Woman's hands holding a bottle of FOCL Relief Cream.

How do CBD Topicals Work?

Natural health supplements are a big thing at the moment. Many people use them for wide-ranging reasons, not least to improve their general health and well-being. With rising healthcare costs, it is vital to safeguard your health.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of ways to do so. Besides leading an active life, eating healthily, meditating, and doing yoga, you can also take supplements. And nothing is bigger in the natural supplement space today than cannabinoids. 

As cannabis research continues to expand, it has been possible to dissect the cannabis plant into its constituent compounds, i.e., cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.

Research is still elementary on the latter two but quite advanced on cannabinoids. The most studied cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), with the latter being somewhat of a recent discovery. 

Since 2014, the soaring demand for CBD-based supplements has spurred considerable academic interest. Researchers are literally stumbling over themselves to learn more about this special cannabis compound that mounting personal testimonies indicate has potential health benefits. 

Of course, the public is excited! A super-healer that comes at a fraction of the cost of conventional medicine is a deal we cannot ignore. So, in this article, we separate the myths from the facts and tell you how CBD topicals may help you.


Key takeaways

  • CBD topicals work by interacting with CB receptors in the skin.
  • CB receptors play an important role in various physiological processes, such as pain perception and immune system responses.
  • A growing body of empirical studies supports the therapeutic potential of CBD topicals.

A brief history of CBD topicals

Marijuana has been used medicinally for millennia. Historical texts suggest it may be among the first plants to be domesticated by our ancestors in Asia. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, hemp salves and balms were often used to treat muscle aches and joint pains. 

From Asia, hemp spread to other parts of the world before making landfall in North America in 1545 with the Spanish Conquest. Here, the rich soil and climate were perfect for hemp farming.

In due course, hemp became the primary source of fiber in the US. Towards the end of the 18th century, 80% of the world’s cloth and 75% of paper were made from hemp fiber.

By the 20th century, hemp became the primary source of 50% of the topicals and tinctures in a typical pharmacy’s collection of products. It would later face political opposition driven by questionable interests at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

But thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp farming is now legal, and so are its derivatives like CBD creams, lotions, salves, and balms.


How does topical CBD work

To understand how CBD works, we have to talk about the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a neuromodulatory system in the mammalian body thought to mediate numerous bodily functions.  

The ECS comprises endocannabinoids, enzymes, and cannabinoid (CB) receptors that all work together to ensure optimal body function. In this sense, one of the critical functions of the ECS is homeostasis—the maintenance of a stable internal environment.

Other functions that involve the ECS include sleep, mood, learning and memory, pain modulation and perception, drug addiction, and anxiety. 

The body produces CBD-like compounds called endocannabinoids, which are chemical messengers that intervene whenever something is out of order. Once the situation has been remedied, the enzymes are activated to break down the endocannabinoids.

This is important to stop a situation where the body overcorrects itself. 

Endocannabinoid system (ECS) and CBD

CBD stimulates the body’s endocannabinoid system in the same manner as endocannabinoids. After all, these stimulators are all cannabinoids, so their action mechanism on the ECS is the same.

It is believed that cannabinoids activate various CB receptors in the body, triggering wide-ranging physiological processes. Unlike THC, which binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD does not bind to these receptors. 

Instead, researchers contend it regulates activity on these receptors by preventing other cannabinoids from binding. In other words, CBD is a CB1 and CB2 receptor antagonist, especially in the presence of THC.

Because it does not directly bind to CB receptors, CBD is thought to interact with other non-cannabinoid receptors such as G-protein coupled receptors ([GPCRs], e.g., 5-HT1A), ion channels (e.g., TRPA1, TRPV1, TPRM8, and GlyRs), and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs).

This explains why CBD stimulates a lot more reactions in the body than THC, whose pathways seem to be limited to CB receptors only. 

What are CB1 & CB2 receptors 

Cannabinoid receptors types 1 and 2, i.e., CB1 and CB2, are 7-transmembrane G-protein coupled receptors in the ECS. They are involved in spinal, peripheral, and supraspinal nociception, including descendant and ascendant pain pathways.

Researchers suggest that CB1 and CB2 receptors work by inhibiting adenylyl cyclase, suppressing cAMP formation, and increasing mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) activity. The biased signaling of CB receptors is attributed to ligand activity that differentially activates their pathways.

The CB1 receptors are predominant in the nervous system. They mediate pain regulation, psychoactivity, motor control, and memory processing. CB1 is regarded as a presynaptic heteroreceptor that primarily modulates the release of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters and suppresses synaptic transmission. 

When activated, the CB1 receptors activate inwardly rectifying potassium channels and reduce the firing of presynaptic neurons. This also results in a decrease in neurotransmitter release due to reduced activity in the voltage-sensitive calcium channels. 

CB1 receptors are conveniently situated in the central and peripheral nervous systems and in regions where pain processing happens. These include the dorsal root ganglion, the spinal cord’s dorsal horn, cortical regions, periaqueductal grey matter, the ventral posterolateral thalamus, the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the prefrontal cortex.

The primary endogenous ligand of CB1 receptors is anandamide (AEA), also known as the “bliss” molecule. Since THC also creates euphoria in moderate quantities, it is considered an analog of AEA.

Other areas where the CB1 receptors are found include the GABA-inhibitory interneurons in the spinal cord, mast cells, macrophages, and epidermal keratinocytes.

The CB2 receptors are mainly found in the periphery – immune system tissues and cells, liver, bone, hematopoietic cells, keratinocytes, and the peripheral nerve terminals. Though not as populous as CB1, CB2 is also found in the brain (microglial cells).

These receptors play a role in inhibiting the release of cytokines/chemokines and the migration of macrophages. As a result, they improve inflammatory immune responses and regulate chronic pain. Both CB1 and CB2 receptors have been shown to participate in anti-inflammatory mechanisms in mast cells when stimulated by cannabinoids. 

Further, when activated, CB2 receptors in keratinocytes trigger beta-endorphin release. This hormone acts on opioid receptors in sensory neurons to suppress nociception.

Though typically present in low levels in the brain, dorsal root ganglion, and spinal cord, CB2 receptors can be upregulated in microglial cells to control anti-inflammatory neuroimmune responses. Further, these receptors also stimulate MAPK activity while inhibiting the activity of adenylyl cyclase.

Unlike CB1 receptors, the activation of CB2 receptors does not induce psychotropic effects. The main endogenous ligand for CB2 receptors is 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).

The synthesis of AEA and 2-AG happens separately. After completing their job, these ligand molecules are hydrolyzed (AEA by fatty acid amide [FAAH] and 2-AG by monoacylglycerol lipase [MAGL]). Although they perform more or less similar functions, AEA is a partial CB receptor agonist, while 2-AG is a full CB receptor agonist. 

They are part of a negative feedback loop that regulates the release of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters that mediate various central nervous system functions, such as pain processing.


Potential benefits of CBD topicals 

CBD topicals penetrate the skin and enable the CBD to interact with CB receptors in the skin. Remember that there are more CB2 receptors in the skin than CB1 receptors. This means the action of topical CBD on CB2 receptors stimulates better immune system functioning.

As a result, here are the potential benefits:

Joint pain

Many people suffer from joint pain due to various reasons. In older adults, arthritis can cause joint pain as the cartilage wears out. Injuries can also cause joint pain. Regardless of the cause, you’ll need an effective solution.

CBD topicals may offer significant relief from pain. Numerous studies highlight the painkilling properties of CBD and the areas where they are finding application. Evidence strongly suggests that CBD may alleviate chronic pain with prolonged use (i.e., > 7 days), indicating the relevance of consistency and persistence when using CBD.

Sore muscles

Sore muscles can result from overuse, stress, or injury. This type of pain is often localized, affecting a small body part or a few muscle tissues. Soreness results from damage to muscles and connective tissues during exercise. It is completely normal and even necessary for muscle growth.

Good-quality CBD topicals may help alleviate temporary muscle soreness due to workouts. That’s because CBD has anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce muscle inflammation.

A recent study found that topical CBD may help reduce muscle soreness when applied before and after a workout. It is hardly surprising that CBD creams and lotions are becoming a staple in gym bags!

Aches and pains

Another common side effect of working out is pain and aches. “No pain, no gain” is a dictum accepted and embraced by athletes and fitness freaks the world over. As mentioned earlier, these are indicators that your muscles are adapting to the new activity levels you are subjecting them to. So, embrace the pain!

However, there is a thin line between embracing pain and accepting it when it affects your ability to stick to the training regimen. When those muscles become too painful, CBD topicals could offer much-needed relief. All you have to do is apply the cream to the affected body part and let CBD do its thing. 

This is precisely why we make this Relief Cream. It has the repairing and nourishing power of organic herbs and menthol for cooling relief against aches and pains. This cream comes in two strength levels to ensure you get exactly what you need. It is a powerful formulation of premium CBD and soothing botanicals that will not disappoint you!

Arthritis pain

According to the latest data from the CDC, nearly 60 million American adults suffer from arthritis. This condition is common among older adults, but anyone can develop arthritis. It is estimated that there are over 100 types of arthritis, with osteoarthritis being the most common.

Arthritis pain can severely affect your quality of life. The pain can make it difficult to even do regular activities like sitting, standing, or walking. Unfortunately, arthritis is incurable, but this does not mean there is nothing you can do about it. Available treatments are designed to manage it by minimizing pain, improving the range of motion, and preventing continued damage.

The good news is that CBD topicals may help with some arthritis symptoms like pain and inflammation. Its anti-inflammatory properties are well-established in research and have demonstrated the potential to mitigate inflammation, pain, and other inflammatory responses.

Nerve pain

When a health problem affects the nerves that relay sensations to the brain, it causes nerve or neuropathic pain. This type of pain is different from other types of pain. It can be sudden and sharp, often like a stabbing, burning, or shooting sensation. 

People with neuropathic pain can be sensitive to cold or touch and may feel pain from a normal experience that is typically not painful. Treatment often involves using anti-depressants (e.g., duloxetine and amitriptyline), anti-seizure medications (carbamazepine, pregabalin), or strong painkillers like opioids.

However, opioids can have adverse side effects, like addiction. Recent research studies suggest that CBD in transdermal applications can significantly improve pain and painful sensations in people suffering from peripheral neuropathy.

Animal studies also show that CBD can attenuate mechanical pain sensitivity in rats with simulated neuropathic pain. 


Where to buy CBD topicals 

With research showing that high-quality CBD may have therapeutic potential for numerous health conditions, it is critical to buy CBD products from trusted brands like FOCL. Our products are made from US-grown hemp. They are manufactured following good manufacturing practices (GMP) and approved by the US Federal Drug Administration.


Check out this video to learn more about CBD and endocannabinoids: