CBD patches are transdermal patches containing cannabidiol (CBD). They slowly release CBD into the bloodstream through the skin. Some people may prefer this CBD delivery system to inhaling vaporized CBD or ingesting it orally via edibles or drinks.

CBD patches may be a more suitable option for certain applications, such as treating pain, although personal preference will play a role in choosing the best way to take CBD.

Keep reading to learn more about CBD patches, including how they work, the potential uses, and the risks and side effects.

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CBD patches are patches containing CBD and other ingredients that people apply to the skin. They work in a similar way to nicotine patches, delivering CBD directly into the bloodstream.

This transdermal method delivers the CBD quickly to the local area around the patch. From there, it works its way into the bloodstream. When people take CBD orally — via an oil or gummy, for example — the compound must first pass through the digestive system. The body may then use it, break it down, or even simply excrete it as waste. As such, much of an oral CBD dose may be lost in the digestive system.

A transdermal patch applies the CBD directly to the skin, which absorbs it and allows it to enter the bloodstream directly. As a study in Molecules notes, this application allows the CBD to bypass the digestive system and increases the bioavailability of the product.

CBD patches also provide a more consistent solution than other topical methods, such as topical CBD creams and massage oils. Once the skin absorbs topical creams, their effect tapers off. Therefore, people using the creams for relief would need to apply them multiple times a day.

Patches stay on the skin, delivering CBD over a longer period and potentially providing a steady stream of relief from symptoms.

However, transdermal delivery is relatively slow, and not all of the CBD can pass through the skin. For this reason, CBD patches typically also contain some form of permeation enhancer to increase the permeability of the skin and allow more CBD to get through.

Though research on CBD’s effects on pain is in its early stages, with many studies still using animals, initial findings do suggest that CBD may be an effective pain reliever for people with various conditions, including arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS).

CBD has a history of use for pain reduction, both anecdotally and through traditional medicinal systems.

Open legislation has allowed for much more formal research to take place in recent years. These studies have helped bring to light the potential of cannabis use for pain relief.

Cannabinoids such as CBD work against pain in two different ways.

Firstly, they act on the endocannabinoid system within the body to block the receptors for various types of pain, even those that are difficult to treat, such as nerve pain.

Secondly, they have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, which may help reduce pain from sources of inflammation.

These effects, in combination with the transdermal delivery system, may make CBD patches best for forms of inflammation, nerve pain, and localized pain.

Some research notes the benefits of patches over other methods in this regard, including:

  • sustained, long-term delivery of CBD
  • minimal adverse effects
  • localized anti-inflammatory activity
  • localized pain relief

These benefits mean that CBD patches may be effective for situations in which a person has localized inflammatory or nerve pain, such as arthritis pain in the knee, inflammation and nerve pain in the back, or pain from a condition in the skin.

Another study found that topical CBD helped control myofascial pain. The study focused specifically on the muscles surrounding the head and jaw in people with temporomandibular disorder (TMD). The researchers concluded that CBD has potential as a treatment option for people with the disorder.

A study in Postgraduate Medicine investigated the effect of CBD on people with chronic pain who used opioids to control that pain. Of the 97 participants, 94% reported improved quality of life while taking the CBD product.

In addition, more than half of the people who added CBD to their treatment regimens reduced or eliminated their opioid use after 8 weeks. Larger studies can help explore these results, but they indicate that CBD may help reduce some of the risks that other pain management methods pose.

Learn more about CBD and pain here.

Due to their transdermal delivery system, CBD patches work best when they have direct contact with the largest possible area of skin. To maximize the patch’s effectiveness, a person should apply it to a soft area of skin where it gets as much contact as possible, rather than near bony or irregular areas of skin. It also needs to be as close to the painful area as possible.

Common application areas for CBD patches include the:

  • inside of the wrists
  • back of the neck
  • lower back
  • lower thigh, behind the knee
  • inside of the bicep
  • shoulder
  • inside of the ankle

There are a few possible risks and side effects to consider when choosing a CBD patch, including reactions to both CBD and the patch itself.

CBD side effects

CBD is a natural compound, but it can still cause a number of side effects. Common side effects include:

  • sleepiness or fatigue
  • oversleeping
  • diarrhea
  • drowsiness
  • appetite changes
  • weight loss or weight gain

People who are sensitive to these effects should not drive or operate machinery while taking CBD.

Interactions

CBD may interact with some medications. Therefore, people should discuss the use of CBD products with a healthcare professional before taking them so that they can check for any potential drug interactions.

Liver damage

Some research suggests that there may also be a link between CBD and liver damage, although the doses in the study were significantly higher than those that people would take.

People with damaged livers or liver failure may wish to talk to their doctor before using CBD products. However, the transdermal delivery of CBD means that it bypasses the liver, so patches may have a lower associated risk than other delivery systems.

Contamination

While CBD may be helpful, possible contaminants along the manufacturing process, including heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals, may put a person at risk for reactions.

It is important to ensure that the product has a reputable manufacturer and to look for a third-party lab test confirming its purity.

Reactions

Some people may experience a reaction to the patch, which may be due to sweat becoming trapped underneath the patch and causing skin irritation. In other cases, the skin may react to the glue in the patch.

Other ingredients in the transdermal patch may cause similar symptoms. If symptoms appear, a person should stop using the patch and talk to a dermatologist to identify any potential allergens.

For many people, CBD patches provide an alternative method of delivering CBD to the body that allows for faster and more long-term pain relief.

CBD patches may be best for localized pain, such as pain in just the knee or lower back. CBD patches may also work in tandem with other pain relief methods to help control pain and provide relief.

While using CBD patches for pain may provide symptom relief, anyone with chronic pain should work closely with their doctor to help solve the underlying cause of the pain.