I used to stockpile Tylenol. Actually, I used to stockpile generic acetaminophen and stash it in every purse, cabinet, and desk I own. I get head-splitting migraines at least once a month and have creeping pains of carpal tunnel from constant typing. Plus, I recently underwent major reconstruction surgery on my right foot that makes me the least fun person at a dance party.
While I was quickly prescribed the “hard stuff” following my surgery, I didn’t love the idea of putting a whole new set of chemicals into my body for pain relief. Friends recommended alternative solutions (acupuncture, arnica cream) but nothing seemed to help.
So I decided to try out CBD, a not-new-but-not-well-known cannabidiol compound extracted from cannabis plants. Not to be confused with recreational and medicinal marijuana, which relies on THC to create the psychoactive effects that make you feel “high.” Instead, CBD reacts with your body’s endocannabinoid system (which regulate things like pain, sleep patterns, and immune system) and boosts its functionality. It’s said to have positive effects—ranging from pain-management and anti-inflammatory benefits to cures for skin ailments to soothing anxiety—if applied topically or ingested. Here's what I learned.
Is This Even Legal?
Don’t worry, it’s legal: “When derived from industrial hemp, the mature stalks of the cannabis plant, it doesn’t contain any THC—the mind-altering component of cannabis—so it’s not included in the Controlled Substances Act’s definition of marijuana,” says Claudia Mata, founder of the CBD-infused beauty line Vertly.
It’s even gone chic, making its way into the kits of Hollywood stylists, who use it on the bottom of client’s feet before slipping into stilettos, and luxe plant-powered beauty products, like Vertly’s super moisturizing hemp lip balm. And it's now on my nightstand in a lotion that cures stubborn dry patches and tames joint pains.
“I found [CBD] as an alternative to Advil, when my now-business partner Kerrigan [Behrens] introduced me to it two years ago,” explains Kaley Nichol, co-founder of Cali-based Sagely Naturals, makers of said lotion. “I tried a topical patch and put it on my lower abdomen for cramps. It instantly felt better, and I thought ‘How have I not known about this sooner?’
Do I Have to go to a Dispensary?
As CBD goes mainstream, brands like Sagely Naturals and Vertly create stylishly-packaged, organic, hemp-infused products aimed toward women.
“Two years ago, [CBD] was mostly found at dispensaries and they were for the recreational user, not for someone who only shops at Whole Foods and certainly not appropriate for our moms,” explains Nichol.
I tried Sagely Naturals’ Relief and Recovery Headache roll-on, an essential oil-CBD blend that you swipe onto your temples for migraine relief and it’s a lifesaver when suffering screen fatigue. I also use CBD for Life’s lavender-scented rub on my still-healing-foot after workouts and long days, and Leef Organic’s Trival CBD Extract, taken in drops under the tongue, for moments when I’m feeling a bout of anxiety coming on. All of these items can be ordered online and shipped home.
I will say there’s a significantly noticeable difference after using these products. Swelling goes down, skin ailments seem less inflamed, and pain is slightly more manageable—sort of like slathering yourself in Icy-Hot, without the chemical smell.
What Forms Does it Come in?
Is there any difference in how we take CBD? “Absolutely!” says Cassie Walker, wellness expert and the director of operations for a licensed cannabis retailer on the West Coast. “The way that cannabis is prepared and ingested will definitely tailor its effect.”
Vaping and inhalation methods create “calming response without the psychoactivity of THC,” while taking drops under the tongue can take a few minutes. “It is ideal for routine use as it absorbs into the body more effectively and offers fewer side effects than smoking,” says Walker. Meanwhile, letting an edible (like Not Pot’s chocolate hearts) dissolve under the tongue can speed up its effect, and chewing can take “usually over an hour.”
“However, it will also have the longest lasting effects, making it ideal for managing chronic conditions,” she adds. Topical application—through creams, balms, oils, etc.—is a more localized delivery, but the effect will spread as your skin absorbs the product into your bloodstream.
How Much Do You Take?
Well, there’s not a definitive answer to that yet.
“There isn’t yet a magic number in regards to dosing, everyone metabolizes things differently and increase dosing is definitely encouraged to combat various ailments,” explaines Emily Heitman, COO/ CMO from LEEF Organics.
“Just like any supplement, more is not always more, but quality is where the magic happens,” she says. “In the plant world, one plus one does not equal two… one plus one equals five,” she continued. “When the compounds of a plant are combined in their natural state, we don’t end up with the sum of the parts; we receive a multiplying effect. Think of it as the difference between taking an ascorbic Vitamin C tablet and eating an orange: the overall difference in the available nutrient profiles is immense.”
For Sagely Naturals, Nichols and her team worked with a chemist to create an extraction concentration for their lotion formula that delivers adequate relief with one pump of product. “Our CBD is about 80 percent, so he helped us understand our base and how much CBD was needed for it,” she says. “Every pump delivers a milligram of CBD, which according to our research is enough to give relief when used topically.”
Where Do You Start?
I tried out a number of products and recruited friends and family with other ailments to test drive a few as well. Here’s what we loved:
As I mentioned, I tuck this away in my bag for migraines. It’s a blend of skin-tingling essential oils (peppermint, menthol, eucalyptus) and CBD, and its roll-on applicator delivers a small slick to pressure points along your temple and neck. I’ll even roll it across the top of my skull, through my hair part, and the tops of my shoulders for soothing effects. And when allergy season strikes, a quick swipe across the bridge of my nose seems to relieve pressure.
A friend with an extremely high stress job keeps a jar of this CBD-infused matcha coconut butter (by the makers of Not Pot) on his desk at home. He likes it on toast or stirred into his evening tea. It’s helped with anxiety and sleep disorders, allowing for him to unwind and decompress post-work without the psychedelic effects of actual pot. Plus, he says, it’s extremely tasty.
I passed a tube of this along to a friend with chronic pain related to Crohn's Disease. During a flare up, she slathered this lotion onto her aching joints and muscles, and claims it noticeable helped alleviate some of the pain. While she didn’t rate it a miracle worker, the relief it offered has her keeping the lotion in good supply.
Seeking out high-quality CBD became extremely important when choosing to take it orally. According to LEEF, their water-soluble extract (don’t call it an oil) is made using a “patent pending cold press fermentation process” and contains 375 mg of pure CBD. Two drops under the tongue—while they taste pretty gnarly, have water handy—make a racing mind melt away.