There are hundreds of CBD products to choose from, both oral and topical, and the type you choose might make all the difference for your aches and pains.
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How topical CBD works for muscle soreness and pain
Does CBD actually work for muscle pain? We explore what the research says and whether topics or oral supplements are better.
CBD is also gaining popularity as an alternative to traditional over-the-counter pain relief pills and as a fitness supplement to help with muscle recovery. But do those products actually work? Are they better than popping ibuprofen or rubbing a menthol cream on your sore muscles?
CBD for joint pain: Topical CBD likely won’t reach cannabinoid receptors in your joints no matter how potent. Oral CBD is more likely to help people with pain from arthritis and other joint conditions. People with pain from fibromyalgia will also benefit more from ingestible CBD, Titus says.
The only thing that comes close is a Phase 2 clinical trial using a proprietary CBD transdermal gel (meaning it’s meant to go through the skin into the bloodstream) in 320 patients with knee osteoarthritis over 12 weeks, which has not been peer-reviewed to date. Unfortunately, in almost all of the study’s measures of pain, those who received CBD didn’t have statistically different scores from those who got placebo. But “they found some reductions in pain and improvements in physical function,” Boehnke says.
“If somebody comes in with pain, do you reach for a bottle of CBD? The answer is absolutely not,” Dr. Tishler says.
“It actually is a very promiscuous compound,” Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., research fellow in the department of anesthesiology and the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan, tells SELF. “It will bind to receptors in multiple different pathways,” which makes it difficult to know how it might cause noticeable effects.
Here’s what the research says about using CBD for pain.
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.
Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is a cannabinoid, a type of compound found in cannabis (marijuana). Unlike the more well-known cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD does not produce a high.
The studies we do have about CBD for pain are all animal studies. For example, in a 2017 study published in Pain, researchers gave rats an injection into one of their knee joints to model osteoarthritis. Rats then either received doses of CBD or saline directly into an artery in the knee joint. Results showed that, after receiving CBD, rats showed less inflammation in the joint area and fewer pain-related behaviors (like shaking or withdrawing the affected paw or not being able to bear weight in that paw) compared to those that received saline.
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.