Cannabis Oil: The Future of Topical Analgesics

Brianna Clark
October 1, 2015

Cannabis Oil: The Future of Topical Analgesics

Massage Therapy and Cannabis Topicals

Cannabis oil has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties when used topically. If you are hesitant about using cannabis oil to relieve muscle pain, let me ask you why? Are you equally as hesitant to have Tiger Balm or Biofreeze slapped on your back? Do you know what ingredients and chemicals are in other topical analgesics?

In this age of sensationalized reports about the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, I often find myself rolling my eyes in impatience. Why are we still talking about this as if it is a newly discovered method for treating all kinds of ailments and complaints? Why is it so stigmatized when I am still made to breathe in deadly second-hand cigarette smoke in public? What has cannabis ever done to you?

I am not here to defend or promote recreational or medicinal use of marijuana nor am I going to comment on how it should be legalized across the board… or not. What I am interested in exploring here is using cannabis oil as an OTC method for self-care in the treatment of soft tissue pain and how it affects my industry, licensed massage therapy.

My job is to help people suffering from pain find a natural and effective way to live without it. When a client leaves my office, typically we have done some deep work and I advise icing up to 48 hours after our session. Why? To keep the inflammation process at bay and to speed recovery time and ease discomfort. Hmmmm….

Let’s take a look at some facts surrounding using cannabis oil in the massage therapy setting.

First, How Does It Work?

Our bodies have cannabinoid receptors (CBD) in the cells of our brains, our skin and sebaceous glands. These sites can be receptive to many chemicals that can be derived from cannabis but let’s stick to THC for the sake of this article. THC is responsible for the psychoactive effect of cannabis although that is not a concern with topical application as it doesn’t have a chance to enter the bloodstream at a level that would have an effect.

In mice, when skin cell CBD sites are activated, the cells secrete chemicals that influence inflammation deep to the epidermis. This in turn has an effect on sensory neurons. This is how cannabis oil can affect pain and inflammation in the body. And no, you won’t leave your massage appointment high as a kite. As I said, it can’t get enough of it into your bloodstream for any psychoactive effects to occur (patches are a different story). Other topical analgesics work in the same way essentially.

Cannabis Oil and Massage Therapy

So what’s the problem with using cannabis-infused lotions in a massage therapy setting? There is a fundamental lack of research surrounding using cannabis oil topically. And any that has been done has been in mice, which may produce a slightly different outcome than in humans. There are a lot of unanswered questions regarding dosage, concentration, duration of use, long-term effects, etc. Users have reported a systematic deep relaxation with local use which would indicate that is does, even on a small level affect the nervous system.

Massage therapists in the US are starting to use cannabis-infused lotions and creams. This is an age-old practice being reintroduced and repackaged as a cutting-edge idea into our misinformed society. Why it seems so profound and taboo I will never understand. Moving on…

At a high-volume massage therapy clinic in Denver, CO, massage therapists have started using cannabis-infused lotion. So far, they have reported that their clients achieve a deeper level of relaxation than with other standard massage therapy products. The products are being applied to the client, but the massage therapist also has it on their hands and arms. So who tested positive for their random drug tests? Nobody. These CBD and THC-infused products are at a very low concentration. And the bonus for the massage therapists is that their tired and sore hands get a bit of a treatment too.

Regulation will be an interesting process to observe in the coming years. Colorado has legalized marijuana for recreational use and is not currently regulating how massage therapists use infused lotions in their practice. Alaska is in the same boat. Oregon has created some legislature around the topic somewhat and as of right now, massage therapists can use infused products if the client brings with them their marijuana prescription for review. Washington state has deemed marijuana-infused lotion a medication. It is out of the scope of practice for massage therapists to administer medication and therefore is not allowed at the time I write this blog post.

What I found particularly interesting is that massage therapists cannot sell infused products at this early and stunted stage, because it may be considered to be selling marijuana without a license.

This topic is fluid in nature and will surely be molded and redrafted for years to come. I wonder when Utah will join the party? So, what do you think? Would you be ok with your massage therapist using cannabis oil during your massage? Something tells me it will be commonplace sooner rather than later.

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