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A Journal of Cannabis and Culture

Is CBD the New Tylenol?

Is CBD the New Tylenol?

A comedian confronts various kinds of pain, armed with CBD in its compelling new manifestations.


Pain is sudden: a bone break, a paper cut, a moment of perfect indifference that splinters through your psyche with such intensity that your only recourse is to post a white-hot thirst trap on Instagram to recoup your self-esteem, the kind of insane and unnecessary overcompensation that makes your friends wonder, “What’s going on?”

Pain can also be chronic, a long con where the grift is occasional relief that is really just a brutal setup for the next betrayal, reminding you that your body is a hostage to good or bad luck. Living with chronic pain feels fraught, a daily negotiation where you’re forced to ask, “How bad am I going to feel today? How much will I hurt? He’s still our president?”

And so here is the part where I thank God (I believe in e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g), creator of both pain and pain relief, for CBD. Now, CBD is not capital-D-R-U-G-S drugs. The federal government classifies CBD as a drug, though not in every state, and probably not for long. Technically, CBD is a chemical compound in a class called “cannabinoids” that naturally occur in cannabis plants, and it doesn’t get you stoned (that’s THC, which does). I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying the THC part of the plant and eating stupid foods at bad hours, but I didn’t have much experience with CBD until recently when a friend gave me a sampler of therapeutic CBD products. I said, “This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.” So far, that remains true.

There are many ways to “take” CBD for pain. You can eat it, smoke it, vape it, bop it, twist it, pull it, soak in it, apply it topically, pop it in pill form, or drop it under your tongue like an olde-timey alchemist. Just kidding, you can’t really bop it. A study published by the World Health Organization a few months ago reported that there’s “preliminary evidence” that CBD could be used to treat Parkinson’s disease, psychosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other ailments. And despite its classification by the US federal government as a “Schedule I” controlled substance, CBD (according to the same WHO report) is totally safe, non addictive, and well-tolerated by humans and animals.

My CBD exploration started with vaping. I took a pull off a turquoise disposable pen from Select labeled “Relax.” It didn’t feel like I was inhaling anything, save for a subtle lavender flavor that tasted like the French version of self-care. I don’t know what the French version of self-care is, but I imagine it’s perfumed or involves sex with someone who is not your spouse. Anyway, I didn’t feel sleepy or groggy. Instead, I felt the CNN crawl of trauma stories that wraps continuously around my brain lift. My fight-or-flight response, which for me is on perpetual standby, was neither fighting nor flying.

It was just ... gone. “Coooool,” I thought, relaxedly. Cooool. I was not high. I was not stoned. I was here, but I was, for once in my life, chill.

Speaking of segues, it’s nice to feel chill. I don’t really suffer from physical pain on the regular, but I do menstruate, and occasionally my cramps are so atrocious I want to clothesline every man I see for being spared this monthly grief, want to behead all the men with my bare arm, if only I had the strength. But I don’t, because my cramps! I have to go to work like this? I want to die and cry and die but also cry. Plus murder! Luckily, there’s a CBD for that. Green Helix makes capsules specifically to alleviate women’s uterine torture, and, by gosh, those little capsules work. My usually painful contractions were dulled to a degree that they were imperceptible. I could function. I wasn’t carrying the crankiness I usually do during my period because I wasn’t in physical pain. Men should be grateful for this product, because, thanks to it, they may live to see another day, doing whatever it is they do.

I was curious if, in addition to making me feel chill, CBD products might offer natural pain relief for a physical injury I had. Last August, on a woozy hot summer day, I got up too quickly from a couch-nap, fainted from the blood-rush, and collapsed my entire unconscious body onto the bone where my right foot connects to the rest of my leg. I immediately knew I had broken my ankle because the pain was like nothing I had ever felt before, a pain that made me howl like a feral animal, a pain that told me: “Your body is not yours, it’s on loan, one day you will die.” I also knew because my foot was dangling useless from my leg, a small pink ham with toes, hanging from my leg. The horror.

That ankle injury got me thinking about pain because I’m in pain. Not from my old ankle injury, which healed beautifully, thank you. But if you’re alive, you’re probably in pain. Pain isn’t only physical, duh. It’s emotional, spiritual, and if you live in Los Angeles, it’s professional. Have you seen the news? It hurts. I need my muscles lately. There is so much to fight. But my muscles are sore, from tension, from fear, from outrage. I want to be tender, not tense. So to cope with this onslaught of pain in all forms, I turned to a CBD massage.

I booked the massage at The Now in Silver Lake, a newish spot that worships at the altar of LA design: reclaimed wood furniture, cow-skin rugs, cacti, cleansing crystals for sale at a price that would make your Nana faint. What even is a cleansing crystal? Who cares, I dig it. This place is so clean and bright. Suddenly, I’m basic.

It was Father’s Day when I went, my first Father’s Day since my dad died. Pain.

My masseur, Matt, seemed very professional and kind, confirmed I was getting the CBD add-on, and asked me where I was carrying my pain. "Uh, everywhere," I joked. Matt led me to the dark and tranquil massage area, which looked like a hallway of dressing rooms for a boutique that sells a lot of linen clothing. He pushed back the curtain to my room and asked me to undress to whatever state I was most comfortable, told me to lie face-down under the blankets onto the heated massage table, and said that he would be back in a minute so he could give me privacy. I am very shy when it comes to public nudity, a straight freak on a leash when it comes to private nudity, and so I wasn’t sure where I should land with Matt’s directive. I kept my sports bra and underpants on and settled onto the table. Matt came back in and asked how much pressure I wanted for the massage. I said, “Go for it—if it hurts, I’ll tell you.” He said the CBD acts as a kind of pain-interrupter, allowing him to massage more deeply. Because topical CBD is absorbed directly into the affected area rather than in the bloodstream, pain relief is faster and more focused. And again, like all forms of CBD, topical CBD won’t get you high and craving a Crunchwrap Supreme.

As Matt massaged me, he added CBD cream to the lotion he was using. I could feel a mild numbing whenever he applied it. He worked my neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, legs, feet, and ankles with the cream. I never had to tell him he was hurting me, but he was definitely working my knots. By the end of the 50-minute massage I felt like a pat of melted butter. I noticed my anxiety and grief had lifted. All the tension I didn’t even realize I had been carrying in my body was gone. I felt ooey-gooey, but also, here’s this word: present. I decided I needed to treat myself to a CBD massage once a month, at least, because I spent the rest of the day in a state of relaxation that made me feel optimistic and good. It felt so good to feel good.

I don’t know why, but after the massage I wondered about Jesus and CBD oil. Just cursory research showed me that a lot of biblical scholars assume he used it. There’s all that anointing with holy oils in the New Testament, and it’s described as having healing properties. We’re talking about a guy who turned water into wine, turned it into something to take the edge off. Something to dull all the pains of being human. CBD has been here all along, to help cope with pain in all forms. We don’t have to suffer.

A Journal of Cannabis and Culture
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