Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions, balms, and oils that are absorbed through the skin for localized relief of pain, soreness, and inflammation. Because they’re non-intoxicating, topicals are often chosen by patients who want the therapeutic benefits of marijuana without the cerebral euphoria associated with other delivery methods. Other transdermal innovations are fast arriving in the cannabis market, including long-lasting patches and tingly lubricants for patients and recreational consumers alike.
Side effects of CBD include sleepiness, decreased appetite, diarrhea, fatigue, malaise, weakness, sleeping problems, and others. It does not have intoxicating effects like those caused by THC, and may have an opposing effect on disordered thinking and anxiety produced by THC. CBD has been found to interact with a variety of different biological targets, including cannabinoid receptors and other neurotransmitter receptors. The mechanism of action of CBD in terms of its psychoactive and therapeutic effects is not fully clear.
Though a CBD latte might not do much for you — at least not beyond what caffeine and the placebo effect combined can do, which isn’t nothing — it’s also probably harmless in most cases, says Carson, and may even have positive benefits we aren’t yet aware of. “I suspect there’s probably some antioxidant benefit to CBD like there is with coffee,” says Carson. “There’s tons of good things in coffee that we still don’t fully understand, and I think the marijuana plant is much the same way.”
Even if a topical contains active THC, it still won’t induce that intense “high” you’d get from smoking or ingesting cannabis. With most topicals, cannabinoids can’t breach the bloodstream; they only penetrate to the system of CB2 receptors. Transdermal patches, however, do deliver cannabinoids to the bloodstream and could have psychoactive effects with a high enough THC content.
It depends on the dose and the person. Dr. Bonni Goldstein, M.D., the medical director of Canna-Centers, notes that it’s hard to figure out how exactly CBD will affect individuals. “It’s unclear at this point in time the exact interaction between CBD and caffeine,” she says. “At low doses, CBD is a stimulant and in higher doses it can cause sedation....Someone’s reaction to a combination of these compounds would not be easily predictable because various doses of each would affect the response,” Goldstein explains.
Cannabidiol has been found to act as an antagonist of GPR55, a G protein-coupled receptor and putative cannabinoid receptor that is expressed in the caudate nucleus and putamen in the brain. It has also been found to act as an inverse agonist of GPR3, GPR6, and GPR12. Although currently classified as orphan receptors, these receptors are most closely related phylogenetically to the cannabinoid receptors. In addition to orphan receptors, CBD has been shown to act as a serotonin 5-HT1A receptor partial agonist, and this action may be involved in its antidepressant, anxiolytic, and neuroprotective effects. It is an allosteric modulator of the μ- and δ-opioid receptors as well. The pharmacological effects of CBD have additionally been attributed to PPARγ agonism and intracellular calcium release.
“We’ve found that an effective dose for psychological issues, like stress anxiety, generally tends to start out at 6 mg and can go up to 20 mg,” says Zachary Clancy, a horticulturist and clinical herbalist at the Alchemist’s Kitchen, which sells a wide range of CBD goods at its retail store in lower Manhattan and also sells wholesale to restaurants. (Clinical herbalists can complete any of a variety of educational programs and apprenticeships to gain that title.)
Once applied to a targeted area, a CBD topical penetrates and affects the CB2 receptors. Topical applications absorbs into the skin slowly supplying medicine over a period of time. This means you can get all the healing effects of CBD during a longer timeframe. The CB2 receptors are throughout the body and will activate either naturally by the endocannabinoid system or from phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC. The active cannabinoids are absorbed into your skin to signal the receptors to provide relief.
Scientists have made a lot of progress in understanding how CBD produces its calming, pain-reducing, anti-inflammatory effects in the body—and there’s still more to learn. We know that CBD interacts with many different receptors, proteins, and other chemicals in the brain. These interactions create changes in the activity of neurotransmitters, hormones, and other cells throughout the brain and body. Through these interactions, CBD appears to be able to affect many of the body’s functions, from sleep-wake cycles and emotional regulation to inflammation, pain perception, and seizures.