This week, someone asked me about topical CBD.
I happened to be reading an article on this topic through a mainstream media outlet. In it, a university researcher that specialized in immunology was quoted as saying that CBD, when applied topically (which means, directly on the skin) may relieve pain temporarily.
But I couldn’t just take his word for it. This is because he came to this conclusion after conducting a study with the financial help of… guess what? A company that manufactures topical CBD oils.
Whenever that happens, we need to dig a little deeper and see if there are other published studies that show any benefit. Ideally, studies that are not funded by the CBD oil industry.
I should mention that CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is a member of the same family of cannabis plants as marijuana.
Any topical CBD products that are available for purchase have a limited amount of THC (or, Tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the chemical compound responsible for the psychoactive effects (or the “high”) many feel when consuming marijuana. Again, topical CBD products have negligible amounts of THC – usually at or below 0.3%. Without high concentrations of THC, we don’t need to worry about the psychoactive side effects of using CBD.
Do CBD Products Help Provide any Relief?
What’s interesting is that we know that CBD, when applied to the skin, is unlikely to get into our bloodstream. So, if it doesn’t get into the bloodstream, how can it possibly help relieve pain?
When we think about other topical remedies, they usually involve cold or heat. Those are sensations we can actually feel on our skin. Other pain relief measures like taking Tylenol or Advil have to be taken orally in order for us to feel any relief.
What scientists have discovered is that we have specific receptors on our skin that respond to CBD. These are called (surprise, surprise) cannabinoid receptors. It’s like our skin is prepared to receive CBD and other compounds that look chemically like it.
Theoretically, what happens is when CBD oil is applied to the skin, it may reduce inflammation in that specific area of the body. Remember, inflammation means the body is stressed – it’s fighting something. When part of the body is stressed or in this fight mode, pain can be a result. So, in theory, CBD oil tells the body to chill out.
Now just because this seems to make theoretical sense, it doesn’t automatically mean that we should be applying these oils to it. Instead, we need to see if the research supports this idea.
CBD Product Research
While most studies were performed using animals, some human trials, and not just the one I referred to at the beginning, have found that those using CBD oil topically can experience some pain relief.
Unfortunately, these trials enrolled only a small number of patients and were performed in the short-term. Interestingly, a large trial that recruited 3,000 patients found that products with more of the psychoactive compound, THC, tended to reduce symptoms the most when compared to products with no THC. This calls into question whether THC is the real key to pain relief.
Then, there’s the issue of how much and how often. How much oil do you need to apply to the skin and how often? The published studies have varied greatly here. This makes it difficult to come to any real conclusions about dosing. Some health organizations have acknowledged that it’s a bit too early to know whether CBD oil, when applied to the skin is safe or effective. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as well as an international group of rheumatologists have gone on record stating that we need more studies to know for sure.
CBD Isolate vs. Full Spectrum
So, here’s my bottom line: if it’s not illegal and not harming you, then feel free to give it a try. But, some words of caution: CBD products may not be legal in your area. Check your state’s government website to know for sure. Next, check with your doctor to be sure they’re on board with you using it. If they say it’s okay, then ask your doctor whether you should purchase CBD isolate or a full-spectrum CBD oil. This is because isolates may require a higher dose than full-spectrum oils.
If you haven’t run into any barriers at that point, then the next step is to make sure what you buy is a quality product. In the U.S., products made from CBD are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. So we run into the same problem we do with other supplements sold on the market – quality and purity can be a concern.
Make sure that the product has been evaluated by an independent 3rd party for quality and purity. You can ask the CBD oil manufacturer for a certificate of authenticity or check to see if ConsumerLab.com has done their own analysis.
If you’ve got the green light so far and found a product that meets quality and purity standards, follow the product’s or your doctor’s dosing guidelines. As you use it, monitor how you feel and whether the pain is going away and whether any other unintended side effects are popping up.
If it seems to be providing you some relief and with no unintended side effects, then you should be okat! Just be sure to give your doctor status updates every now and then.