EducationWhat does CBD cream do to your body

What does CBD cream do to your body

11 min read

Sam North

What does CBD cream do to your body
CBD cream has emerged as a beacon of hope for those seeking relief from various ailments. A derivative of the cannabis and hemp plants, Cannabidiol (CBD) stands out for its potential therapeutic benefits without the psychoactive effects associated with THC.


What is CBD Cream?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the over 110 cannabinoids found in the medical cannabis and hemp plants. It is produced in the trichomes alongside THC and other cannabinoids, terpenes, esters, thiols, and flavonoids. These compounds have shown promise in potentially providing individual benefits when isolated, but when combined, the therapeutic effect may be increased. This is referred to as the “entourage effect". Cannabinoids can be added to many medical applications to deliver the potential benefits of CBD for a range of different medical diagnoses.

CDB creams are simply that, medicinal topicals that contain CBD as one of their active ingredients. 

How does CBD Cream work?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is classed as a cannabinoid, and is one of the more exciting potential medical and therapeutic compounds found in the cannabis and hemp plant. It is produced in the trichomes alongside THC and other cannabinoids, terpenes, esters, thiols, and flavonoids. These compounds have individual benefits but when combined, they have shown potentially in offering more therapeutic effects than the “sum of their parts”. This is known as the “entourage effect”. Cannabinoids have the ability to be administered in a range of different medical applications to deliver the benefits of CBD for a range of separate medical diagnoses.

How does CBD cream work?

CBD has shown promise in being a powerful anti-inflammatory that may help reduce inflammation and swelling in your skin, muscles, joints and other parts of the body. Because CBD is a neurotransmitter, it is able to activate certain receptor sites located all over the body. When you apply CBD to the surface of the skin, it interacts with the cannabinoid receptor sites CB1 & CB2 to initiate a biological course of action and signal to the body to stop producing inflammation. Taking advantage of this useful ‘messaging system’ may allow patients with skin, joint, muscle, and bone complaints to have more control over their levels of pain, inflammation, and overall healing. CBD creams potentially help pain by reducing inflammation in localised areas of the body, which is responsible for pain and the pain response.

Clinical researchers have discovered that pro-inflammatory cytokine levels may be reduced by CBD, which inhibits T-cell proliferation. CBD may be capable of inducing T cell apoptosis and reducing the migration and adhesion of immune cells. What this effectively means is that CBD may help the cells that protect your skin by clearing external pathogens when they have completed their task, allowing the body to make new ones, so it can keep performing essential tasks.

CBD has also been discovered in studies to be active at GABA receptor sites which are also found on the skin in the epidermal keratinocytes which accelerate cutaneous barrier recovery.

While the research is beginning to point out the potential of CBD in therapeutic settings, there is still much to discover through ethical and well-thought-out clinical research.

One thing to keep in mind is that, unlike most other methods of CBD administration (inhalation, ingesting), CBD cream does not work by entering the bloodstream. Instead, the path of action is local.

How to apply CBD cream?

When applying CBD cream, it should be applied sparingly. It has been shown to work best when the skin is not smothered entirely. The CBD works by coming into contact with receptor cells. If there is an excess of CBD cream, the skin will not be able to absorb it all, and may even become totally ‘saturated’ with CBD, slowing down the absorption rate. Studies have shown that there is a saturation point with CBD topicals so more doesn’t always equal better. 

To get CBD fully applied to the area in question, apply pea-sized amounts to the affected area and gently massage until it is evenly dispersed.

Apply CBD cream as often as you feel you need to in order to reduce your symptoms. For ongoing and long-term health conditions, some patients find that applying CBD cream every 3–6 hours works best. If you take note of how much time has passed before your symptoms return, it is a good idea to plan to reapply the CBD cream 30 minutes or an hour before to avoid breaks in symptom relief.

Where can I apply CBD Cream?

You are able to apply CBD cream to almost anywhere on your body's exterior. It is best to avoid contact with the eyes as cannabinoids can irritate the eye, causing them to sting.

To reduce any chance of negative side effects, it is also important to consider other ingredients in the CBD cream to ensure you are not allergic or intolerant to them. Furthermore, it can be a sensible idea to do a test patch on your skin before applying to a large area in case you do have a reaction if you know you can be sensitive. CBD is considered to be safe and non-reactive.

Few people report any side effects from using CBD cream that are unwanted, but there have been some reports of diarrhoea and dry mouth.

CBD cream for joint pain

One of the most common potential applications for CBD cream is to treat joint pain, most commonly associated with arthritis. There are around 10 million people in the UK that are living with the often debilitating condition. In 2022 the NHS started instructing patients to lose weight instead of prescribing any pain medication, which only highlights the need for more therapeutic options.  

Commonly prescribed drugs are paracetamol, ibuprofen, prednisone and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). Stronger medications are also used to control the cause of arthritis rather than the symptoms are also employed, such as methotrexate and leflunomide.

A study of over 400 participants in 2020 looked at the reduction in paracetamol and opiate medications that autoimmune arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis patients were taking. In all, the groups combined reported a 44% reduction in pain after CBD application. There may be other factors affecting this, but it is very interesting data indeed. There was a 65% reduction in medication use. Anti-inflammatory medication administration decreased by 31.1%, as did paracetamol by 18.2%, and opioid use declined by 8.6%. Alongside these results, 17.8% stopped taking anti-inflammatories, 17.8% stopped taking paracetamol, and 18.9% of patients discontinued opioids.

In a 2022 American study, 6.2mg/ml of CBD in shea butter was compared to a placebo in a double-blind test on patients with symptomatic thumb basal joint arthritis. After 2 weeks of twice-daily treatment, results showed that there were some pretty significant improvements from baseline patient-reported outcomes and visual measures in pain disabilities of the arm, shoulder, and hand. These results were observed without any negative side effects.

It is worth noting that there are many studies into the effectiveness of CBD taken orally or in tincture form to help manage the symptoms and root cause of inflammation in arthritis pain. CBD cream as a topical may help reduce symptoms alone, but has been shown to be potentially more effective when combined with oral CBD and other treatments.

CBD Cream for skin conditions

Skin irritation caused by a number of different conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can be aided by CBD creams' anti-itching properties. Reducing itchiness not only eases the mental burden of this condition, but also will help prevent more physical damage occurring to the skin as patients scratch themselves. 

The action CBD has at receptor sites sends signals telling the body to carry out a number of functions that promotes healing. Patients treating skin conditions, especially psoriasis, may be helped by CBD accumulating in the membrane keratinocyte where interaction with the GABA receptors speeds up the cutaneous barrier recovery.

CBD cream for Alopecia

Alopecia, a condition which leads to loss of hair in patches, has been shown some promise of help in restoring hair growth with the CBD cream application. 

Research into the effect of CBD on β-catenin expression, which is known to have a role in alopecia hair loss was conducted in 2021. Results showed that whilst CBD didn’t directly influence β-catenin expression, β-catenin’s decrease by testosterone and PMA was possibly restored after CBD pretreatment. This leads to suggest that CBD may have a modulating effect on alopecia caused by hormonal or the excess of signalling pathways.

Skin cancer and CBD cream

There are a number of different skin cancers that humans can develop, and CBD cream is often prescribed, and for multiple reasons. CBD may reduce the inflammation related to skin cancers. The science doesn’t stop there though, as there is keen interest in the medical field to further explore the potential antitumoral properties of cannabinoids like CBDa, which has been shown to be possibly 1000x more effective than CBD in this application. 

At this stage, the research is still much too sparse to make any definitive claims over whether CBD application can help reduce the symptoms of cancer, or the tumours themselves.

Dermatitis and CBD cream

Contact Dermatitis affects 20% of the child population and 10% of adults, making it a common and ongoing issue for a large percentage of the population. It can cause physical and emotional trauma that in some cases is hard, or even impossible, to treat. 

CBD cream has become a possible lifeline for patients with dermatitis due to CBD’s potential action in the keratinocytes CB2 and transient receptor potential vanilloid type-1 (TRPV1) receptors among other pathways. The potential anti-itching benefits and skin-repairing qualities, combined with little to no side effects, may make CBD treatment an option that could help boost the benefits of the usually prescribed steroidal medications.

CBD cream for acne

Skin conditions such as acne occur when elevated sebum production and inflammation of the sebaceous glands occur due to hair follicles becoming plugged with dead skin cells and oil, causing whiteheads, blackheads, and puss-filled pimples. The way CBD may help acne symptoms are being studied in clinical settings. 

CBD treatment was found to have promise in decreasing inflammatory cytokines TNF-α mRNA, IL-1β and IL-6. This was a strong indication that CBD cream may be a suitable potential candidate for further study and possible treatment.

A 2023 study into Acne Vulgaris, the most common form of acne which causes different size lesions on the face, was conducted. By looking at other natural plant extracts that could be combined with CBD to improve action and reduce side effects, researchers hoped to find a natural option for reducing heavy acne. Centella Asiatica Triterpene (CAT) extract as well as Silymarin (from Silybum marianum fruit extract) showed a potentially significant effect when combined with CBD, with the CAT extract modulating the effects positively. A study on 30 human subjects saw statistical benefits that were potentially significant in reducing acne lesions, inflammation, and porphyrin labels.

CBD cream for muscle aches

The World Doping Authority, which monitors sports athletes, no longer tests for CBD. Since this change came into effect, CBD has been increasingly administered to help aid recovery and reduce pain.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are the most common medications administered to help recover from sports injuries and overexertion. But studies show these drugs can actually harm and prevent the body's ability to adapt to exercise - something that has not been observed with CBD. CBD cream may bring down inflammation through topical application.

Muscle pain caused by conditions such as Fibromyalgia may respond very well to CBD topical treatments. A study conducted in 2019 demonstrated that there was a 30% pain reduction with patients using CBD compared to those being given a placebo.

CBD cream for neuropathy

A four-week randomised, placebo-controlled trial was undertaken to look into the potential for symptomatic relief of patients suffering peripheral neuropathy using transdermal CBD. Sharp pain, cold and itchy sensations, along with a reduction in intense pain, were measured compared to the placebo group. 

There were no adverse effects recorded, showing CBD cream could very well be a beneficial treatment option for neuropathic pain.


CBD creams come in a massive range of applications and hold promise in providing relief from a variety of skin conditions. From an inflammatory condition such as psoriasis, to skin cancer, alopecia, acne, muscle pain and neuropathy - topical CBD has shown potential to bring about great benefits. While research is still young in this area, the results are displaying real promise for many different conditions. 

If you’re considering CBD cream, it is best to first consult with your physician.  Together you can identify if this could be a suitable treatment option for you, and what dosage would work best.  With the right guidance from your doctor, CBD creams may provide an additional form of relief to many people suffering from skin conditions. 

Don't let the stigma surrounding medical cannabis prevent you from getting a suitable treatment. Releaf provides tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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