Does CBD Really Help With Pain?

Breaking down whether or not CBD oil actually works for pain relief.

The frenzy over CBD (also known as cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive component found in a cannabis plant) isn’t slowing down. Canada just legalized the use of recreational cannabis, including CBD, allowing residents to try CBD products to improve issues like anxiety, sexual performance and poor sleep. Many wellness centers are also jumping on board, using products like CBD oil ― arguably one of the most commonly used forms of CBD ― as a way to alleviate customers’ various ailments.

One of those issues? Muscle pain. Studies suggest CBD works as a pain reliever and may even help to relieve the symptoms of arthritis. Anecdotally, people have credited CBD for helping them with their back pain. One of the main ways people do this is by using CBD oil in a massage.

I suffer from sciatica ― a type of pain that affects a large nerve that extends from the lower back down the back of each leg ― along with some other constant aches that just come from being a mom who also sits at a desk most of the day. I’ve been searching for natural relief for quite some time, so I decided to give a CBD massage a try.

I visited The Spa Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada (where I live) to get a massage using CBD oil. My therapist spoke in hushed tones as she explained the benefits of the treatment, which she said include muscle pain relief, increased relaxation and reduction in inflammation.

CBD oil is colorless and odorless, so I couldn’t detect it during the treatment, and it didn’t feel any different from any other product used during a massage. As soon as my massage therapist started working on my back, I was whisked away from my mental to-do list to a familiar state of relaxation that comes when someone gives your muscles a good rub.

“That night, I happily realized that the usual pain I feel when trying to get comfy in bed was missing and I fell into a deep sleep by 9 p.m.”

Overall, the experience wasn’t divergent from massages I’ve had before. While waiting for a taxi following my appointment, I did notice that my lower back didn’t ache as much as it usually does. My always-too-tight calf muscles felt loose and tingly. However, the biggest difference came hours later: That night, I happily realized that the usual pain I feel when trying to get comfy in bed was missing and I fell into a deep sleep by 9 p.m.

I’m not the only one who reaped benefits from the experience: Claudia Rivas, the general manager at The Spa Ottawa, told me that purchases of CBD products, which the spa sells, and appointments for CBD massages have risen dramatically since the change in Canadian law.

“It’s a natural and organic painkiller,” Rivas said, adding that many of their clients have been using CBD massages to complement physical therapy.

(It’s important to note that the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario advises against registered massage therapists using cannabis products on a client during treatment until more research is conducted. Rules vary by country and state, so check your local regulations if you’re concerned.)

How CBD Massages Work And What The Science Says

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A CBD massage treatment typically involves CBD oil that is mixed with another carrier oil or cream before a massage therapist applies it to the skin. The practice is said to help multiple pain-related conditions.

“Receiving a massage with CBD oil can potentially be very beneficial to patients who are suffering from symptoms such as localized pain, arthritis or inflammation, and skin disorders like eczema or psoriasis,” said Dr. Tanny Raz, the director of medical business development at Apollo Cannabis Clinics, a medical cannabis research organization and treatment center in Toronto.

The practice may also be an aid for those living with chronic pain who struggle with sleep. Individuals with a pain-related condition often complain that their discomfort wakes them or prevents them from getting deep, quality sleep. Meanwhile, research shows that being well-rested can help people better deal with pain. Studies have found that CBD may increase the amount of sleep people get (based on self-reporting), and research also suggests CBD has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory benefits.

That’s the good news. But here are the important caveats: Research shows there are many benefits to getting a massage, including reduced tension and pain relief, so there’s no definitive way to say it was the CBD component of my massage that alleviated my pain. Also, like all treatments and medicines, CBD oil and massages are not right for everybody. Some people report feeling nausea, irritability or fatigue when using these products (typically when they’re ingested). There’s always a chance you can have a skin reaction with topical treatments. It’s always a good idea to discuss any new health regimens with your health care provider.

Is Using CBD For Pain Safe ― Or Even Legal?

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CBD is becoming more widely available for purchase and in spas and massage therapy centers across the country. However, contradictory laws at the federal and state levels have contributed to some confusion about its legality, and CBD oil may be classed as illegal in some states. Additionally, many CBD products aren’t approved or tested by the Food and Drug Administration. If you’re worried, check the rules in your area to make sure everything’s OK before purchasing or proceeding.

When it comes to CBD oil massages specifically, experts say the treatment has no immediately known dangers associated with it (separate from any normal skin-related issues, reactions or irritations that may result from any other massage).

“Since there is no known case of a cannabis overdose on record, cannabinoid therapy is in a league of its own when it comes to safety,” said Dr. Blake Pearson, the founder of and a practicing physician in Ontario, Canada. The World Health Organization states that there is no evidence of any public health-related problems or abuse or dependence potential associated with the use of pure CBD.

In a world of wacky wellness trends that don’t always do a lot of good, CBD massages stand out as among the more effective and relaxing techniques that are generally harmless for most people. That’s a fad I’m personally happy to adopt.

This story has been updated to include information about local regulations concerning massage therapists using CBD.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story identified CBD as cannabinoid rather than cannabidiol.

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