Why I Use CBD on my Clients

By Julie Crispin

The anti-drug campaign of the 1980s was an amazing success, and I grew up believing all the “Just Say No” messages. I am now in my 50s, and while I can’t say I never tried any cannabis in college or at the beach with girlfriends, it was an illegal substance and I was always paranoid when I “let loose” on rare occasions.

Rethinking cannabis

In 2014, a chiropractor friend and colleague asked me what I knew about topical cannabis salves and I was taken with this idea. While I knew nothing about the concept, I was intrigued and believed this could be the next new trend in the massage and wellness industry. Realizing that my teenage kids had far more knowledge on the topic of cannabis than I did, I decided to explore. I began reseraching topical cannabis, but little information was available.
In 2015, while visiting nearby Washington State (one of two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in December 2012), I went to a dispensary to check out the products. I was shown two small and expensive THC-laden topicals, which I purchased and brought home to try out on my husband (a.k.a., my skeptical guinea pig). We discovered it worked on his chronic pain. I felt more confirmation that this might be something important to my work, but was still worried about the legality and intoxication.

My own client study

After more research on the different products and processes involved in topical cannabis, I enlisted the help of my long-term clients, many of whom were elderly and not cannabis users in any form. I figured I had a good control group, since many of them had been regularly coming to me for years to manage chronic issues. With their consent, my clients and I explored two questions:
1. Did using topical cannabis help alleviate their pain/symptoms?
2. Did topical cannabis make me or them high?
I purchased over-the-counter drug testing kits from the pharmacy. My idea was to test myself and each client—before application of the THC topical, immediately after each session, and one day postmassage.  
The results? The use of the cannabis-infused lotions made a noticeable difference to my clients, and not one of the lab-verified drug tests we took turned out positive.
At this stage, I had what I would call a preschool education on the subject, and I didn’t even know there was an endocannabinoid system. The more I delved into the subject, the more I ran into the same issue: no scientific research. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with other massage therapists and clients, and I wanted to keep practicing massage legally and within my scope. I reached out to my state massage board, which was both collaborative and progressive, as we began to create a policy that permitted therapists who were interested in working with topical cannabis and CBD products a safe avenue to do so.

Encouraging results

The use of topical cannabis in a full-body massage did not get me or my clients “high,” but it did provide therapeutic benefits to us all.
I have been working with an 80-year-old chronic pain client for the past 10 years; she received weekly massage to mitigate chronic inflammation and pain. I offered her the use of topicals during her massage and she confirmed there was a positive difference between my regular massage and one with the addition of the topicals. We tried to mix it up and apply topicals to one side of her body and not the other (blindly), and she was able to determine which side had the topical and which side had the placebo (the carrier lotion only).
Another female client, in her mid-50s and living with multiple sclerosis, responded favorably to the topicals. For the previous five years, this was another client I would see weekly for symptom mitigation. When we started using the topicals, many of her symptoms—the spasticity, the feeling of pea gravel in her legs, and her neuropathy— diminished greatly.
A retired stone mason in his late 80s was another one of my “aha” clients. He testifies that my massages have always been helpful, but now he swears he won’t ever get a massage without topicals again.  
Between the success of these clients, in particular, and my own personal alleviation of pain in my hands and wrists, the results of using cannabis-infused topicals kept me interested in learning more.
Luckily for me, recreational cannabis became legal in my state of Oregon in 2018, and the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy (OBMT) drafted a policy with suggested guidelines for therapists who wanted to incorporate the use of topical cannabis into their practices.

A Win-Win

Today, I continue to educate others about the benefits of using cannabis-based products with massage and am looking forward to the day when the medicinal benefits of whole-plant topicals are an option for all clients, not just those in our country’s 11 current recreational weed-legal states. I will continue to offer cannabis massage for as long as the research (both anecdotal and science-based) indicates it is safe and effective. As my clients say, topicals are the “whipped cream” on top of an amazing massage. Add that to the benefits it brings me, and it’s a win-win!