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Hemp source. Buy topical CBD products made with non-GMO, USA-grown hemp when possible.
Type of hemp extract. Full-spectrum extract is from the whole hemp plant and contains some trace amount of THC. Broad-spectrum extract contains the full spectrum of cannabinoids except no THC. CBD isolate is pure CBD extract alone. Many experts argue that full-spectrum products are preferable due to the “entourage effect,” which says that cannabis plant components work better together than alone.
CBD topical and CBD oil formulations are also different. Topical formulations typically contain various skincare ingredients, such as herbal extracts, essential oils, and vitamins. Naturally, you want to avoid ingredients that are irritating.
How to Use CBD Cream
Since the Farm Bill legalized CBD products derived from hemp at the federal level in 2018, CBD topicals have been the work of the Food and Drug Administration FDA. This doesn’t mean there’s a clearly regulated market out there, however.
Acne. Acne is mostly caused by hormones, but CBD helps fight the inflammation related to acne’s redness and swelling, and helps normalize skin.
However, as always, it’s smart to start with a low viable dosage. From there, gradually increase how much CBD cream you use until your therapeutic dose seems optimal. There are no known side effects to worry about with topical infused with hemp-derived CBD, although you should always check with a doctor when trying anything new.
CBD-infused topicals include creams, balms, salves, lotions, and transdermal patches. They are designed to be applied directly to the skin for surface level relief, or in some cases for deeper muscle level pain relief, or even for things like relaxation or sleep.
But there are indications of effectiveness independent of belief. A University of Kentucky study induced a simulation of arthritis in rats. Half of the rats then received topical CBD treatment at the site of their inflammation for four days. After treatment, the CBD-treated rats appeared to be in less pain than the other rats—they withdrew their paws when touched only about as often as before they were injured. The CBD rats also had significantly reduced inflammation, including joint swelling and immune-cell activity in the injured area. Granted, this was an animal study, which comes with the usual caveats. On the other hand, the placebo effect presumably doesn’t exist in rats.
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.
So if you think a topical solution will help with your throbbing Achilles tendon, it just might.
So What About CBD?
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.
The first step in answering these questions is to examine whether topical solutions of any sort do anything. Topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (i.e., ibuprofen, diclofenac, and the like) are available as both prescription medications and over-the-counter products. Given the FDA’s approval, there’s evidence that this general class of products works. As when you take anti-inflammatories orally, the goal is to reduce pain and lower inflammation and swelling. By applying anti-inflammatories directly to the affected area, you’re theoretically increasing the product’s effectiveness.
Clinical evidence to support these claims probably won’t exist in the near future. Most of the current research on CBD focuses on specific disease conditions, such as the number of epileptic seizures someone suffers per day or the degree of tremors from Parkinson’s. Studies on, say, whether a CBD balm eases the rusty-coil sensation in your left hamstring insertion aren’t a public-health priority. Industry-funded research on such usage is unlikely, for two main (related) reasons. A robust clinical trial can cost millions, which is beyond the budget of almost all CBD brands. Even so, if they had the resources to fund such a trial, a given brand probably lacks the incentive. And the CBD molecule is a natural substance considered to be in the public domain, so it can’t be patented. Any positive results from the study could therefore be used by all CBD brands in their marketing.
And when we ask if topicals really “do anything,” that depends on what you mean. These products usually impart scents (lavender and mint are common) and sensations (cooling menthol, warming camphor) that can distract you enough to change the woe-is-me narrative. This phenomenon is akin to positive self-talk shifting your attention during a race or a hard workout—you’re not really changing anything physiologically, but you’re not as constrained by your duress.