Massage Therapy and CBD Massage Oil. Does it Really Work?

When Denver Colorado comes up in a conversation, what is the one thing EVERYONE asks about? Cannabis! The cannabis industry is booming in Colorado, and not just recreational, but the medical aspect as well. January 1st 2014, was the first day that Cannabis could be sold to anyone aged 21 and older at specific licensed stores in the world. It has been legal for anyone 21 and over to use Cannabis, and possess up to an ounce for any purpose since December 10th, 2012 when voters passed Colorado Amendment 64 on November 6, 2012. Cannabis possession and use by people under 21 who are not medical-marijuana patients remains against the law. But CBD oil made from Cannabis that is less than 0.3 percent THC, is safe to give to children with seizures, as there are no psycho-active affects. Many of you may have heard of “Charlotte’s Web”. This is the most popular strain used to make CBD oil for seizure patients, though other strains can be used with very low TCH.

With lotions, oils and other skin care products, the strain of cannabis does not matter, as THC, the psycho-active drug in cannabis, does not cross the blood brain barrier; meaning a person cannot get high. Transdermal patches on the other hand can cause a psycho-active affect, and may even cause a person to fail a drug test. Regular lotions and oils do not do this when applied to the skin. Now, if a client made their own cannabis lotion, say out of coconut oil and ate a huge spoonful, that is a different story!

In 1990, scientists discovered the endocannabinoid system or ECS. Endocannabinoids are present in virtually all tissues. This includes cannabinoid receptors, biosynthetic pathways and metabolizing enzymes have been implicated in multiple regulatory functions in both health and disease. Recent studies have suggested the existence of a functional ECS in the skin and implicated it in various biological processes. “HHS Public Access. Published online July14, 2009”.

We also have cannabinoid receptors in our brains. These receptors are what THC attaches to in the brain that has a psycho-active affect when smoking flower or eating an edible. Cats, dogs, horses, pigs, rats, birds, fish and marine mammals have cannabinoid receptors in their skin, organs and central nervous system also.

Many THC containing topicals contain a wide variety of cannabinoids, the most popular being THC, CBD and CBN. Some topicals contain terpenes such as myrcene and limonene. Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers and some insects. Terpenes are the primary components of the essential oils of many types of plants and flowers. Terpenes are the pungent and strong oils that color cannabis strains with distinct flavors like citrus, berry, mint and pine. Over 100 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant. “” So, when using topicals, depending on the strain used to make the oil or cream and whichever essential oils are added, a topical can have several terpenes. The science on terpenes is yet to show any real health benefit, though many would argue that terpenes from essential oils have many health benefits that can add to any type of topical.

Terpenes affect the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and can modify how much THC passes through the blood-brain barrier when smoked or taken as an edible. They also have a hand in the influence of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin by alternating their rate of production and destruction, their movement, and availability of receptors. “, Bailey Rahn”. This is not the case with our skin and topicals.

So how does a cannabis topical work? Well, from my research, no one fully knows. What I am finding hard to understand is this: does a CBD lotion really need to contain THC? I have searched and of course, everyone says yes! THC is best combined with CBD, but no one can really say why. For one, a cannabis topical attaches only to CB2 receptors. That is the reason you cannot get high from a topical. Typically, THC is attached to CB1 receptors that are in our central nervous system (our brain) but can be found in our lungs, liver and kidneys. Because an infused topical cannot cross the blood brain barrier, how does THC affect the skin? The thought is that cannabinoids in our bodies are activated by Phyto-cannabinoids like THC. CB2 is in our spleen and white blood cells—our immune system.

CBN and CBD are more permeable to the skin than THC and are more likely to stimulate the CB2 cannabinoid receptors, making them the popular choice for the manufacture of cannabis topicals (Jorge et al., 2011). Since CBD contents are much higher in commercial hemp than in marijuana, hemp is a more viable and less toxic source of CBD for use in topicals. “Medical Marijuana, Inc.” Please note that I do not like and would have not chosen the word toxic as sited in the last sentence above. THC is not toxic and that is whole different blog.

A 2007 study completed by an international research group detailed how “enhanced activation of the endocannabinoid system” helps regulate immune responses in the skin, meaning topicals may be useful in treatment of skin allergies (Gaffal et al., 2013). Topical applications of cannabinoids also benefit the skin thanks to their anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and immunity-modulating properties. Burns, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, and skin infections can all be relieved with the analgesic and antibacterial properties exhibited by cannabinoids when used in topicals (Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem, 2016).  “Medical Marijuana, Inc.”

Identification of the main cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), their endogenous lipid ligands (endocannabinoids), biosynthetic pathways and metabolizing enzymes (collectively termed the ECS) [810], coupled with the discovery and/or rational design of numerous exogenous ligands for CB receptors [11], has triggered an exponential growth in studies exploring the continuously growing regulatory functions of this newly discovered physiological system both in health and disease [1214].

Indeed, components of the ECS have also been discovered in the skin recently (Figure 1). Both CB1 and CB2 immunoreactivities were observed on numerous human and murine skin cell populations in situ such as on cutaneous nerve fibers, mast cells, epidermal keratinocytes and cells of the adnexal tissues [3642]. Similarly, both CB1 and CB2 have been identified (at protein and mRNA levels) on cultured human primary (NHEK) and HaCaT keratinocytes [4345]. Interestingly, in organ-cultured human hair follicles, exclusive expression of CB1 was described [41], whereas CB2 expression (unlike CB1) was found on human sebaceous gland-derived SZ95 sebocytes [42]. AEA and 2-AG were detected in rodent skin [40,46], as well as in human organ-cultured hair follicles [41] and SZ95 sebocytes [42]. AEA, along with its transporter (AMT/EMT), synthetic and metabolizing enzymes (NAPE-PLD and FAAH) were also identified in cultured NHEK and HaCaT keratinocytes [43], and in murine epidermal cells/skin [40,47


The above two paragraphs are very technical and a bit geeked out, but it is important information showing that true scientific research has been performed to find these very important cannabinoid receptors. This gives the idea that THC and other cannabinoids do indeed penetrate our skin to help decrease pain, and aid in healing of certain skin conditions, among many other conditions.

As a therapist who had used TCH lotions on many clients and on myself, I can say with certainty that the stuff works. It has helped with skin rashes, bug bites, sunburn, and acne to name a few, along with joint pain and plantar fasciitis pain. Much research is need in ECS, and how the body uses this system to help fight disease. Much research is needed on cannabis and hemp to see just exactly how it helps our skin, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints when injured and inflamed. At this point, I feel, why not try it? Learn to make your own. See if it helps. Let’s start with easy and natural products before we pump ourselves with pills that only mask the problem. Perhaps good quality cannabis oils really do activate our CS and help our bodies wake up and start the healing process.

Next time you get a massage, bring your CBD lotion and have it used during your session. It is not illegal for a therapist to do so if they are not selling it to you or charging you extra for the treatment—unless they have a spa that is a dispensary and have appropriate licensure. Try it and feel the difference. It may just change your idea around medical cannabis, and the benefits this plant can give us. If you are still uncomfortable with THC, then use a hemp medical grade CBD lotion. The benefits I feel are well worth the money also.

Madeline had been practicing massage for 17 years and is a graduate of Boulder College of Massage Therapy. She specializes in pain management massage and prenatal massage. Madeline writes a blog for Harmonic Healing Massage in Denver and is also a practicing therapist.