Weed has a long history in helping with pain management, and right now is having somewhat of a revival on the wellness scene. In addition to being used (or, uh, inserted) to relieve period cramps, health bloggers are championing topical marijuana as an effective way to relieve postworkout muscles without any side effects—pot-induced binge eating included.
I’ve never been one to smoke weed, it makes me very sick—I get nauseous and throw up every time, which is possibly hereditary because my mom warned me as a teen she had exactly the same reaction—so why would I? However, I’m generally in favor of natural health products and love to bitch about how sore my legs are after Flywheel, so the idea of a topical treatment that could ease some of the morning-after pain definitely appealed to me, no matter what the ingredients. After trawling holistic wellness blogs and Instagrams for suggestions, I found Apothecanna, a Colorado-based alternative medicine brand that uses cannabis as a main ingredient in lotions, sprays, and soon oils.
“The anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of topical cannabis can help minimize postworkout issues [like muscle pain] and can have a positive effect on recovery time,” explained the company’s founder, James Kennedy, when I asked him about the line. I was recommended the Relieving Body Creme and Relieving Body Spray ($48), which also contains anti-inflammatory ingredients like arnica, peppermint, and juniper, and told to apply to muscles after exercise. “There is no reason to believe you cannot use a cannabis topical directly after a workout,” Kennedy assured me.
I also picked up a similar product, Kush Creams Organic Permafrost (from $30), and then ran uphill on a treadmill—hard!—until I thought I’d be appropriately sore the next day. After a hot shower, I massaged a different lotion into each leg as instructed, noting both left my skin a little tingly (probably the peppermint?), super-moisturized, and smelling faintly of mint. While I don’t think either product will dramatically change my life, I was considerably less achy the next morning than I expected, and was able to manage an infamously tough Kayla Itsines circuit workout within 12 hours.
This might sound obvious, but for those who are curious; no, none of these products are going to give you a buzz, and it would be a totally terrible idea to eat them. (Please don’t!) And while Apothecanna’s ointments contain only about 100mg of the cannabis compound called cannabidiol or CBD, Kennedy says that’s more than enough to help manage localized pain by relaxing the area and signaling the inflammation response to go down. “People can experience results at about one quarter of that amount,” he added.
The idea is that cannabis achieves this by targeting receptors in the body that are part of the “endocannabinoid system.” Kennedy explained that our bodies naturally create compounds that work with these receptors, but that several compounds in cannabis—like THC and CBD—work directly with these receptors and “can be used to help manage pain, reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and encourage healthy skin growth.”
I asked medicinal herbalist Daniela Turley about this, and she explained that while there isn’t a lot of research used to back up topical use of cannabis for pain, that’s not to say “there is not potential.” She added that while weed’s used for its anti-inflammatory properties to indirectly reduce pain, there are other, more well-researched topical lotions you can try: “An example of a well-researched plant chemical for topical pain relief is capsaicin. Capsaicin is an ingredient in chili which has been shown to deplete neuropeptide substance P, which transmits pain to the central nervous system.”
However, if you’re still keen to give topical weed a try, it’s perfectly legal. Right now you can buy CBD-active topical cannabis, like that found in Kush and Apothecanna products, across the U.S.—so go forth and rub the stuff all over your body after your next CrossFit class; it could really help with your recovery.