Cannabinoids are compounds found within both hemp and marijuana, lauded for their pain- and inflammation-relieving benefits.

Topical analgesic products containing CBD, or cannabidiol — creams, salves, serums, balms, patches, oils and lotions — have flourished in the massage market over the past five or so years, as awareness (and legalization) of both marijuana- and hemp-derived CBD has grown.

When the Agriculture Improvement Act was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2018, many observers predicted a resultant boon for the CBD industry, as the act eases restrictions on farmers who grow hemp. In fact, the act removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it will no longer be an illegal substance under federal law.

The burgeoning CBD market is expected to multiply sevenfold in the next few years, from roughly $292 million in 2016 to $2.15 billion in 2021, according to the Brightfield Group, a market research firm that specializes in cannabis, as reported by Consumer Reports in July.

What does this mean for massage therapists and their clients? No doubt, access to an increasing number of types of analgesics containing CBD offered by companies entering this lucrative market. MASSAGE Magazine spoke with several established massage product companies’ representatives about the CBD trend and safe application of topical products containing hemp-derived (nonpsychoactive) CBD.

A Growing Body of Research

While there is a growing body of research related to cannabis and cannabinoids that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC — the psychoactive compound in marijuana that creates a “high”); there is currently less evidence related to many of the claims made about hemp-derived CBD, including its ability to reduce pain and inflammation.

However, research on humans is growing, and preliminary research on rodents does indicate that hemp-derived CBD in a topical form can effect a significant reduction in inflammation and pain-related behaviors.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently increased funding into CBD research, and once that research is completed, we will have better evidence about hemp-derived CBD’s benefits. Still, many massage therapists and product creators, as well as consumers, report that hemp-derived CBD decreases inflammation and pain.

“From our customers, we’ve heard countless stories about how CBD has brought them relief,” Lynn Honderd, CEO of Mary’s Nutritionals, a company that sells hemp products including massage oil and cream, told MASSAGE Magazine via email.

“Topical application can result in spot-specific relief,” Honderd added. “Transdermal application [such as with a patch] can result in full-body relief.”

Another established massage and spa product company, BIOTONE, carries analgesics containing CBD — a massage balm, creams and a salve — that also contain such known pain-relieving ingredients as menthol, arnica, camphor or lidocaine. The company’s customers have reported that when they use CBD-containing products on clients, those clients say they feel better, said BIOTONE’S founder and CEO, Jean Shea, in a telephone interview.

How Does CBD Work?

The human body contains an endocannabinoid system, which is involved in “a host of homeostatic and physiologic functions, including modulation of pain and inflammation,” according to the NIH’s report, “The Endocannabinoid System, Cannabinoids, and Pain.” Both THC and CBD are claimed to stop pain through the endocannabinoid system, which consists of at least two kinds of receptors, termed CB1 and CB2, with the receptors present in every organ, including the skin. Many manufacturers of CBD topicals say CBD is absorbed into the skin and combines with CBD receptors to effect pain relief.

“Our bodies contain a system of receptors and neurotransmitters for receiving and blocking pain,” Amy Medeiros, national marketing manager for CBD Clinic, told MASSAGE Magazine by phone. “These receptors are located in our brain and throughout our central and peripheral nervous systems and are the primary target for analgesic ingredients.”

CBD Clinic, whose parent company is Abacus Health Products, sells hemp-derived CBD topicals, including analgesic ointments, creams, a pain stick and massage oils. When asked to clarify the pain-relieving benefits of CBD, she said, “Abacus Health Products makes no pain claims associated with CBD”; however, Medeiros also noted that “the science in all CBD Clinic formulations were developed after years of research to bind more effectively with these pain receptors with the goal of providing fast, strong and long pain relief.”

Two Types of Application

Manufacturers say there are two primary ways to use CBD in massage: as a full-body lubricant when the product contains only CBD oil or CBD oil plus ingredients such as aloe or shea; and as a spot treatment when CBD is one ingredient in a pain-relieving topical analgesic.

How much CBD should a product contain for it to be effective? “I would say there are no fast rules, but I would be looking for the maximum amount of CBD in the product that I can afford to buy,” said Shea. “In the long run, you don’t use that much in a treatment.

“It is a spot treatment,” she added. “It’s not designed to be applied all over the body, because it doesn’t need to be.”

A New Choice

In the massage therapy market, as well as the general consumer market, there is a growing number of products containing CBD. New companies are entering the CBD-topical market while established providers of massage topicals are creating new CBD-containing products.

Should a massage therapist consider incorporating a product containing hemp-derived CBD into their practice? As with many techniques, ingredients and products, the full benefits of CBD might not be known for several years. In the meantime, proponents of such products say clients could benefit from CBD now.

“I would say a massage therapist should be open to what’s new in the industry,” said Shea. “Menthol was the go-to for treating pain. Now there are other choices out there as well. I would be very open to at least exploring them, maybe trying them and see if they work on a lot of your clients.”

About the Author:

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. Her reporting on marijuana and CBD in the massage industry includes “The MT’s Guide to Marijuana and Massage,” “Marijuana & Massage: Are CBD Pain-Relief products Caught Up in New DEA Rule?” and “Cannabis is Big Business for Colorado’s Massage Therapists.”