CBD topical and CBD oil formulations are also different. Topical formulations typically contain various skincare ingredients, such as herbal extracts, essential oils, and vitamins. Naturally, you want to avoid ingredients that are irritating.
One of the most appealing things about CBD topicals is how easy it is to get started with them. After identifying what the source of discomfort, pain, or the other issue is, the user can simply apply the topical as needed like they would a lotion.
CBD and Skin
Soothe skin. Topical CBD products can soothe itching, dryness, and red skin thanks to this cannabinoid’s anti-inflammatory qualities.
Reduce signs of aging. Antioxidants like vitamin E or vitamin C treat dryness, free radical damage, and inflammation, so you can expect CBD products to do that, too. That includes signs of aging such as fine lines, dark spots, and wrinkles.
Type of hemp extract. Full-spectrum extract is from the whole hemp plant and contains some trace amount of THC. Broad-spectrum extract contains the full spectrum of cannabinoids except no THC. CBD isolate is pure CBD extract alone. Many experts argue that full-spectrum products are preferable due to the “entourage effect,” which says that cannabis plant components work better together than alone.
It’s also important to remember that, although generally benign, side effects have been reported with some forms of CBD. For instance, oral CBD taken in the large amounts that have shown some limited promise in helping with anxiety issues may come with side effects, such as diarrhea, reduced appetite, fatigue, and interactions with other drugs you might be taking, specifically blood thinners, Cooper says.
Both THC and CBD act on a system of receptors in your body called cannabinoid receptors. You have cannabinoid receptors throughout your body and, so far, researchers have identified two major types: CB1 (found primarily in the central nervous system, including parts of the brain and spinal cord) and CB2 (found mainly in immune system tissues). Interestingly, both have been found in skin. Researchers have also found that while THC can bind to and activate both types of receptors, CBD seems to modulate and somewhat block the effects of CB1 and CB2 receptors. So, any effect that CBD has on CB receptors may actually be more related to regulating and even counteracting some of the actions of THC and other cannabinoids in the brain.
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.
So…is CBD cream just an expensive placebo?
Nevertheless, how do we account for all the people out there (like me) who use these products and feel like they’re doing something? Beyond the placebo effect, it’s possible that something else in the cream could be doing the heavy lifting here. These products don’t just contain CBD, Dr. Tishler points out. In fact, many of them also come with ingredients like arnica, menthol, or camphor, which may all provide a more immediate sensation of soothing or pain relief. So it could be those ingredients (or just the act of massaging the balm into your skin) that makes you feel better.
Two other common reasons people take CBD are to manage anxiety and sleep issues, two things we know can contribute to pain, Boehnke says. If you're dealing those kinds of issues in addition to pain, any reduction in pain you feel could be an indirect effect of it helping you manage anxiety or sleep. (But those are still unlikely to be affected by a topical formulation.)
“Cannabidiol is a super messy drug,” Ziva Cooper, Ph.D., research director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative in the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, tells SELF. “It has lots and lots of targets and it’s not clear how much of its effects on each target contribute to the potential pain relieving effects.”
But if you’re reading this, you are probably not a rat, which means these results aren’t directly applicable to your life. Although we know that rats do share much of our physiology—including CB1 and CB2 receptors—these studies don’t really tell us if humans would have the same results with CBD.