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CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound that comes from the cannabis plant. Unlike its cousin marijuna, CBD comes from the hemp variety of cannabis, and unlike THC, it doesn’t give you a psychoactive high. However, it does have many beneficial properties that make it a rising star in the treatment of physical ailments.
While much of CBD is taken orally, either through tinctures, capsules, or gummies, topicals are also useful and have many appealing qualities. Most notably, by rubbing CBD creams or oils onto the skin, pain and inflammation of many varieties are soothed. But it has more uses than just pain and inflammation.
Pain and Chronic Pain
First, and most basic, CBD topicals are used to help reduce aches and pains, particularly joint pain and chronic pain. The National Academies of Sciences, Medicines, and Engineering evaluated years of CBD research and came to the following conclusion: "in adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms."
While many people swear by CBD topicals for the treatment of their chronic pain, most of the scientific evidence thus far has been conducted through animal testing--but there has been a lot of it.
In 2017, a study in the medical journal Pain, rats with arthritis were given CBD doses. The rats who received the doses were less likely to show signs of pain in their knee joints, showing less inflammation and fewer pain-like behaviors (such as withdrawing the paw or not putting weight on the affected joint).
A further study into rats was done by the European Journal of Pain, in which it sought to determine if CBD was better done by injection or topical treatment. In the study, the rats either received an intravenous dose of CBD, or a 30 second massage treatment with CBD gel. The rats who received the topical gel treatment showed more signs of pain relief.
CBD topicals are also used to help reduce inflammation, and many people have felt an enormous benefit from them. The topical is generally rubbed onto the inflamed area, either from a spray, cream, or gel, and then massaged in. This benefit, as with the benefits for pain, have not been tested widely in scientific studies among humans, but there have been many studies with animals that have proven worthwhile.
One 2016 study with rats found that CBD administered topically helps inflammation and pain without side effects. That right there is a big plus for topical treatments. Regarding side effects, the study found that topical CBD avoids the gastrointestinal problems that intravenous CBD caused in the rats.
Arthritis has been one of the most tested areas for topical CBD use. The Arthritis Foundation states that, while they recommend that any use of CBD products begins with a consultation with a physician, there are potential health benefits to be had from CBD. They recommend starting a CBD journal to track your dosage, symptoms, and amount of relief. However, once you find a product that has a positive effect on your symptoms, you shouldn’t be afraid to use it.
Though the Arthritis Foundation states that topicals are often combined with other compounds such as menthols, capsaicin or camphor, and therefore the benefit may be coming from one of those other compounds and not the CBD, they do conclude that there is potential benefit to be had.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease for which there is no known cure. However, some sufferers from the condition state that they get a benefit from using a topical CBD treatment. Just as topical CBD helps with chronic pain, inflammation, and osteoarthritis, it can treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, though not cure them. A group of international rheumatologists wrote in 2019 in Expert Reviews and Clinical Immunology that more research was needed into CBD to come to any stronger conclusions.
Eczema, Psoriasis, and Scarring
Aside from pain and inflammation, however, topical CBD can also be applied for skin conditions. In a small study in 2019 in Clinical Therapeutics, the use of CBD ointment over three months for psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and scars “significantly improved symptoms and signs of the skin disorders.”
There is clearly more research left to be done on the use of CBD topicals, but what exists is promising, and there is anecdotal evidence from many users that in the treatment of chronic pain, inflammation, various forms of arthritis, and skin disorders, there is a benefit.
Want to try CBD topicals for yourself?