Introduction: This systematic review aimed to assess efficacy and safety for skin-applied formulations containing CBD. Methods: Bibliographic and clinical trial registries were searched for interventional human trials using cutaneously administered CBD or reported plasma CBD concentrations (any species). Results: Eight of 544 articles fitted the selection criteria: 3 placebo-controlled randomized and 5 single-arm trials. Eleven more studies were found in clinical trial databases but not accessible. Symptoms targeted were dermatopathologies or safety (two studies), pain (two), and behavior (one). Doses were 50-250 mg or 0.075-1.0% CBD, but coformulated with other ingredients. Risk of bias was high and reporting deficiencies further compromised data reliability. Diverse methodologies and formulations hampered syntheses for CBD dose, efficacy, and safety. Plasma CBD levels in dogs and rodents were 0.01-5 μM translating to <100 nM free, unbound CBD in humans. Adverse events were uncommon and mild, but meaningless without CBD's contribution to efficacy data. Achievable free CBD plasma concentrations ∼100 nM can interact predominantly with high-affinity CBD targets, for example, TRPA1 and TRPM8 membrane channels that are abundantly expressed in pathological conditions. Even if reached, higher CBD concentrations on less susceptible targets risk complex and unsafe CBD therapy. A conceptual framework is proposed where dermal capillary loops create sinking for topical CBD demonstrating parallels between topical and transdermal CBD administration. Conclusions: Users risk generalizing inadequately designed trials to all CBD preparations. New clinical trials are urgently needed: they must demonstrate that outcomes are solely from CBD pharmacology, are reliable, unbiased, safe, and comparable. Measurements of sustained plasma CBD levels are mandatory, irrespective of administration route for successful translation from in vitro systems that express human molecular targets. Placebos must be appropriate. Transcutaneous and topical formulations need preliminary in vitro studies to optimize CBD skin penetration. Then, users can rationally balance efficacy against potential harms and cost-effectiveness of CBD formulations.
Keywords: CBD; cannabidiol; pharmacokinetics; skin-applied formulations; systematic review.