Let’s start with some weed trivia.
Did you know marijuana plants have more than 120 chemical compounds? The primary — and most infamous — is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gets you high.
That’s why the majority of cannabis research has focused on THC. Until recently.
In the past decade, there has been a surge of studies on other cannabis compounds, specifically cannabidiol, a.k.a. CBD. It has shown promise in mitigating an array of conditions: inflammation, anxiety, seizures, and epilepsy. More recent research shows it may also help with pain. The kicker: you don’t have to smoke — or eat — it to reap the benefits.
That’s where CBD MEDIC comes in. It’s billed as the first FDA-registered, over the counter topical pain relief cream with CBD. Basically, it’s a CBD-infused cream that, when applied over the skin, is supposed to ease joint pain and aching muscles. There are four varieties — odor-free, arthritis, intense pain relief, and active sport extreme relief — with varying levels of CBD. And because it’s FDA-registered, it’s legal in all 50 states and you don’t need a script to buy it.
As a Colorado resident with no shortage of weed products at my fingertips, I initially dismissed the Rhode Island-based company’s offer to try their ointment. But after reading more about the product and its purported relief for the aches and pains of everyday life, I decided to give it a go.
Figuring the sport variety would be my best bet (and also after learning that at 1500 milligrams per 1.4-oz. tube, it has twice the amount of CBD as the other formulations — go big or go home, right?) I cracked open the lid and slathered some on my right shoulder after a swim workout, purposely leaving my left shoulder alone in the hopes that I’d notice a difference between the two. (Very scientific, I know.) The odor was intense — but not in a skunky, weed-like way. Instead, it was overwhelmingly menthol-y, which makes sense given menthol is one of its active ingredients. There were no instructions for how much I should use, so I started with a dime-sized amount. About 30 seconds post-application, my skin felt cooler and tingly. (Again, probably because of the menthol.) Five minutes later, it felt normal again. The next morning, my right shoulder felt more or less the same as my left shoulder. I tried it a few other times with similar results.
So while my (very unscientific) experiment didn’t reveal much, what does actual science say about CBD cream?
The answer, unfortunately, is also a big fat question mark.
The biggest issue: Most of the current research conducted on CBD has been limited to animal studies, like mice and rats, so it’s difficult to extrapolate its benefits in humans, explained Dr. Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania who studies cannabis use. Bonn-Miller has no connection to CBD MEDIC products.
And when it comes to studies in humans, there are the legal roadblocks. The federal government still classifies CBD as a Schedule 1 substance, which means that it is federally illegal (unless the ingredients and production process follow precise guidelines) and by definition, has no medicinal benefits. This makes it difficult to conduct clinical trials in the U.S. on its efficacy.
“The best evidence you will get about the effectiveness of CBD products sold online or in dispensaries are from observational studies,” Bonn-Miller said. “You ask a bunch of people who use it — Does it work for you? — but that's not a clinical trial.”
Clinical trials of CBD are only allowed with approval from the federal government, Bonn-Miller added. “Generally, that means you have to study the government’s CBD or be part of pharmaceutical drug development,” he said.
But while CBD’s effectiveness in treating human pain is still TBD, the good news is that unlike THC, it doesn’t have significant known side effects. “So far evidence doesn’t suggest that it is addictive or that it has any side effects of consequence,” Bonn-Miller said, adding the caveat that CBD creams like CBD MEDIC could contain other substances of unknown safety.
So where does that leave us? Well, if you have chronic pain and are looking for a topical alternative to Tiger’s Balm, CBD MEDIC may be worth a try — albeit at $59.99 per 1.4-oz tube, an expensive try.
Just don’t expect to get high.