There’s Little Evidence That Cannabis Creams Work for Pain-Relief

Will CBD cream really help with pain?

Beyond studies on animals there is little human evidence to suggest cannabis creams and help with pain. Image Credit: By Yuriy Maksymiv on shutterstock

More and more people are turning to cannabis topicals to help bring relief from the muscle soreness, aches, and pains of everyday life (from exercise, physical labor, and getting older and even for more serious and chronic conditions like arthritis). Cannabis-infused topicals come in creams, salves, lotions, balms and oils, and transdermal patches. But do they really work?

First let’s take a quick look at how CBD (cannabidiol) relieves pain. CBD is a natural compound extracted from the cannabis plant with proven healing properties, at least when taken orally. It works with our endocannabinoid system’s CB2 receptors to regulate essential functions including pain. The properties of cannabinoids vary somewhat but cannabidiol has proven anti-inflammatory capabilities among other health benefits. Unlike medical marijuana or consuming cannabis, which is typically THC rich, CBD has less than 0.3 percent of THC (i.e. supremely negligible), which means it helps without the high as it has no psychoactive effects.

CBD oil, vaporized oil, tinctures or gel caps are the most common delivery methods for CBD for various health benefits, as well as in the slew of cannabis-infused lotions, balms and oils, and cannabis cream for pain relief on the market today.

But here’s the rub (pardon the pun): Beyond an animal study in the European Journal of Pain noting that after four days of applying topical CBD gel to rats with arthritis, the animals showed reduced inflammation and reduced signs of pain — there is no research confirming that cannabis topicals actually do anything. Basically, who and what you believe comes down to anecdotal evidence, or, more objectively, the anatomy of the skin and muscles.

Can Cannabis Cream for Pain Relief Even Reach Sore Muscles?

As any orthopaedic physician will explain, your aches and pains likely emanate from your muscles, tendons, and other anatomical structures deep under the skin. Anything rubbed topically on the skin only reaches within one centimeter of the surface of the skin. So, theoretically, cannabis-infused topicals cannot reach your core points of pain. The good news is topical cannabis creams can — and do — help with an array of skin conditions, including acne, rosacea, dermatitis, psoriasis, and even to combat the signs of aging. But penetrating beneath the surface? We’re just not sure.

Should You Try Cannabis Topicals Anyway?
When taken orally, cannabis has proven to be amazingly effective at treating a variety of maladies — from anxiety to epilepsy to chronic inflammation. CBD and THC contain a wide swath of health benefits, but the delivery system has to match the ailment. While manufacturers of CBD topicals for pain relief and the medical marijuana and cannabis industry themselves claim CBD-infused topicals rubbed on the skin can help alleviate muscle soreness and acute pain, reputable research has yet to confirm it.

Bottom Line: There’s no harm in using cannabis-infused lotions, balms,and creams. They’re safe. Some of their inactive ingredients may be soothing, as will the massage you’ll get when applying. Truth is, sometimes the rituals we center around healing can lift our spirits enough that we lose track of the pain. So try cannabis-infused topicals and see what feels good to you, in your body. Because, no matter what the experts say, if something makes you feel better that’s the best health evidence of all.

Nicola Bridges
Nicola Bridges
Nicola Bridges is an award-winning writer and editor who’s covered health, wellness, and women’s lifestyle for the past two decades. The former editorial director for and editor in chief of Working Mother, she is currently a regular contributor to Parade Magazine and The Fine Line where she writes about trends in modern health.

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