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Do CBD Transdermal Patches Actually Work?

Written by Robert Hammell

In the world of chronic pain, relief in any form can be very welcome. For many, this means experimentation with cannabidiol (CBD) the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis. This compound has shown promise in the treatment of epilepsy, anxiety, and also chronic pain.[1][2][3] But what is it about CBD that is so effective? And what about transdermal patches, is that an effective method for delivering CBD?


CBD For Effective Pain Management

CBD is effective for managing chronic pain for two primary reasons. First, unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive. This means that patients can take as much CBD as they deem necessary without any associated risks from intoxication. The second has to do with how CBD works in the body. Cannabis responds to two main receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors.[4] THC responds primarily to CB1 receptors, which are overwhelmingly concentrated in the brain. CB2 receptors do exist in the brain, hence the benefits with epilepsy and anxiety, but are also found throughout the body as well. CBD connects primarily with CB2 receptors and has a physical effect, and because of this, multiple CBD products have emerged targeting chronic pain, and without the psychoactive effects it is much more marketable to mainstream consumers.
New studies are beginning to uncover more paths, outside the endocannabinoid systems, through which CBD can help with pain management, particularly fighting inflammation.
Having said that, some patients will find that CBD simply isn’t enough and that more cannabinoids, such as THC or CBG, are needed in their formula.


How Effective are CBD Transdermal Patches

CBD transdermal patches work similarly to nicotine patches. The adhesive sticks to the skin and is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. One study found that the transdermal application of CBD was about as effectively absorbed as oral or pulmonary consumption.[5] So the good news is that transdermal patches are an effective delivery method for CBD, certainly when trying to treat a relatively small and specific area. The difference that the article mentions is that oral and pulmonary CBD absorption methods need to go through a metabolic step first. This means that, through the skin, more CBD can be absorbed by the bloodstream in specifically targeted areas, as opposed to the general relief provided by nicotine patches.


Advantages of CBD Transdermal Patches

Every patient is different, and for some, the transdermal patch may be the most effective delivery method for CBD. Because the CBD in transdermal patches doesn’t go through a metabolic period before it is absorbed into the bloodstream, there is evidence that suggests it may be beneficial in targeting specific areas of the body.[6] The same may also be possible with other CBD products like lotions, but transdermal patches provide an advantage in that regard as well. Most CBD patches are designed to stay on for longer periods of time. For some, this may be for several hours, and other patches may even last for multiple days. Because of this longevity, users don’t have to remember to keep taking CBD to get effective pain relief.

Disadvantages of CBD Patches

In the same way that transdermal patches may be the ideal treatment for some patients, their advantages may be untenable for others. If the chronic pain is consistently in the same place, then these patches may be ideal. However, for individuals who suffer from general aches and pains across their body, and are seeking total body relief, this may not be very useful. The same also applies if the pain tends to come and go at various times. If that is the case, then maybe a long-lasting patch isn’t as ideal as temporary relief in the form of lotions or oral supplements. Additionally, many patches use complicated formulas to ensure the adhesive sticks to the skin and the active components are absorbed for extended periods of time. Depending on what is included in those solutions, some users may find the patches provide additional irritation, which may be an unwelcome side effect. Of course, this may vary by brand, and it may be possible to avoid this problem with a competing product.


Reference List

  1. Pamplona, F. A., da Silva, L. R., & Coan, A. C. (2018). Potential Clinical Benefits of CBD-Rich Cannabis Extracts Over Purified CBD in Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy: Observational Data Meta-analysis. Frontiers in Neurology, 9.

  2. Skelley, J. W., Deas, C. M., Curren, Z., & Ennis, J. (2020). Use of cannabidiol in anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 60(1), 253–261.

  3. Boyaji, Shafik, et al. “The role of cannabidiol (CBD) in chronic pain management: an assessment of current evidence.” Current pain and headache reports 24.2 (2020): 1-6.

  4. Felder, Christian C., et al. “Comparison of the pharmacology and signal transduction of the human cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors.” Molecular pharmacology 48.3 (1995): 443-450.

  5. Bruni N, Della Pepa C, Oliaro-Bosso S, Pessione E, Gastaldi D, Dosio F. Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment. Molecules. 2018 Sep 27;23(10):2478. doi: 10.3390/molecules23102478. PMID: 30262735; PMCID: PMC6222489.

  6. Eskander JP, Spall J, Spall A, Shah RV, Kaye AD. Cannabidiol (CBD) as a treatment of acute and chronic back pain: A case series and literature review. J Opioid Manag. 2020 May/Jun;16(3):215-218. doi: 10.5055/jom.2020.0570. PMID: 32421842.

About the author

Robert Hammell