B&W: JUNE FEATURE
A TOUCH OF CBD
Exploring the benefits of cannabis-flavored massage
WORDS /CYNDLE PLAISTED RIALS
Not too long ago, I had a three-day headache. I’ve never known where the line is between “headache” and “migraine,” but it varied in intensity over those 72 hours from mild to relentless throbbing pressure squeezing the entire right side of my head. Despite the fact I’ve borne two children, play roller derby, and come from hearty Scandinavian stock, this headache had me in tears. Extra strength pain killers didn’t touch it. The ache radiated from my neck and shoulders, courtesy of increasingly bad posture and hours spent in front of a computer and scrolling on a phone every day; a pain so ubiquitous there’s actually a name for this malady: text neck.
Yoga is my usual go-to for unkinking my various kinks, but I felt like I needed the big guns in this instance — a good reset. Plus downward dog was basically cruel and unusual punishment with this level of headache. So I started looking for a massage appointment. As I checked the various local options, I noticed an intriguing addition available from a few practitioners: I could add CBD oil to my massage for a small fee, usually between $10 and $20 on top of the base massage cost.
The rumored benefits of topical CBD are probably not unfamiliar to most of us, but I wondered: Does it really do anything different from any other oil I’ve had rubbed into my tense muscles?
I reached out to my friends to ask if anyone had ever had a massage with CBD oil themselves. One friend had — she said she had to sign an additional waiver “with all kinds of information on it.”
I’m pretty sure I’ve never had to sign any kind of waiver to have some lavender or citrus essential oil applied during a massage. So I dug deeper and found there are all kinds of regulations on the professional use of topical CBD. It’s outright illegal for a massage therapist to incorporate it into treatment in any state where marijuana use is illegal. And here I thought the only kind of illegal massage was the kind Robert Craft enjoyed in Florida!
But why all the regulations? While most CBD topicals are hemp-derived and don’t contain THC at all, there are some full-spectrum CBD products that do contain THC. It’s not enough to raise blood levels for a high like what would be experienced through ingesting it; while the official word is that THC needs to be activated (in a way that’s not possible through the skin) to provide any psychoactive effects, some people do report a “relaxation high.” Even though that’s probably just the mellowing power of the CBD talking, any connection to pot still scares the bejeezus out of fuddy-duddy lawmakers, so they aren’t taking any chances with any derivative of the Devil’s lettuce, at least in states where marijuana is still strictly medical or fully illegal.
But I live in Maine, and I’m the kind of weirdo who likes ASMR — for me, someone on YouTube whispering and crinkling bubble wrap in my ear is a one-way ticket to tingle town. I’ve had some intense visions via the power of my third eye while blissed out during Reiki/energy healing. So needless to say, I’m down for opening myself up to a deep and unusual meditative/relaxation experience via some bodywork with the addition of CBD.
I weighed the few options I had found where I could get some cannabinoids rubbed into my skin: A very traditional-seeming spa experience was one option, and a crystal-selling yoga studio that also offered tarot readings was the other. I picked the latter. For me, woo-woo always wins.
When I called Arcana in Portland to schedule my massage (you can book online too), I found out a little more about why it was so tough to find massage therapists that offered CBD oil or salve. Amy, the employee who booked my massage, told me that initially the acceptable terminology had gone back and forth between “hemp” and “CBD,” but that some credit card processing companies began withholding funds if there was even a whiff of cannabis around the provided service, no matter what phrasing was used. That could explain why mention of any cannabis-derived product being available along with massage services was so hard to come by, even in Maine where it’s totally legal. With the implementation of regulations around cannabis and its derivatives being a bit of a confusing gray area over the last couple years, some massage therapists have likely decided it’s better to be safe than sorry, so they’ve avoided CBD altogether, at least professionally.
Curious about what I was getting into with a topical CBD application, I reached out to Valerie Fedorchak who, along with her partner, runs two weed-related businesses: Seacoast Delivery, a licensed medical marijuana delivery service, and Seacoast Topicals, a skincare brand that harnesses the healing power of hemp. Fedorchak, a Massachusetts transplant, made the permanent move to York eight-ish years ago, pretty close to the same time she started making skincare products. She just started adding CBD and THC to her products in the last year or so.
“I think CBD is universally beneficial for everybody,” she said. While she’s not a licensed medical professional, “just from other people I’ve worked with with topical products, my own personal experience, CBD is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect, which is just so beneficial for so many things.”
She mentioned some prolonged and miserable jaw pain she’d been experiencing, and said her use of her own products “really made a big impact, combined with, you know, doctor prescribed care. I think they work in harmony. Then when you combine it with other things, like lavender — I use a lot of lavender, which is also known to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as aromatherapy … It’s a no-brainer to me. The more positive benefits you can bring into your routine the better.”
The Massage Experience
I was eager to experience those benefits myself when I rolled up for my massage at Arcana on an unseasonably cool and blustery Thursday. The shop itself was warm and inviting, with shelves holding bowls of crystals, books and tarot decks by local authors, and an array of CBD products, both topical and ingestible, among other mystical enticements.
Hayley Costell, equal parts friendly and thoroughly professional, has been a massage therapist since 2017 and a dancer for much longer; flamenco and belly dance are her chief styles these days. She greeted me and ushered me back to the high-ceilinged and tranquil treatment room, where she left me with a clipboard to fill out with such details as when I had my last massage, particular areas of pain, whether I liked gentle or firm pressure — all pretty standard for a massage appointment so far, and nothing like the crazy waiver my friend mentioned having to complete before her CBD oil massage.
Over the hypnotic sounds of some spare electronic chords playing quietly from the corner, Costell gave me some insight into the world of CBD massage, which the shop has offered for a handful of years now, seemingly on the cutting edge for the professional use of CBD in body services, at least in these parts.
Because of how few options I was able to find when I searched for a CBD massage, I wondered how high the CBD demand has been. Costell pumped some oil into her hands and kneaded her fingers into my far-too-taut traps; clearly she’s an expert multitasker. “In my experience thus far,” she said, “most of the people who are the most curious about trying CBD massage have already been using CBD in some form on their own. Not too many people who aren’t familiar with CBD and the uses of it are just jumping into a CBD massage.”
While there’s still some resistance from those unfamiliar with the products and their benefits, with that hesitancy usually centered around CBD’s connection to weed in general (not likely an impediment to anyone holding this magazine), the massage therapists at Arcana have been able to introduce some folks to the benefits. “If we have somebody coming in with something really acute,” Costell said, “one of our first suggestions will be, ‘Hey, do you wanna try a CBD (massage)?’ We as practitioners are all really familiar with using CBD for ourselves, so we can advocate pretty well for the fact that it does work. And I think that also helps, especially with somebody who’s not familiar with it, for their comfort level, to know that the person who’s offering is comfortable enough to use it themselves.”
As she turned my head to one side and rubbed her thumbs in deep, precise circles down my neck, she elaborated further: “Once you’re in a certain level of discomfort, you’re willing to try anything. And I would say that this is one of the lowest risk alternatives to say, going to a doctor’s office and getting a painkiller. This is a very good first step for people to try.”
I could understand that, with my headache from hell, which I realized was nothing but a dull little twinge now. I can only imagine the lengths to which I’d go for relief if I was dealing with that level of pain on a daily basis. Costell applied more oil to her hands as she turned my head to the other side and repeated those delicious neck circles, then pulled gently on my head, pressing her fingertips into the base of my skull. Warmth spread through my neck and shoulders, no doubt the beginnings of the CBD oil’s effects — those muscles began to feel like pulled taffy, which may not sound relaxing, but believe me, it was.
There are even benefits for the practitioner, according to Costell. “Using CBD oil with clients, I find that my joints tend to feel pretty good,” she said, “where under normal circumstances I would be quite sore.” A ringing endorsement from someone who uses her hands and arms repetitively for hours a day.
As she continued to massage the oil into my arms, legs, and back, it was increasingly difficult to focus on conversation — I abandoned my fact-finding mission and drifted away on a toasty cloud of CBD relaxation that penetrated deep into my muscles. Talking only goes so far; sometimes you need to just feel something to understand it.
So you should, whether you stop by Arcana or simply request CBD oil from your usual practitioner, and whether you have some major muscle pain to vanquish or you just want an extra decadent boost of relaxation. As I walked out into the brisk afternoon, my loosened neck and shoulders still radiated warmth, and I checked my schedule for when I could get on Hayley’s table again, with the addition of CBD oil, of course.
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