Transdermal CBD: What Are The Benefits?
What Exactly Does Transdermal CBD Mean?
Transdermal CBD medications are applied to the skin, often in CBD patches or gels. If you’ve explored the world of CBD online, you have likely seen the word “transdermal CBD.” Sometimes this term is used interchangeably with “topical CBD,” which can be a bit confusing! So let’s start by clarifying what transdermal CBD actually is.
Topical drugs, like creams or salves, are applied to the skin and works only in the area applied. Transdermal medications, on the other hand, penetrate deeper into the skin and are absorbed into the bloodstream. This means they typically have effects throughout the body, not just where applied.
Why Transdermal CBD?
When it comes to the skin, CBD comes in both forms – topical and transdermal. While most research at this point is on animals, researchers believe topical CBD may work best for skin conditions or for local pain like in arthritis or neuropathy.
Transdermal CBD, on the other hand, has the potential to be useful for a wider variety of concerns and has some significant benefits over oral forms of CBD in particular. When taking CBD orally, such as in capsules, edibles, or when oil is swallowed, it must be processed through the digestive system. That means whatever the dosage you are taking, it loses potency as your body processes it, so less “bioavailable” to your actual body than the milligrams listed on the package. One of the biggest benefits of transdermal CBD is that it enters the bloodstream, meaning it has greater bioavailability than CBD taken orally. (CBD oil, by the way, can also bypass the digestive system if taken sublingually, that is, under the tongue.
Another awesome feature of transdermal CBD is that, depending on the product, it may provide a steady stream of CBD over a longer period of time – lasting longer from a single application than topicals or oral forms.
Does Transdermal CBD Help? What Does the Research Show?
The vast majority of CBD research has been performed in animals, which – if you’ve ever met any – you know obviously differ from humans quite a bit. Mickey, Minnie and their rat cousins are typical test subjects, and thus far they’ve enjoyed some positive results.
Transdermal CBD has helped prevent inflammation and edema (swelling). In this study, mice were pre-treated with transdermal CBD and then injected with a substance called carrageenan, known to cause inflammation and swelling. Mice who received CBD did not have these problems.
Another study explored alcohol-related neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment in mice (they must have had REALLY tiny bottles!) Excessive alcohol can cause a lot of different health problems, here the destruction of neurons from drinking may actually contribute to even MORE drinking. Anyone who has struggled with alcohol or is close to someone who has, knows it is common to “fall off the wagon.” These researchers wanted to know if transdermal CBD might help prevent neurodegeneration, which might make it easier for alcoholics to recover. Fortunately for these rats, transdermal CBD did indeed prevent alcohol-related neurodegeneration, giving researchers hope it may one day prove helpful in humans.
There are currently many treatments available for arthritis, but many have side effects. For these rats hobbling around with walkers and canes (kidding!), researchers found CBD helped reduce pain and inflammation without any side effects. Rats who received CBD continued to explore their cages just as any other rat, indicating CBD did not affect their brain function. If applicable to humans too, there is great potential to free those suffering from uncomfortable side effects that diminish quality of life.
What about in humans?
As of right now, there aren’t any published studies available in humans – so we simply cannot know!
The only study at this time of writing is a pharmaceutical clinical trial for transdermal CBD called Zynerba. Clinical trials are often known to overstate benefits, but not exactly in this case! Researchers tested transdermal CBD on patients with arthritis in the knee, and unfortunately found no statistical differences on most measures of pain from those receiving the placebo. One of the only groups showing any difference was among those with the highest pain scores, so it is possible transdermal CBD only works for certain levels of pain, though it is way too soon to make any conclusions. On the plus side, transdermal CBD was pretty safe – the number of side effects was roughly the same between the treatment and placebo groups. So while transdermal CBD may not be as helpful as researchers hoped, unlike many pharmaceuticals, it also does not seem to be harmful.
While not cause for celebration yet, there is also not necessarily cause for fear, either!
Potential Benefits of Transdermal CBD
Transdermal CBD can be used discreetly, applied to the skin underneath the clothes so nobody has to know it’s there. This can be a big benefit as – if it does help – relief should last throughout the day and you won’t need to reapply or take another dose. Since transdermal CBD typically provides a more steady stream of cannabidiol, whatever pains or discomforts inspire someone to try, they may be less likely to experience ebbs and flows throughout the day.
Potential Drawbacks of Transdermal CBD
Compared to topical CBD, there may be a greater likelihood of transdermal CBD resulting in a positive drug test. Since topicals work on the skin level, a user is likely (though not 100% guaranteed!) to pass a drug test.
While positive tests are rare with CBD, they are still possible. Because transdermal CBD enters the bloodstream, though small, there’s still a greater likelihood of testing positive than with a topical that remains on the surface level. So take caution!
Is Transdermal CBD for You?
As with any wellness measure, it’s important to balance risks and benefits. What might I get out of using transdermal CBD, and what are the potential costs (literally and figuratively!)? Transdermal CBD does seem to have benefits over other forms, and does seem safe – science has a LOT of work to do to let us know for sure!
Sarah has a Ph.D in Sociology with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Arizona. Her current research spans the fields of trauma, psychology, neurobiology and sociology.