"The pain and stiffness that comes post-workout or from overexertion certainly has a pro-inflammatory component to it, so it's reasonable to think CBD or other cannabinoids might have benefits, but we have no research to support this yet," adds Gerdeman.
These topical ointments, creams, and lotions are infused with CBD, or cannabidiol, a compound found in the cannabis plant. Manufacturers claim it can help alleviate acute pain and muscle soreness. To reiterate for the uninitiated: CBD is not the same as THC because CBD does not have any psychoactive effects — aka it won't get you high.
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.
What Science Says About Hemp Creams for Pain Relief
The theoretical logic is that are a few different ways CBD could help regulate pain — by increasing your natural endocannabinoids, decreasing your inflammatory response, and desensitizing your pain receptors (although it's still unclear whether this stands when absorbed topically compared to orally).
Biology lesson aside, all of this has yet to be proven in scientific studies on humans.
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.
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.
Topicals are cannabis-infused products you apply directly to your skin to relieve an ailment. Cannabis used in topicals will allow cannabinoids to be absorbed into the bloodstream at a slower rate than smokable or edible cannabis, so the effects of topicals are typically felt only where they’re used without the THC that causes intoxication.
As a prospective topical consumer, you may wonder, do topicals get you high? Based on anecdotal reports, if the cream you’re using is CBD- or THCA-based, there will be no intoxicating side effects. THC-based cannabis cream may cause the euphoric effects typically associated with THC, but the effects are typically mild.
How topicals work
What does topically mean when it comes to cannabis creams? Your body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS) regulates your appetite, mood, and pain and pleasure receptors, among other functions. Cannabinoids THC and CBD, the active compounds in cannabis plants, are chemicals that activate that system. Your body also makes its own natural versions of these compounds, called endocannabinoids.
Cannabis cream or lotion can be rubbed directly into your temples. There are even some preliminary studies showing that cannabis cream and other topicals could be effective for migraine relief.
THC and endocannabinoids are also similar in that they both bind to cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors, and the molecules that bind to them, are responsible for a wide range of biological functions, such as anti-inflammation and pain relief.
Personally, I like to rub a little cannabis salve on my tight and sore neck muscles, shoulders, wrists, knees, elbows, ankles, bottom of my feet, and behind my ears. Hey, all this gardening (and sitting to blog) does a number on my body!
Makes: Approximately 2 cups (16 ounces) of finished salve
Just slightly! I find our salve to have a mild cannabis odor, but nothing overpowering. The coconut aroma also stands out. If you add essential oils to your recipe, that can also help to mask the smell. I often apply salve after showering (including before going to work) and don’t think there is much of a noticeable odor after a half an hour or so. No one has ever said anything to me at least!
If you haven’t done so already, the first step is to decarboxylate the cannabis you intend to use in this salve recipe. Or at least some of it, if you want to also use some raw material.
The medicinal benefits of decarboxylated THC and CBD are well-documented. Both are anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, high in antioxidants, relieve pain, relax muscles, and suppress tumor growth. This is especially true when they’re used and work together, known as the “entourage effect“. THC is a particularly powerful analgesic (pain-reliever). CBD has even more expansive healing applications, and can help relieve seizures, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis. That said, we definitely want to reap those benefits and use decarbed cannabis in this salve recipe!