was something that had to be planned much further in advance than most other couples. Once the decision on timing was made, I decided that I would use the two years leflunomide-free to become really healthy in order to be in the best possible shape for when the time came. For me, that included not taking any other prescription medications.
I looked for alternatives ways of relieving my symptoms. I began Tai Chi, ensured I was always well rested and had a good night’s sleep, I used heat on my joints in flare-ups and made sure my diet contained lots of anti-inflammatory foods. While these things definitely helped when I was medication free, I was still suffering from painful flare-ups that I just couldn’t get on top of.
Since I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to medicate how I had previously, my positivity started to wane. Two years is a long time and, unless I was really lucky and conceived quickly, it could well be a lot longer than that before I could start taking leflunomide again. I needed to find something else that could help me and, in my search for alternative medicine, I stumbled across CBD.
CBD (cannabidiol) is a naturally occurring compound taken from the cannabis plant. In common usage, it is often purchased in the form of an oil. CBD oil contains a concentration of CBD as the active ingredient. Unlike cannabis, it does not contain the substance tetrahydrocannabinol or THC as it is more commonly known. THC is the substance that produces the psychoactive effects of cannabis. THC is what makes users ‘high’, CBD does not.
In the UK, Cannabis has been classified as a controlled drug since the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and from 2001, it was classified as a Schedule 1 substance, which meant it had no medicinal properties. More recently, however, the government has decided to recognize CBD as a Schedule 2 substance.
Currently, CBD products remain legal in the UK as long as they are grown from industrial hemp containing less than 0.2% THC. As of 2016, any CBD product sold could not be advertised as having medical or therapeutic benefits. That’s why in stores like Holland and Barrett, you will see CBD products being sold as food supplements. You can purchase CBD in many forms, both on the high street and in online stores. It is available as oils, gummy sweets, capsules, sprays and vapes.
Research suggests that CBD oil works on two powerful receptors in the brain to decrease pain. The receptors CB1 and CB2 are responsible for controlling inflammation in the human body. CB receptors, or cannabinoid receptors, are part of the endocannabinoid system, which controls a lot of the body’s physiological processes such as the sensation of pain, appetite and memory.
These receptors are activated by endocannabinoids, which are generated naturally in the body. They can also be activated artificially through the introduction of cannabinoids into the body. The theory is that activating these receptors with CBD decreases pain sensations. This was something I was willing to try. After all, it was a naturally occurring plant-based product.
Because CBD oil usage is still something quite new, I found choosing an oil and dosage difficult. I found a US-based website that suggested that someone of my weight should take between 12mg and 18mg of CBD per day, depending on the severity of pain. I found a product and decided I would begin at the lower dosage and work my way up if necessary. The oil is administered under the tongue where it stays for a short while before being swallowed.
My bottle was a relatively low concentration of CBD. In fact, there were only 300mg of CPD in 30ml. Each suggested serving size, which was 15 drops, contained around 7.5mg of CBD. So, with each drop containing around 0.5mg of CBD, I took 12 drops in a morning and 12 drops in an evening. I took this dose for about 10 days and, while I noticed I did feel relief from pain, I was a bit disappointed not to feel more. I upped my dose until I found one that gave me the relief I needed.
There is, of course, a desperate need for more research into this product. All I know is that it has made a big difference in my life. I am no longer wincing in pain when getting out of bed or having trouble with my fingers being stiff. The pain doesn’t go away entirely but that’s ok. It serves as a reminder that I still need to do all of the other non-medicinal things that help my body manage my condition.
I am still in the early stages of this journey and I have a little over a year left before my husband and I can begin trying to conceive. I have already looked into the use of CBD oil when trying for a family and I was really pleased to read that it might actually help conception. This brings me great relief as I was worried I might have to go back to enduring severe pain in order to become a mum.
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