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.
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.
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
Hemp pain relief creams or cannabis lotions claim to offer muscle relief for your tired body, but what do experts have to say?
Chances are if you're on this website and reading this story you currently have an achy muscle or seven somewhere on your body. You might be familiar with foam rolling, warm compresses, or even ice baths as a means of easing muscle soreness, but what about hemp cream for pain relief?
The fatty tissue can only hold so much oil, so, theoretically, if you apply enough of a cannabis cream to your skin, it might leak down into your skeletal muscle just out of diffusion, adds Sexton. But there's no study to show this, and that means you're going to be rubbing on a whole lot of the stuff.
Let's start simple: Endocannabinoids are natural signals in your body that help maintain homeostasis by detecting and regulating hunger, pain, mood, and memory. (They're actually part of your post-workout exercise high.) CBD helps elevate your natural levels of pain-relieving endocannabinoids by blocking metabolism as they're moving around your body.
In fact, CBD is useful to healthy skin because some kind of an imbalance is usually the root cause of most skin problems. There is still extensive research outstanding, but here is what we know about CBD and skin right now:
Quality controlLook for CBD topical vendors that display results from third-party lab testing. Look for Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP)-compliant facilities, which follow FDA standards to qualify. This matters: a 2017 study found that only 31 percent of CBD hemp oil products were accurately labeled with the correct CBD level.
CBD Skin Care Benefits
CBD and other cannabinoids are beneficial antioxidants for skin. Healthy skin also need B-complex vitamins and essential amino acids, many of which are found in CBD.
Scarring. CBD may improve scarring according to one study of scar tissue patients.
Research proves that CBD has various therapeutic properties, but what about the skin? And doesn’t putting CBD in something oily make it worse?
The usual explanation for CBD topicals’ potential effectiveness is that, once the substances penetrate the outer layer of skin, they bind with cannabinoid receptors. These receptors can be thought of as locks on the surface of cells, causing cellular changes when they’re unlocked. In this metaphor, cannabinoids are the keys to the locks, and those keys can be either the body’s own endocannabinoids (which play a role in exercise euphoria) or an external source of cannabinoids, such as a CBD topical.
Placebos are grounded in belief, not deception. There’s ample evidence that physiological changes can happen if the person receiving a treatment believes it will help. Take, for example, the effectiveness of rinsing and spitting with a sports drink. The practice shouldn’t work, because no fuel enters your bloodstream, yet it has consistently been shown to improve performance, most likely because your brain thinks sugar is on the way. Or consider the many athletes who have a performance breakthrough soon after joining a new team or getting a new coach: barring doping, those athletes are unlikely to be physically different than they were two weeks before, but it’s the belief in the new setup that underlies their improvement.
So What About CBD?
So if you think a topical solution will help with your throbbing Achilles tendon, it just might.
Anecdotally, CBD topicals seem to work best in managing flare-ups of the chronic low-grade problems most endurance athletes live with. Aggravated iliotibial band from running on slanted roads? Check. Shoulder strain from too much time riding an indoor trainer? Check. Torn ACL or ruptured Achilles? Not so check.
Right about now, you’re probably thinking, It’s all just a placebo effect. That may be true, but it’s not as damning an indictment as you think.