The Rise of CBD Topicals: Why Are They so Effective?
CBD is emerging as one of the most exciting natural alternatives used to treat a wide-range of common conditions, and for good reason. Up until recently, it was the psychoactive component of cannabis, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that received all of the attention for its medicinal benefits, as well as its ability to produce mind-altering effects. However, with medical marijuana sweeping the country, researchers have begun to discover the amazing properties of many cannabinoids found within the cannabis plant. But what makes CBD so special? Let’s examine: According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) Cannabidiol or CBD “is the major non-psychoactive component of Cannabis sativa,” (Society, 2013) and it is one of over 80 natural occurring compounds, called cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. CBD cannabinoids contain the following properties: anti-inflammation, analgesic, anti-spasmodic, enhanced circulation and regenerated cellular activity (Russo, 2008). Due to its wide variety of medical benefits, is used to treat a number of common conditions including: chronic pain, inflammation, seizures, insomnia, spasms, multiple sclerosis and mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. As a topical agent, CBD oil can be directly applied to certain areas of the body as an effective means of relieving pain and soreness, reducing inflammation, and soothing inflammatory skin conditions such as, psoriasis, dermatitis and eczema. Since CBD oil is non-psychoactive (Cherney, 2017), applying it to the skin does not create mind-altering effects in the same manner that THC ingestion does. Therefore, the use of CBD in topical form is a useful alternative for those who wish to avoid the psychoactive effects of THC and/or those who would like options besides the over-the-counter, steroid-based creams often used for arthritis, joint pain and a number of other ailments. This is especially true for aging users, parents or adults who are concerned about practical matters (like failing drug tests, for example). For these reasons, topical CBD products are experiencing a rise in popularity within the U.S.
How does CBD work?
In order to understand just how CBD works, we first have to understandthe body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The NIH defines the endocannabinoid system as, “a recently discovered signaling system comprising the cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, their intrinsic lipid ligands, endocannabinoids and the associated enzymatic machinery.” (Society, 2013) The ECS is responsible for regulating many systems within the body such as mood, metabolism, pain and immune function in mammals. Endocannabinoids are natural chemical signals in the body which interact with the cannabinoid receptors and help maintain homeostasis. It seems to do this by detecting and regulating pain, mood, hunger, memory and more. If the ECS is affected, or the body is not producing enough endocannabinoids, these functions in the body may become unbalanced. If the body is not producing or regulating endocannabinoids properly, ingesting natural cannabinoids or applying them topically can restore this balance. CBD differs from THC in the sense that THC mimics the natural cannabinoids in the body and binds with the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, which are found in abundance within the immune system, the gastrointestinal tract and in the central and peripheral nervous systems. While THC binds to these receptors, CBD interacts with an enzyme called FAAH (Fatty Acid Amide Hydoxylase) (What CBD is and How it Works in the Body, 2016). This enzyme is responsible for pulling excess anandamide (which plays a role in our homeostasis), out of circulation. FAAH enzyme breaks-down and gets rid of natural endocannabinoids. CBD stops this breakdown and in turn increases the natural endocannabinoids available in our system. Since endocannabinoids have such a balancing and healing effect on the body’s numerous systems and functions, CBD’s ability to increase the number of endocannabinoids present in the body may create a bevy of therapeutic and even healing benefits (The Endocannabinoid Production in the Human Body).
What are CBD topicals?
CBD comes in oil form, ointments, creams and lotions, patches, balms and salves. CBD readily absorbs into the skin and is can be applied directly to affected areas. It is advised that topical users should begin will smaller doses and increase the amount used on a gradual basis until the desired result is reached (CBD Oil Dosage – General Advice to Assess How Much CBD to Take). CBD oils can be potent and can either include psychoactive THC or just CBD. Oils are also quite versatile, since they can be applied topically as well as be ingested. CBD topicals can be used as an effective treatment to alleviate many symptoms. Once applied, they can take anywhere from an hour to 48 hours to provide relief depending on the dose, frequency of use and severity of the condition. Most users find that regular application provides an analgesic effect that significantly reduces localized discomfort (Russo, 2008). Even though CBD is most often taken for pain relief, research is starting to show it may be beneficial in relieving, cramps, headaches, psoriasis as well. CBD’s ability to create therapeutic effects by increasing the natural levels of pain relieving endocannabinoids, decreases inflammatory responses and desensitizes one’s pain receptors (Russo, 2008).
How do medical experts feel about topical CBD use?
Given the degree to which marijuana and cannabinoid derivative use has been stigmatized in the past, and cannabis’ Schedule I classification as an illegal substance, and lack of FDA approval, official medical research on the effects of CBD isn’t as plentiful as it should be. However, much of the anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD’s neuroprotective, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects with regards to topical application is very promising (Russo, 2008).
Overall, many within medical community are rapidly building the case that CBD can be a powerful relief agent for many conditions that poses a negligible health risk.