What’s the Buzz on CBD Oil and Massage?

There’s plenty of talk lately about the benefits of CBD (formally known as cannabidiol) as a wonder drug with a myriad of applications. After gaining prominence for its effectiveness at combatting epileptic seizures among children, CBD has been promoted by its fans as a cure for a wide variety of ailments, from cancer to chronic pain. Some of the claims are far-fetched, but there’s legitimate cause to learn more.

Within the massage industry, CBD oil is being used a topical and touted for its relaxing and pain relieving qualities — both for the therapist and the client. Is it too good to be true, or is it something you should try out in your own practice?

First, some background

CBD is a chemical compound from the cannabinoid family, which are found in plants of the genus Cannabis (commonly known as marijuana). There are more than 100 known cannabinoids, but the big two are CBD and THC.

  • THC is the most notable, well-known cannabinoid, and is the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. It’s what gets you high.
  • CBD, on the other hand, appears to have no intoxicating effects, but is being increasingly looked at for potential medical benefits, including treatments for epilepsy and pain relief.

There are only two species of Cannabis in the world (or perhaps three, depending on which botanist you ask), but as with any agricultural commodity, people for many years have been breeding and cross-breeding the plants to create a wide variety of strains. Because it’s marijuana we’re talking about, many of the modern strains have been given names that would fit right in with the Marvel Comics Universe: Master Kush, White Fire OG, and Strawberry Cough would make great supervillains. It’s perfect marketing for people who are most interested in those psychoactive side effects of THC.

There’s one particular strain of Cannabis, however, that was bred long ago for purposes other than getting baked, and it goes by the boring name of hemp. Hemp has traditionally been grown for its fiber, which can be refined into paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.

One important difference between hemp and the other Cannabis varieties is that, due to selective breeding, the hemp plant contains plenty of CBD but only trace elements of THC. And so no matter what you do with hemp, it won’t get you high.

So is hemp and CBD legal?

Until recently, that was a straight up no. Marijuana laws are rapidly changing, though — so much so that whatever we write here today could be different by the time you read this. Federal laws remain largely prohibitive, while state laws are turning more and more toward legalization.

As for hemp, the federal government recently started to allow its growth for industrial research purposes, but only by state departments of agriculture and institutions of higher learning. But despite the laws limiting hemp growers, it is legal to import, create, and sell hemp and hemp-derived products.

In theory that should make CBD products legal, although since CBD is still a component of marijuana, who knows what the government will decide to do tomorrow?

What does science tell us about CBD?

Because marijuana is classified as an illegal schedule 1 drug (meaning there is no officially accepted medical use and there is a high potential for abuse, according to the people who wrote the laws), scientific research into the potential value of both THC and CBD has been extremely limited. There’s not much we can say about either without any real scientific evidence to back up our claims.

The only thing that CBD has been shown to treat effectively through clinical trials is severe childhood epilepsy. Other claims — CBD cures anxiety, depression, psychosis, nausea/vomiting, cancer, and more — are either anecdotal or entirely made up.

Some evidence seems convincing, though, particularly related to pain relief and relaxation, and this is driving the interest in CBD oil as a topical lubricant among massage therapists.

But again, because proper studies have not yet been conducted on CBD, we can’t say for sure. We have no idea about the best means of delivery, appropriate dosages, whether there are potential side effects, or if problems could arise from interactions with other medications.

Is CBD well regulated?

No. As a side effect of not having any governmentally recognized medical benefits, CBD products have not been able to seek FDA approval and thus are not tightly regulated. Manufacturers are responsible for the accuracy of their own product labels, and that accuracy has been show to be rather poor. A survey published in JAMA looked at 84 CBD products from 31 companies and found that less than half accurately reported CBD concentrations. In addition, significant levels of THC were found in 20% of products even when THC was not on the label.

Because of these lax regulations, and the presence of THC, it’s possible that some of these CBD products are being derived not just from hemp, but from other varieties of marijuana as well.

So what does it all mean?

Massage therapists will undoubtedly continue to hear and read about the benefits of CBD oil, and those practicing in states with more lax marijuana laws will likely be tempted to experiment. There are some things to keep in mind before you try it out, though:

  • The claims aren’t proven. We can’t yet say with any level of scientific certainty that a CBD oil massage will lead to pain relief and additional relaxation for clients, but clients may very well report positive experiences. Whether this is psychosomatic, a genuine benefit of topical CBD, or a side effect of inadvertent dosage of THC is anybody’s guess.
  • Watch the dosage. Although this hasn’t been studied, and labels aren’t especially accurate, you’ll want to use an oil in the range of 1 to 2 milligrams per milliliter potency. Cannabis oil is also available as a full-strength extract with a potency of 500 milligrams per milliliter, and that would be a bad idea for a massage.
  • You probably won’t get high from giving a massage. Again this has to do with potency (keep that dosage low) and whether or not the oil contains THC. But some massage therapists do find that the use of CBD oil not only benefits the patient, but provides pain relief for their own hands.
  • Are there side effects? We don’t know. Research is needed.
  • Are there any effects of long-term, cumulative exposure? We don’t know. Research is needed.
  • Can you get addicted to CBD? There is evidence of potential dependence and addiction to marijuana, but CBD oil is actually being considered as tool for decreasing dependence on THC. There is no evidence that CBD is itself addictive, but more research is always welcome.