The theoretical logic is that are a few different ways CBD could help regulate pain — by increasing your natural endocannabinoids, decreasing your inflammatory response, and desensitizing your pain receptors (although it's still unclear whether this stands when absorbed topically compared to orally).
But there is an argument to be made for simply believing the CBD adds that special something. "Scientific literature says there's a 33 percent chance of the placebo effect helping people, so for some, just using a cream they believe can help will provide some relief," adds Dr. Colberg.
How CBD and Cannabis Might Help Pain Relief
Even still, cannabis creams could still reduce your acute pain or muscle soreness. That's because pretty much all of these hemp pain relief creams on the market right now have other scientifically-proven analgesic compounds, such as menthol, camphor, and capsaicin which are also found in other, non-CBD topical pain relievers. "Any cream with a heating or cooling sensation desensitizes the nerves to pain by distracting them with stimuli on top," explains Dr. Colberg. Plus you're often massaging the area as you apply, which improves circulation and reduces muscle spasms, he adds. (Get the best of both worlds by trying a CBD massage.)
Science has shown that cannabis is an effective pain reliever, reinforced in a massive new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. But there's a big difference between ingesting cannabis or its individual chemicals orally and absorbing it topically through your skin.
"The pain and stiffness that comes post-workout or from overexertion certainly has a pro-inflammatory component to it, so it's reasonable to think CBD or other cannabinoids might have benefits, but we have no research to support this yet," adds Gerdeman.
THC and endocannabinoids are also similar in that they both bind to cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors, and the molecules that bind to them, are responsible for a wide range of biological functions, such as anti-inflammation and pain relief.
As a prospective topical consumer, you may wonder, do topicals get you high? Based on anecdotal reports, if the cream you’re using is CBD- or THCA-based, there will be no intoxicating side effects. THC-based cannabis cream may cause the euphoric effects typically associated with THC, but the effects are typically mild.
What are the side effects of CBD or THC cream?
Topicals can treat breakthrough pain, neuropathic pain, and chronic pain. In fact, some studies have shown cannabis to be better for treating chronic pain than opioids . And since arthritis pain is frequently caused by joint inflammation, treating the inflammation itself relieves pain . This is why CBD oil or infused topicals are often seen to reduce pain for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis (MS).
When you use cannabis-infused topicals, THC can bind directly to CB1 receptors present in skin, muscle tissues, and nerves, and that brings relief to the affected area. It also makes its way into the bloodstream, where it interacts with CB2 receptors. Topical cannabis can get distributed to the rest of the body via the blood, but this happens so slowly that most people don’t detect any mental effect.
Researchers at the University of Colorado found that cannabis Topicals can effectively treat a variety of skin diseases including psoriasis, severe itching, and atopic and contact dermatitis.