Massage therapists have been increasingly adding CBD topicals to sessions to help achieve wellness goals. 

For thousands of years, CBD (cannabidiol) has been used to help with a number of health issues, including pain, nausea, depression and anxiety. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production and sale across state lines of hemp-derived CBD products with less that 0.3% THC. More than that amount of THC makes a product marijuana.

When applied topically, CBD offers analgesic effects and relaxation, so, when combined with massage therapy, you get enhanced benefits.

From Skepticism to Belief

When Brooke Riley, a licensed massage therapist who is an operations specialist for Massage Heights, a family-owned therapeutic massage and facial services franchise company based in San Antonio, Texas, began using hemp-infused topicals in the massages she was giving, she was dubious of the products claims. “I was skeptical on how a topical could help so much so quickly,” she said.

But her doubt quickly evaporated during a session with a long-time client. “With my very first client using CBD, I was working out a pretty stubborn trigger point while applying the CBD,” she said. “This was a client I had worked on before so I knew his issues and how he reacts to pain.

“As I worked on him, his muscles and tissues seemed to just relax and no longer fight the pressure from the deep tissue massage I was doing,” Riley continued. “This was amazing to me because his trigger points in the past would cause him to react, but with the CBD the reaction was no longer there.”

There was no tensing of muscles, no holding of his breath. “When I asked (him) if (he) could feel the pressure being used, he said ‘I feel the pressure but there is no pain or fight like usual.’ The CBD seemed to just relax everything,” she said. “I’ve been using it ever since.”

A Brief CBD Primer

CBD (cannabidiol) is a compound extracted from hemp. There are a number of types of plants in the cannabis family, including hemp. Typically, hemp contains more CBD than other cannabis plants, which contain more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp-derived CBD still has some THC – usually less than 0.3%, which is not enough to produce a significant high in most people.

Because it has a greater concentration of CBD, hemp is usually the plant used to create CBD-infused products. Also, hemp is legal in most states so CBD products created from legal-standard hemp plants are also legal as long as the products contain less than 0.3% THC.

As with any new topical or technique, massage therapists should make sure using CBD is within their legal scope of practice.

CBD and Massage

In massage therapy, hemp-derived CBD is most often infused into topicals, such as oils and lotions. Applied directly to the skin, these topicals are used to help reduce inflammation, minimize pain and induce relaxation, said Riley.

Massage therapists who want to use hemp-derived CBD topicals need to do their research before they start using them for themselves or on their clients, she said.

First, they need to know what the local laws are about using and offering hemp-derived CBD products, she said. If the state requires a license for selling these products to clients for home use, for example, therapists need to get that license before offering the products for sale.

What’s in a CBD Topical?

It’s also important for massage therapists to understand the products themselves. “Be very knowledgeable about the difference between isolate versus broad spectrum versus full spectrum,” she said. “All of these forms provide different results and may be legal or illegal depending on the area (you’re) practicing in.”

Isolate, broad spectrum and full spectrum CBD refers to the blend of chemicals in a CBD oil after going through the extraction process.

CBD isolate is pure cannabidiol. It has low or no THC content. It’s the most concentrated form of CBD so it doesn’t contain any of the other components from the hemp plant.

Full-spectrum CBD contains all the naturally-occurring compounds of the plant the material is derived from, including other cannabinoids and essential oils. It is generally thought that all the naturally-occurring compounds work together to enhance therapeutic effects. THC is present so may have some psychoactive effects and may show up in drug tests.

While isolate and full-spectrum CBD are the two extract extremes, broad-spectrum CBD is in the middle. This extract preserves some of the naturally-occurring compounds of the plant that work together to offer some of the enhanced therapeutic benefits that you’d get with full-spectrum CBD, but the THC is removed so there is no risk of having any psychoactive effects.

Something else massage therapists need to keep in mind is that not all topicals are created equal, Riley said. “Some vendors claim to have pure, high-potency products, but (they) are full of additives,” she said. Do your product research and work with reputable, knowledgeable vendors. Therapists can also get topicals tested by independent labs before they start using them on themselves or on clients.

Do a Full Intake

Understanding what’s in hemp-derived CBD topicals is important not just from a THC perspective, she noted, but because other materials in the product could cause problems for clients. For example, if the product is a nut-based oil and they have nut sensitivities.

Massage therapists should ask about clients’ medical history before trying hemp-derived CBD topicals. If there’s any question, clients should check with their doctor before trying CBD topicals, Riley said. Likewise, if clients are taking any medications, they should clear CBD topicals use with their doctor first.

Along with curiosity about the potential benefits of using hemp-derived CBD topicals, many clients will have questions and concerns about using the—particularly, worry about getting high.

A growing body of research is beginning to substantiate the anecdotal reports of CBD’s benefits.

The research you’ve done to educate yourself will give you the confidence to demonstrate your knowledge to your clients, which will help them make the best decision for themselves about whether adding hemp-derived CBD topicals will help them meet their wellness goals.

About the Author

Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer and editor based on the coast of Maine. She frequently reports news and features for MASSAGE Magazine.