It was the satisfying crack that echoed from somewhere in my upper back that made me feel like I had really made a great decision. On an unexpectedly (and unseasonably) snowy night in Manhattan, I had trekked, wearing weather-inappropriate shoes and all, to Chillhouse to receive a 50-minute massage with an untraditional add-in: CBD.
CBD, aka Cannabidiol, is a compound that can be derived from hemp or marijuana plants (which are both a part of the genus Cannabis). It does not contain THC, the psychoactive compound that results in a high. Most CBD products in the United States are derived from hemp—AKA, they’re not even made from marijuana. They also happen to have a bevy of wellness benefits.
When applied topically, CBD has two core benefits: at the superficial level of skin, it can relieve inflammation (in the form of acne, psoriasis, eczema, etc.) and at a deeper level, it can assist with muscle tension—in other words, the reason you may be itching for a massage in the first place.
High CBD Pain & Wellness Formula Body Lotion, Lord Jones, $60
“One of the major benefits of massage is a marked increase in circulation. This boost in blood flow has several important functions like nutrient distribution, toxin removal, faster healing and recovery of muscles,” explains Chillhouse general manager and licensed massage therapist Demetri Travlos. “CBD has a greater effect when used in conjunction with a massage because the rise in blood flow carries the topically absorbed cannabidiol throughout the body with greater efficiency.”
My massage began with a breathing exercise to help my body to relax, and then pressure began. I constantly carry tension in my shoulders and upper back, so I had asked my massage therapist to concentrate on that area. A traditional massage with medium pressure warmed up my skin before the CBD mixture was added as a sub-in for lotion. Over the remainder of session, hot stones kept my back warm as tension in my arms and legs was tackled, and my muscles, first protesting, eventually gave in to the pressure that grew deeper and deeper. Through it all, I tried to maintain the breath I was instructed to keep throughout.
It’s not in my (or many other people’s) instinct to fully let go. In massage, this can be a true test. Still, I found myself, for once, able to unclench my shoulders and allow my joints to soften, and my face to fully smush into the chair’s cradle. I didn’t even care that I would leave the session with sleepy eyes and messy, once-straightened hair. According to some research, it could be the CBD that helped me to get through it.
CBD Infused Organic Hand & Body Lotion, Blue Ridge Hemp Co., $100
Though CBD-infused massages have hardly become commonplace, they’re not totally unheard of. The Now, a massage spot with multiple locations across Los Angeles, has made hemp-derived CBD a core part of its offerings—because of its California location, after all, its team has had immediate access to local research on CBD, allowing it to be at the forefront of this skin and muscle treatment innovation. The effectiveness measured by happy customers alone has been enough to encourage the development of their own in-house CBD balm, available at all four locations and coming soon to its newly online marketplace.
“We have seen great results for a variety of modern-day issues and it really does work across a broad spectrum of complaints including, neck pain and shoulder tension from being hunched over a computer, tired muscles from strenuous workouts and general anxiety that seems to be pervasive in today’s fast-paced society,” says The Now co-founder Gara Post.
Anecdotal evidence and the few-and-far-between studies that have been conducted point towards tension-relief as a key effect CBD can have on muscles—but the benefits don’t end there. An endocannabinoid system in the skin, as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jeanette Jackin explains, has receptors for cannabinoids like CBD. When the receptors pair up with cannabinoids, they work to decrease inflammation (like acne, psoriasis, and eczema) through immune pathways.
“A lot of these studies have been in mice,” she explains. “Few have been on humans, because research hasn’t been readily available in the United States because of legislation.” With her background in dermatology and holistic medicine, Dr. Jacknin first gained an interest in studying the superficial skin benefits of CBD when she saw the effectiveness that CBD patches and salves had on her own ankle pain.
Soothing Salve, Sopris, $39.99 (use Dr. Jacknin’s discount code JJMD for 20-percent off)
The true legality of CBD is the tricky part: it’s made in the U.S. from hemp (a non-psychoactive plant that cannot give consumers a high), but for the past 50 years, U.S. legislation has looped the entire Cannabis genus (including both hemp and marijuana) together as a Schedule I federally controlled substance. If a 2018 farming bill passes, however, hemp could become totally legal and therefore much more available for clinical studies—as well as new product innovation.
It can be tempting, easy even, to denote the effects of CBD on a placebo effect (after all, placebos do work anyway), but Dr. Jacknin stresses that true effectiveness can be seen when you’re using a high-quality product. A massage, when paired with quality CBD, can show instant effects when it comes to muscle relaxation. The topical, inflammation-reducing effects, however, can take some time.
“If the topical is from a great brand that formulates well with other natural analgesics, the relief of pain can be within near-immediate depending on the individual,” she says. “Topical effects for the treatment of skin problems would take longer in terms of days or weeks depending on the individual and the severity of their case. This relates to [the] perception of symptoms—not a cure of anything.”
In the canvas-walled massage room, the echoes of a contemporary New Age (read: no Enya) playlist echoed, and as my session continued on, I felt my muscles resisting less and less. By the time the treatment had concluded with a quick face massage, I felt totally at ease. I made my way through the snow wearing unwisely chosen 4-inch heeled boots, hopped on the subway, and picked up Chinese food on my way home. My body felt better than it had earlier in the day. Now, I’ll treat my mind to some much-needed R&R, too.