Pain, whether it's chronic or acute, is an uncomfortable experience that most people would rather avoid. With pharmaceutical options often coming with a string of side effects, many are turning towards natural alternatives. Among these, CBD cream has risen in popularity as a topical solution for pain relief. But how does CBD cream work for pain? In this article, we'll delve into the science behind CBD, its interaction with your body's physiology, and its potential as a pain relief option.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is a naturally occurring compound extracted from the Cannabis sativa plant, specifically from strains that are low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component that gives marijuana its “high.” CBD is just one of over a hundred cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, but it has gained significant attention for its broad range of potential therapeutic benefits.
At the molecular level, CBD is a complex compound with 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn't have a mind-altering effect. The absence of a psychoactive impact makes CBD an appealing option for those who are looking for relief from various conditions without the impairing effects of certain pharmaceuticals or marijuana.
CBD's legal status varies by jurisdiction. In the United States, as of my last update in September 2021, the Farm Bill of 2018 federally legalized hemp-derived CBD containing less than 0.3% THC. However, CBD derived from marijuana plants remains illegal at the federal level, and state laws on CBD usage can vary widely. Always check your local laws before purchasing or using CBD products.
CBD has been studied for its role in treating a variety of health issues other than chronic pain, such as anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and even certain types of cancer. While research is ongoing, evidence suggests that CBD may work by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in maintaining homeostasis (balance) in the body.
Forms and Consumption Methods
CBD comes in various forms and consumption methods, including oils, tinctures, edibles like gummies, capsules, and topical products like creams and lotions. Each form has its own onset time, efficacy, and suitability for different kinds of issues, including chronic pain.
The Role of the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is a complex network of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids that are naturally produced by the body. It's involved in regulating various physiological processes including mood, sleep, and, importantly for our topic, pain perception. The ECS has two primary types of receptors: CB1 and CB2. While CB1 receptors are mainly found in the brain and central nervous system, CB2 receptors are more commonly found in peripheral tissues, particularly immune cells, making them more relevant for pain and inflammation.
Penetration and Activation
When you apply CBD cream to an area of discomfort, the cream penetrates the outer layers of the skin, working its way down to the CB2 receptors. The lipids in the oil base of the cream carry the CBD molecules into the skin, which allows for a more focused onset of effects compared to other consumption methods. The CBD then binds to these CB2 receptors, making them more active and effective at balancing pain and inflammation, a process known as “upregulation.”
The Synergistic Components
When discussing the efficacy of CBD creams for pain relief, it's crucial to consider the role of other active and inactive ingredients that often accompany CBD in these formulations. These additional components can work in tandem with CBD, creating a synergistic effect that enhances the cream's overall effectiveness.
Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in various plants, including cannabis. They contribute to the plant's smell and taste but also have therapeutic properties of their own. Some terpenes, like myrcene and limonene, have anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, which can complement the effects of CBD.
Many CBD creams also contain essential oils like lavender, peppermint, or eucalyptus. These oils offer additional benefits, such as relaxation, a pleasant scent, and added pain relief. Lavender, for example, has been shown to have anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a valuable addition to CBD creams aimed at treating conditions with both pain and anxiety components.
Carrier Oils and Fatty Acids
Carrier oils like coconut oil or shea butter are often used as the base in CBD creams. These oils help in delivering CBD through the skin barrier. They also provide moisturization and can contribute to the overall soothing effect of the cream. The fatty acids in these carrier oils can help increase the absorption of CBD, making the cream more effective.
Additional Natural Extracts
Some formulations may include other natural extracts like calendula, arnica, or chamomile that have their own set of benefits, including anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing properties. These ingredients are particularly beneficial for people who experience skin irritation along with pain.
Vitamins and Antioxidants
Vitamins like Vitamin E are sometimes added for their antioxidant properties, which can aid in the healing process and offer additional skin benefits. Antioxidants can neutralize harmful free radicals, aiding in the overall health of the skin where the cream is applied.
Full-Spectrum vs. Isolate
It's also worth mentioning that some creams use full-spectrum CBD, which includes all of the naturally occurring compounds in the cannabis plant, such as other cannabinoids and terpenes. These compounds work together in what is often referred to as the “entourage effect,” potentially enhancing the pain-relieving properties of the cream. On the other hand, creams using CBD isolate contain only CBD, which is still effective but doesn't offer the benefits of the entourage effect.
In summary, the synergistic components in CBD creams contribute to their overall efficacy. Whether it's the added terpenes, essential oils, or other natural extracts, these components can significantly amplify the cream's ability to alleviate pain, offering a comprehensive approach to pain management.
Duration and Consistency
The effects of topical CBD are relatively long-lasting, with relief generally enduring for several hours. However, the key to maximizing benefits is consistent application, especially for chronic conditions. Some studies suggest that, over time, the ECS becomes more responsive to the CBD, making the cream even more effective for pain relief.
How CBD Cream Interacts with Pain Receptors
When applied to the skin, CBD cream penetrates the epidermal and dermal skin layers to reach the body's endocannabinoid system. Here, it interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors, often dampening the signal of pain receptors and reducing inflammation, thereby alleviating discomfort.
Types of Pain That CBD Cream Can Address
When considering the types of pain that CBD cream can potentially address, it's important to take a multi-faceted approach. The pain spectrum is broad, encompassing various categories from chronic to acute, and from neuropathic to inflammatory. Below, we delve into some of the key types of pain where CBD cream has shown promise:
- Arthritis: The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD can provide relief from arthritis pain by reducing inflammation in the affected joints.
- Back Pain: Many people use CBD cream as an alternative or supplementary treatment for lower back pain.
- Muscle Spasms: CBD can help to relax the muscles and alleviate the discomfort caused by spasms.
- Diabetic Neuropathy: Patients suffering from the painful tingling and numbness caused by diabetic neuropathy have reported relief after using CBD cream.
- Sciatica: The cream can target localized areas, providing potential relief from the shooting pain associated with sciatica.
- Multiple Sclerosis: There are indications that CBD may help manage symptoms related to multiple sclerosis, including neuropathic pain.
- Eczema and Psoriasis: CBD has anti-inflammatory and skin-calming effects, making it a candidate for relieving skin conditions that cause pain.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): While more commonly treated with ingestible forms of CBD, topical CBD can also provide localized relief from abdominal pain associated with IBD.
Postoperative or Injury-Related Pain
- Surgical Wounds: Some people use CBD cream to minimize post-surgery discomfort.
- Sprains and Bruises: For minor injuries, CBD cream can offer localized pain relief and reduce swelling.
Menstrual and Pelvic Pain
- Menstrual Cramps: Many women are turning to CBD cream to ease painful menstrual cramps, applying the product to their lower abdomen.
- Endometriosis: CBD’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties may provide relief from the chronic pelvic pain associated with this condition.
Other Types of Pain
- Migraine: While more research is needed, some people use CBD cream on their temples or neck to complement other migraine treatments.
- Tension Headaches: The relaxing effects of CBD can help relieve tension and, consequently, alleviate tension headaches when applied to the affected area.
Possible Side Effects: What You Need to Know
While CBD creams are generally well-tolerated and associated with fewer side effects compared to oral CBD products, it's important to be aware of potential reactions. Here's a comprehensive list of known side effects that users may experience:
Skin-Specific Side Effects
- Skin Irritation: Some individuals may experience redness, itchiness, or slight burning upon application.
- Allergic Reactions: If you're sensitive to any of the ingredients in the CBD cream, you may experience an allergic reaction.
- Dermatitis: Prolonged use can sometimes result in contact dermatitis.
- Dry Skin: Some formulations may cause skin to become dry or flaky.
General Side Effects
- Digestive Issues: Though less likely with topical forms, some people report mild diarrhea or upset stomach when they start using CBD products.
- Drowsiness or Fatigue: CBD has a calming effect, which for some people may translate into slight drowsiness.
- Changes in Appetite: Some users have reported increased or decreased appetite when using CBD regularly.
- Liver Enzyme Changes: This is more common with oral consumption but worth noting as a general caution.
Interactions with Other Medications
- Blood Thinners: CBD can interact with medications like warfarin, affecting how the body processes these medicines.
- Other Topical Medications: Mixing CBD cream with other topical treatments without medical advice could lead to adverse effects.
Understanding how CBD cream works for pain can be a game-changer for those looking for alternative pain relief methods. With ongoing research and a growing number of satisfied users, CBD cream is steadily gaining credibility as a safe and effective treatment for various types of pain.
Where to Buy CBD Online
Established in 2015, Pure Spectrum CBD is an online CBD store that serves customers throughout America and offers free shipping for orders over $100.
Their product range comes in four categories: pure CBD and CBDA isolates, tinctures, hemp seed oil, and CBD for pets. All their CBD products are hemp based and contain less than 0.3% THC, which means that they are not intoxicating. The company is committed to organic cultivation practices and high processing standards including third-party testing.
Established in 2019, Kanibi is an online CBD store that's committed to “raising the bar” on CBD standards. Their product range is diverse, even including CBD chewing gum and sports creams. They also offer high potency CBD up to 1,500 mgs. All their CBD products are made from hemp that is grown in the US using organic practices.
They believe that CBD manufacturing process should be transparent, meaning they double-test every single one of their products never contain artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, or dyes. To top things off they offer free shipping on domestic orders exceeding $100.
Established in 2018, Zatural was started by a naturopathic doctor and offers CBD products in three categories: recovery & relief, mood support, and sleep. They go the extra mile to offer free shipping on domestic orders over $5. This company has been featured on several reputable media outlets including WebMD, Men’s Journal, US Weekly, and Ministry of Hemp. What we love most about this company is the extensive and creative product range.
Zatural's extensive list of products is sourced from trusted sources here in the U.S. and worldwide. Each product is organically grown and is free from harmful chemicals and additives. Zatural products are third-party tested to ensure each product is safe.