Does CBD actually work for muscle pain? We explore what the research says and whether topics or oral supplements are better. The cannabis product is said to help inflammation. So… can it?
CBD for muscle pain: Topicals and pills can help, but research is limited
Does CBD actually work for muscle pain? We explore what the research says and whether topics or oral supplements are better.
It’s touted as a sleep aid , stress killer and even a performance enhancer, but one of the big selling points of CBD is pain relief . Many have turned to it when other remedies haven’t worked or in addition to them.
But what about using CBD post-workout to help your muscles recover and reduce soreness? It’s a different than the chronic pain that most turn to CBD for, but some research suggests it could help replace hot/cold creams and over the counter anti-inflammatory meds.
There are hundreds of CBD products to choose from — both oral and topical — and the type you choose might make all the difference for your aches and pains.
How topical CBD works for muscle soreness and pain
The promise is simple — slather on a cream or gel with CBD where it hurts to relieve pain. But whether or not they actually work is another story.
Topical CBD has only been minimally studied, says Stuart Titus, CEO of Medical Marijuana, Inc. “Generally, there are also herbs or other ‘skin-penetrating’ ingredients in the final formulation of topical CBD products,” Titus says. “Other ingredients such as arnica or menthol are added in order to make product claims such as pain relief.”
In many cases, Titus explains, the concentration of CBD is often low in topical products, and the soothing sensation you feel is a product of the other ingredients. It’s important for consumers to review not only the ingredients list, but also the certificate of analysis, which reveals the total concentration of different cannabinoids in a product.
A CoA shows the weight percentage of CBD and other cannabinoids, including THC, so only then can you interpret the amount of CBD per “serving” of topical application, Titus says. Make sure the CoA is done by an independent, third-party lab, too.
Is CBD the cure to nagging sore muscles?
That said, high-quality, potent topical CBD products are thought to offer temporary relief from pain and soreness. There’s a high concentration of cannabinoid receptors in the skin, and when CBD is applied topically, it activates the endocannabinoid system through those receptors. CBD binds to the cannabinoid receptors in your epidermal and dermal skin, a process that results in alleviation of pain and inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effect is also why topical CBD is an effective treatment for some skin disorders.
Topical CBD only works where you use it — applying CBD cream to your legs when your abs are sore won’t do you any good. This can be a benefit or a drawback depending on your situation. For example, if you tend to experience full-body soreness, you’d have to use a lot of CBD cream for relief and that can get tedious and expensive.
Just remember, human skin is incredibly absorptive and it’ll absorb more than just the CBD in topical creams, gels and oils. Check the ingredients label to make sure you’re not applying something you’re allergic to or something that, if absorbed, can interact with medications. If you’re unsure, talk to your doctor.
How oral CBD works for muscle soreness and pain
While topical CBD only offers localized relief, oral CBD should have a systemic effect if the product is potent and reliable, Titus says. Oral CBD works just the same as topical CBD, but on a much larger scale, because it enters your bloodstream and can reach cannabinoid receptors throughout your entire body.
Oral CBD is believed to have strong anti-inflammatory effects, and as inflammation is the root of most pain, it makes perfect sense that ingesting CBD could offer relief from inflammation-related pain, including muscle aches and joint pain.
Keep in mind that the majority of studies on the effects of CBD on soreness and pain to date have been small-scale; most large studies have been conducted on animals, and those results may not translate to humans. There’s a long way to go until all the effects of CBD — taken orally or applied topically — are confirmed.
It’s also worth knowing that the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve CBD as a food additive or dietary supplement. The agency has concerns about the safety of ingested CBD due to the lack of large-scale, long-term studies in humans, and has concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to declare CBD safe to consume. Regardless, oral CBD is widely available and legal in many states. Talk to a health professional about oral CBD if you’re interested in using it for muscle soreness or any other type of pain.
Should you use topical or oral CBD for soreness?
Whether you should use topical or oral CBD for pain and soreness depends on the source and intensity of your pain. Based on the above research and comments from Medical Marijuana’s Titus, here’s a look at common uses of CBD and which type will best help.
CBD for post-workout muscle soreness: A high-quality topical CBD should help treat temporary muscle soreness from workouts, Titus says. One recent study found that oral CBD can also reduce muscle soreness when taken immediately after a workout.
CBD for chronic muscle pain: Topical CBD can help during flare-ups, but you’re better off taking oral CBD for systemic pain. A combination can be especially helpful, Titus says. Ingesting CBD helps relieve pain from the inside out, while applying topical cream can quiet particularly tender areas.
CBD for joint pain: Topical CBD likely won’t reach cannabinoid receptors in your joints no matter how potent. Oral CBD is more likely to help people with pain from arthritis and other joint conditions. People with pain from fibromyalgia will also benefit more from ingestible CBD, Titus says.
CBD for general muscle tightness and tension: For general muscle tightness (such as tension in the neck from a long day at your desk), high-quality topical CBD can offer much-needed temporary relief.
Overall, the effectiveness of CBD varies depending on the product, the intended use and the person. Some people find CBD helpful while others don’t notice much of an effect, whether they take it orally or apply it topically. It might take a lot of research and experimentation until you find a CBD product that works for you.
Other ways to treat muscle soreness and pain
If you’re not ready to hop on the CBD bandwagon, try these other methods for relieving sore and tight muscles :
- Compression therapy
- Far-infrared therapy
- Percussive therapy
- Foam rolling
- Heat therapy
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Considering CBD For Muscle Recovery? Here’s What You Need To Know.
Cannabidiol is having a moment. Though you may not recognize its scientific moniker, you’ve probably seen it referred to by its buzzy nickname: CBD.
CBD is everywhere these days, and in a variety of forms. You can find it in capsules, gummies, tinctures, oils, balms, cocktails, cookies—even coffee sold at small-town bakeries. Its market share in the health and wellness space will likely only continue to grow, with some analysts estimating its value will hit $2 billion by 2022.
CBD has a lot of purported benefits with a lot of anecdotal (and some scientific) evidence to back those claims. Everything from helping cancer patients fight nausea, to acting as a sleep aid for people with insomnia, to reducing seizures in children with a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome.
While those seem like potentially huge breakthroughs, CBD is also said to help with smaller stuff, like helping you recover faster from workouts thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Before you dive into a pool of CBD oil, here’s everything you need to know.
Why are we sore after a workout anyway?
No matter how fit you are, sometimes you just feel it after a workout. Some workouts can leave you sore for days. That’s because, as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) explains, working out causes microscopic damage to muscle fibers. Those muscles then become inflamed, which triggers the body to respond and repair, causing muscle soreness or stiffness.
Cool. So, what exactly is CBD again?
CBD is one of more than 100 chemical compounds found in cannabis plants, which include both marijuana and industrial hemp. CBD is a close chemical cousin to THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound found in marijuana that causes a psychoactive effect (AKA, the stuff that gets you high).
Though CBD is just one atom arrangement away from becoming THC, that microscopic difference is actually huge. No matter how much CBD oil you consume or how much CBD balm you rub on your body, you cannot get high from it. Which means.
I can legally buy CBD?
Yes. In December, President Donald Trump signed a new Farm Bill, which, among other things, legalized the growth, distribution, and sale of industrialized hemp, allowing it to be “cultivated for any use”—including the production and extraction of CBD.
There are a few caveats to the bill, but generally you’re now safe to buy CBD across the United States. Even professional athletes can use CBD, as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed it from its prohibited substance list in 2018. So relax, your gold medals are safe.
“Broadly speaking, CBD does decrease inflammation when it’s rubbed on muscles as an ointment or taken orally.”
Can CBD really help fight post-workout inflammation?
“As a personal trainer and someone that works out every day and really pushes myself a lot, I noticed the biggest difference in inflammation and stress after a workout,” Tara Laferrara, a former sprinter and a NASM certified personal trainer, told MensHealth.com about her personal use of CBD.
Laferrara was introduced to CBD via friends in the fitness industry who tried it after cannabis was legalized in Colorado in 2014. Now, she’s a devoted user. (A CBDevotee?) “It basically manages and prevents my joint inflammation, that aching kind of feeling, that I’d get after a heavy lift day,” she says.
Is there scientific proof?
While Laferrara’s anecdotal experience is intriguing, you might remain skeptical. Perhaps the scientific findings will squash some of your CBDoubts.
According to a 2018 review of 132 original studies published in Frontiers in Neurology, CBD can indeed reduce inflammation in the body and help improve pain and mobility in patients with multiple sclerosis. “It is anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antiemetic, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective,” the review study’s authors wrote.
“Broadly speaking, it does decrease inflammation when it’s rubbed on muscles as an ointment or taken orally,” Dr. Perry Solomon, previous chief medical officer and founding member of HelloMD, told MensHealth.com.
However, we can’t conclusively say that CBD will, without question, reduce inflammation—and in turn reduce muscle soreness—after another Eb & Swole workout. The empirical data just isn’t there yet.
But I’m good to start a CBD regimen?
CBD is commonly regarded as safe to use. Even the doctors published in Frontiers in Neurology said: “High doses of up to 1,500 mg per day and chronic use have been repeatedly shown to be well tolerated by humans.” You shouldn’t need that much, though figuring out how much you do need can be tricky, as there is no “standard” dose.
One rule of thumb is 1-6 milligrams of CBD for every 10 pounds of body weight based on pain levels. Another is to start with 5-10mg per day and increase by 5-10mg until you feel relief. This isn’t perfect and requires trial and error, but it’ll help you find a starting point.
As with anything you plan to put into your body, discuss CBD with your doctor first, particularly if you take other medications. They can help you make sure your liver will have enough room to metabolize it all so as not to diminish the effects of either.
How should I use CBD for recovery?
Beyond CBD oils and tinctures, CBD is often sold in infused balms, lotions, capsules, edibles, vape pens, and more. Basically, you just need to decide if you’d like to ingest it or rub it on for relief.
Again, you’re mostly on your own to determine exactly how much CBD you should take to feel its effects. The dosing guidelines above should give you a good jumping-off point, but CBD is a subjective chemical that reacts differently in every body. Once you feel the desired effect, though, you won’t have to up the dose. Which means if you use CBD oil for recovery, you can just fill the pipette to the same spot every time.
To sum it up, if your doctor says it’s OK and you’re game to try CBD instead of popping traditional anti-inflammatories, go for it. Try it for a few weeks while varying the delivery method and dose to find what works best for you. Who knows? By tomorrow, you could be recovering faster from your workout and have one less excuse to skip leg day.
Stacey Leasca is a journalist from Rhode Island. She’s a connoisseur of high-fives.