A study analysis in the Journal of Pain Research confirms that topical use of certain cannabinoid topicals can reduce pain in animals with inflammation or neuropathic pain. And science has found topical creams with THC and CBD help relieve pain for conditions like multiple sclerosis. But for the vast majority of chronic pain — and most certainly for acute pain like post-workout — the scientific jury is 100 percent still out. "There's a little bit of data in support of CBD for pain relief, but to go from animal to human is a giant leap," says Sexton.
This brings up an underlying issue with all CBD and hemp products: There is no regulation around how much active CBD or THC is in each cream or how much of the compound is needed to see relief. Read: "If you have three products that say 1 percent CBD infused in coconut oil, one could be great and the other two could be crap—that's the reality of cannabis medicine right now," says Gerdeman. (See: How to Buy Safe and Effective CBD Products)
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.
What Science Says About Hemp Creams for Pain Relief
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.
Interest piqued? Learn more about hemp cream for pain relief and all its variations.
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 do you need CBD? All of the experts here agree that until there's more peer-reviewed research, all claims should be looked at as marketing hype and not evidence-based. (Or, they can be anecdotal. Read what happened when one woman tried CBD for anxiety.)
What type of product will work best for you? There are pros and cons for both oral and topical CBD products—so if you apply a tincture or oil to your skin, do you get the same benefits of CBD you’re used to?
Science on CBD topicals (and the cannabis plant as a whole) is in its infancy, but we do know some promising things:
CBD Topicals vs CBD Oil
Either way, depending on the type of issue you’re trying to treat and pain management you’re seeking, it is possible to get the effects of CBD topically or orally—if what you’re taking is made for that kind of use. But you wouldn’t eat hand cream, right? So would you put CBD oil on your skin?
CBD topicals generally can be used to provide localized relief by delivering CBD to the outer layer of the skin. They often have particular formulations, such as CBD creams for skin-related issues like eczema, acne, rosacea, and psoriasis, and for injuries and problems like insect bites and stings and burns.
You can also take CBD using a tincture, oil, or spray by holding it under your tongue (sublingual) and allowing it to absorb directly into the bloodstream for 60 to 120 seconds. You can feel effects within 15 to 45 minutes, although you will also taste the preparation. Full-spectrum CBD oils in particular have a strong plant taste.
Hesitant to take pharmaceutical prescriptions as she feared they may impinge on cognitive function, she sought an alternative. “I use Kannaway’s Gold Oral Applicator every morning and Kannaway’s Premium Full Spectrum Oral Applicator every evening,” she shared with Weedmaps News.
Studies have documented CBD oil as a potentially effective treatment for chronic pain conditions that are challenging to treat, such as neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis (MS), and intractable cancer pain. Although CBD appears effective in alleviating neuropathic pain caused by conditions such as cancer or stroke, there are many different types of neuropathy, and more research is needed.
CBD has also been shown to inhibit glutamate levels in the brain and spinal cord of mice, which can be associated with increased sensations and transmission of pain. In human clinical trials, CBD has been shown to enhance anandamide signaling in the brain. Anandamide is often referred to as the “bliss molecule” and healthy levels of it are linked to feelings of well-being and happiness.
In a study performed on rats and published in 2016 in the “European Journal of Pain,” researchers found that CBD had limited oral bioavailability. Topical application of CBD may be more effective than oral ingestion in cases where inflammation or pain is specific to one area, such as arthritis or muscular pain.
“In utilizing the CBD oil, I was able to relieve my pain and shrink the tumors. I had surgery, and rather than take the prescribed fentanyl, I used CBD (and THC oil) to heal. I continue to take the oil daily for prevention,” she explained to Weedmaps News.
Tucker also observed that her sleep quality has improved since taking CBD oil. “CBD is a natural way for me to achieve high performance and attain the recovery time I need.”
CBD is believed to help reduce pain in several ways. It stimulates the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is partly responsible for mood, memory, and how pain is experienced. A 2004 study published in the “British Journal of Pharmacology” reported that CBD relieved pain in rat subjects apparently through the TRPV1 receptors, which control functions such as inflammation, body temperature, and awareness of pain.