CBD Topicals

I probably don’t need to tell you that CBD (cannabidiol) is available in almost everything these days. With a variety of products like CBD water, edibles, vape oils, and bath bombs, there are virtually endless ways to enjoy CBD. Though there’s still a lot to learn about this fascinating compound, many CBD users and enthusiasts have already begun to tout the impressive list of health benefits. One of the most notable uses people have discovered is CBD’s ability to manage pain symptoms and provide relief. From arthritis to migraine, CBD is quickly becoming a go to supplement for those suffering from a wide range of painful health conditions.

While CBD is generally taken orally, or vaped, a new trend is emerging. The use of CBD as a topical ointment, salve, or balm is quickly gaining popularity. Muscle relaxing balms and salves are already popular among those who suffer with regular join, neck, muscle or headache pain, but adding CBD to these products brings them to a whole new level. While clinical research on these claims is sparse, there is a growing amount of anecdotal evidence available as people share their personal experiences and testimonials about CBD on popular websites and message boards online.

What is CBD?

For those who aren’t already aware, Cannabidiol (or CBD for short) is one of 113 cannabinoids identified in the hemp plant. A cannabinoid is a type of chemical compound that is found in all strains of cannabis. There are many different types of cannabinoids, such as CBD, CBG, and THC. However, unlike the THC (commonly associated with marijuana), CBD does not make the user feel high.

While both THC and CBD act on a system of receptors in your body called cannabinoid receptors, they function in different ways. There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors found within the human anatomy, they are CB1 (Located mainly in the central nervous system, including the brain and spine) and CB2 (found mainly in immune system tissue).

Researchers have found that CBD seems to modulate and even block the effects of CB1 and CB2 receptors to some extent. It is largely believed this is the reason why CBD is so effective at treating pain. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are similar to compounds produced naturally in the body called endocannabinoids. Our bodies also contain an endocannabinoid system that is thought to play a role in a variety of functions in the body. It helps to regulate parts of the immune system, the release of hormones, metabolism, and memory, and sleep. The fact that CBD is so similar to chemical compounds our bodies already produce is most likely why it is generally well tolerated and effective in treating so many conditions.

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Medical Research

More recent research suggests that CBD may also have effects on other receptors found in the body, such as certain serotonin receptors. These are known to play a role in mood regulation and have been linked to conditions such as depression and anxiety (which CBD is also known to help with) Still, the most common reason people report using CBD is to manage chronic pain, but what does the research actually say regarding it’s use as a pain relief supplement?

The National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering evaluated decades of cannabis research and concluded that “patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms.” The most compelling research they found for using cannabinoids for pain came from a large review and meta-analysis published in JAMA in 2015. In this study, researchers studied results from 79 previous studies of cannabinoids and various medical conditions, including chronic pain.

It is important to note that these studies focused on cannabis in general, and not specifically CBD. However, there are some studies regarding topical CBD specifically. One study from 2016 in the European Journal of Pain looked at arthritis in rats with a topical formulation of CBD. The rats received an injection into one knee joint to mimic arthritis. They then received treatment with a gel that contained CBD. Ultimately they found that the rats that were given the highest doses of CBD showed significantly lower levels of inflammation and lower pain behavior scores compared to those that didn’t. It is interesting to note that the gel was applied topically to the backs of the rats in that study, and not directly to the knee. The point was to get CBD into the rats’ bloodstream.

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Potential Side Effects

It is important to be aware of the amount of CBD that a product contains because the studies we have about CBD and pain all focused on CBD in the bloodstream, rather than on local application. It can be somewhat difficult to determine what the correct dose would be for local application. It’s tempting to assume that you should just go for the highest dose, but that is not necessarily the case. That’s why it’s important to consult a doctor or physician before starting a CBD regimen. Some side effects have been reported with certain forms of CBD, but they are generally mild, if present at all. However, some users who took oral CBD in the large amounts reported side effects such as diarrhea, reduced appetite and fatigue.

Still, check with your doctor first because interactions with other drugs you might be taking, specifically blood thinners, have been reported. However, studies have found essentially zero side effects when CBD is used topically. It’s important to check the ingredients of a CBD topical you are intending to use to determine if it contains other ingredients that will make absorption into the bloodstream more effective, though this is not a major concern unless you are taking blood thinners.


Ultimately the best test is simply to try a CBD topical for your pain and experience the effects for yourself. Many people have reported successful pain relief with CBD topicals for headaches and migraine, as well as arthritis pain, and general aches and pains in the muscles and joints. If you’ve tried other topicals and haven’t had much relief, perhaps it’s worth giving a CBD topical a try.