Sidestepping the CB1 and CB2 receptors means that CBD can mute pain without the high sensation delivered by THC. Not only does CBD have very little interest in switching on CB1, cannabidiol can actually mute any signals sent to that receptor. Researchers looking for safer pain treatments want to take advantage of this action because it means that CBD won’t spark addiction.
Pain is a big driver behind opioid addiction. Many people who began treating chronic pain with prescription opioids have switched to heroin when other drugs became difficult to get. A lot of people have died as a result, says Yasmin Hurd , an addiction specialist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “We have so many people in our society now experimenting with CBD to manage pain,” she says. “They are going to their clinicians and asking them for CBD.”
Consumers need to be educated, as well, says Cather. She works to develop a trusting relationship with her patients, so that they’ll feel comfortable talking about using CBD. She also urges her patients to find companies that document what’s actually in the bottle or jar. Asking the company about their quality control, such as how often they document ingredients, can help also vet the product.
Hurd suggests telling your doctor if you are using CBD creams because what’s absorbed into your skin will get into your bloodstream. “These are sometimes things people don’t appreciate when they are putting cream ‘only on my knee,’” says Hurd. “We also have a lot of seniors using CBD creams for arthritic pain and we need to know sooner rather than later whether this chemical cream used by so many people can indeed be effective.”
Consumers aren’t waiting for clinical trials. But they need to remember, says Hurd, that slathering on creams can be risky, considering how the skin absorbs everything. Even topical CBD can react with oral medications.
CBD is one of the hundreds of biologically active ingredients produced in Cannabis sativa plants. Unlike THC, its psychoactive cousin that makes people feel high, CBD can ease pain without the euphoria or fear of addiction. The cannabinoid has similar effects whether absorbed through the skin or ingested by mouth.
Opioid pain relief can cause nausea, constipation and addiction. Standard anti-inflammatory meds carry the risk of stomach issues, including bleeding. The limited options prompt many folks to try creams and lotions containing cannabidiol (CBD).
The second method of pain relief centers around the damage you do when you work out. When you strength train, you create micro-tears in your muscles, which is why you feel sore as you heal. Once your immune cells detect damage, they release inflammatory mediators in order to repair the tissue. CBD, though has the ability to limit the release of some proinflammatory signals, thereby helping with pain without thwarting the healing entirely, explains Gerdeman. (Related: Is Working Out When You're Sore a Bad Idea?)
So cannabis lotions may be safe, but there's one problem: There's practically no scientific data to support the idea that a CBD-infused topical pain relief cream is any more effective than other topical pain relievers, such as Tiger Balm, BenGay, or Icy Hot. Michelle Sexton, a San Diego-based naturopathic doctor and medical research director of the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy says that her patients do seem to have a great interest in cannabis creams and ointments, and roughly 40 percent of them have indeed tried one. However, these people are in her office now because the topicals didn't work for them. "As a medical professional, my opinion is there's little evidence to back up the claims being made—it's all marketing for now," she says.
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.
How CBD and Cannabis Might Help Pain Relief
Hemp creams for pain relief are typically is made from infusing high-quality cannabis flowers in some kind of quality oil-coconut or olive typically-which extracts the active compounds, either CBD, THC, or both depending on the type of hemp used. (Here's a guide to the difference between THC, CBD, cannabis, and hemp.) This oil is then blended with other therapeutic herbs, such as arnica or lemongrass essential oils, that are thought to also ease pain.
Interest piqued? Learn more about hemp cream for pain relief and all its variations.
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.)
Hemp pain relief creams or cannabis lotions claim to offer muscle relief for your tired body, but what do experts have to say?
All of this points to how hard it is to study the specific effects of CBD on its own—which might be why it’s tempting to claim that it’s the cure for everything without a whole lot of research to actually back up all of those claims.
“If somebody comes in with pain, do you reach for a bottle of CBD? The answer is absolutely not,” Dr. Tishler says.
What is CBD?
“There’s really no substitute for doing proper human studies, which are difficult, expensive, and ethically complicated,” Dr. Tishler says. And we simply don’t have them for CBD and pain.
Personally, I always keep a few jars of it at my desk to help with the shoulder and neck muscle tension inherent in a job consisting mainly of typing and holding a phone next to my face. But it turns out that the research behind these claims is pretty sparse, to say the least. Here’s what you need to know before you give topical CBD a try.
One major issue is that it’s actually somewhat difficult to create a topical cannabinoid product (containing CBD or THC) that penetrates the skin enough to produce an effect, but not so deep that it gets into the bloodstream, Boehnke explains. If the product does get into the bloodstream—if it’s transdermal rather than truly topical—it could potentially reach the brain, possibly producing psychoactive effects if it contains THC.