Updated: Jan 20
There's tons of research as well as anecdotal evidence about how topical CBD can reduce pain because of its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. However, few people discuss the mechanics of how CBD reduces stress and promotes deeper relaxation. This is due, in part, to the fact that Western mainstream thinking approaches the mind and body as two distinct entities. It's only been in more recent times that scientists and academics have begun to acknowledge what Eastern philosophy has recognized for centuries—the mind and body are one. Plus, now there's scientific evidence to back it up. More and more studies suggest that stress and increased inflammatory activity are interrelated.
The Interplay Between Stress & Inflammation
Prolonged stress, whether it be physical mental or emotional, leads to hyper physiological levels of cortisol. This alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate the inflammatory system. As a result, pro-inflammatory cytokines that usually do their job and disappear, are “upregulated” in your system — meaning the cycle of stress and inflammatory response gets habituated in the body. Over time, these cytokines may perpetuate themselves. That’s when inflammation starts to cause deleterious effects on the body.
Research shows pro-inflammatory cytokines can trigger depressive symptoms in some people, leading to a lowered mood and lack of normal enjoyment of life. “Inflammation can lead to symptoms that look like depression, and in people who already have depression, inflammation can worsen the symptoms,” says Dr. Trivedi. In a study published in January 2018 in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers subjected mice to stressful conditions while monitoring signs of brain immune cell activation. In this study, anxiety and depression-like activity was associated with activation of the immune cells. This suggests that exposure to stress triggers immune cells in the brain, leading to the rewiring of neural circuits and setting off of mood symptoms.
Given that CBD reduces inflammation, and inflammation triggers stress, it's no wonder that so many people use CBD for relaxation purposes. But why use topicals? Not only is this application method ideal for rituals of relaxation and centering (think yoga), it's also effective. Many people have had great success with topical CBD products because of the skin’s ability to absorb and transfer terpenes into the bloodstream. Our skin is lipophilic, which means that it allows oils to be absorbed with relative ease. Terpenes and cannabinoids are also lipophilic. So put them in a carrier oil, as we do with cannabis topicals, and you get a great method of application. Once the cannabis topical has permeated the skin, the terpenes and cannabinoids will be absorbed into the bloodstream. Similar to aromatherapy practices, utilizing topical CBD at specific areas where transdermal absorption is highest (ie the pulse points) is recommended.
All this research leads me to wonder one thing—are pain and stress really all that different? Or, are they just different heads of the same coin? I look forward to exploring possible answers and hope you'll join me for my next post.