5 Best CBD Creams for Pain
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Topical CBD shows promise for easing many types of pain. Here are the five best CBD creams for pain that met our experts' criteria for quality and safety.
CBD and pain
Investigators are pretty excited about the possibilities of topical CBD for pain.
They’re hopeful that recent events—like the World Health Organization removing medicinal marijuana from its list of the most dangerous and addictive drugs and several U.S. states voting to legalize adult-use marijuana in the 2020 election—could lead to changes in laws that have hampered research on CBD in people.
“Focusing just on pain alone, CBD could be tremendous,” says Adam Friedman, MD, professor and interim chair of dermatology at The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Washington, DC.
CBD may optimize our ability to fight pain by interacting with receptors involved in the pain response, including serotonin receptors and opioid receptors, Dr. Friedman notes.
CBD, which stands for cannabidiol, is a compound found in the marijuana and hemp plants. CBD could help people cope with pain by supporting the endocannabinoid system, the body-wide network of endocannabinoids (cannabinoid-like chemicals that people make naturally) and receptors involved in maintaining balance in virtually every body system.
What’s the evidence?
A randomized controlled trial in 29 people with peripheral neuropathy found that those who applied a CBD oil containing 250 milligrams (mg) of CBD to the affected area for four weeks had improvements in intense pain, sharp pain, and cold and itchy sensations compared to patients in the placebo group. (Peripheral neuropathy is a type of burning nerve pain that can happen in people with diabetes, cancer, or many other conditions.) The research was published in 2020 in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology.
Another study, published in a 2019 issue of the Journal of Clinical Medicine, looked at 60 people with jaw pain due to temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ). Researchers found that applying topical CBD to the painful area twice a day for two weeks reduced pain and muscle tension more than a placebo. (Check out these home remedies for TMJ pain .)
But while evidence from experimental studies in laboratories and animals makes the case that topical CBD can ease pain through multiple mechanisms, according to Dr. Friedman, the evidence in people is just starting to accumulate.
Clinical trials of Epidiolex, a form of CBD approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating rare seizures in children, provided extensive information on the safety of oral CBD. But only a handful of small studies have looked at topical CBD, says Dr. Friedman. “From a skin perspective, applying it topically, we don’t have a lot of information.”
That started to change since the 2018 Farm Bill made it legal to grow hemp. Hemp, like marijuana, is a Cannabis sativa plant, but it has only tiny amounts of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—no more than 0.3 percent—the cannabinoid that makes people feel high. (Learn more about CBD vs. THC.)
But the bill also opened the doors to a “green rush” of companies making CBD products with virtually no government oversight or consumer protection, says Bonni Goldstein, MD, medical director and owner of Cannacenters, a medical practice in Los Angeles, and author of Cannabis is Medicine: How Medical Cannabis and CBD are Healing Everything from Anxiety to Chronic Pain.
What to look for
Given the lack of CBD regulation, Dr. Goldstein and other experts say your safest bet for finding safe, high-quality CBD products is to buy them from a state-licensed dispensary.
If marijuana isn’t legal in your state, you’ll have to do some research. Most importantly, make sure that the company that produces the product can provide a batch-specific certificate of analysis (COA), confirming that it contains the amount of CBD claimed on the label, and is free of contamination from pesticides, heavy metals, or mold.
When shopping for a topical CBD product, it should also be:
- Made with CBD oil extracted using supercritical carbon dioxide, a high-tech method that doesn’t leave toxic solvents behind, or with food-grade ethanol
- Made from U.S.-grown hemp
- Certified organic
- Produced in compliance with FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP)
- Tested by a third-party laboratory, with authentic, batch-specific COAs readily available as proof
You should also decide which type of CBD product you want. They include:
- Full spectrum, meaning it contains all of the other components of the hemp plant, including small amounts of THC and plant compounds known as terpenes
- Broad spectrum, which contains all of these components plus CBD, but no THC
- CBD isolates, which contain CBD only
Here are five CBD creams for pain and other topical CBD products that meet our experts’ safety and quality standards.
CBD Medic Arthritis Aches & Pain Relief Cream
This water-based cream gets high marks for helping stiff, arthritic joints move smoothly again. As a side benefit, it moisturizes dry, chapped hands. Menthol is the active ingredient, making up 4 percent. Other ingredients include beeswax, clove oil and eucalyptus oil, shea butter, and tea tree oil, along with 200 mg of hemp extract. And the pump bottle container is easy for arthritic hands to use.
cbdMD Premium Recover 300 cream
If you’re just dipping an arthritic toe into the world of topical CBD, cbdMD’s Premium Recover 300 is a good place to begin. The two-ounce tub contains 300 mg of CBD, along with several other ingredients, including histamine dichloride to boost blood flow and aloe vera to soothe skin. cbdMD also offers a 60-day satisfaction guarantee and money-saving subscription options.
FABCBD CBD Body Salve
$79 to $205
This full-spectrum CBD salve comes as a rub-on stick in two strengths: one ounce of salve containing 1,000 mg of CBD, and a 2.5-ounce version with 3,000 mg CBD. Reviewers praise its ease of use and long-lasting effects for back pain and sore muscles. FABCBD also makes a well-reviewed full-spectrum cream that’s available in a two-ounce jar. It contains 600 mg of CBD.
Spruce Deep Chill CBD Lotion
This high-potency 3.4-ounce pump container has 2,000 mg of CBD, along with arnica to fight inflammation, and camphor and menthol for cooling effects. Spruce also makes a 300 mg CBD cream ($39), as well as a salve with 1,000 mg of CBD ($89) or 2,000 mg of CBD ($169).
Cheef Botanicals CBD Relief Salve
$40 to $70
Cheef Botanicals’ products are vegan, organic, and reasonably priced. CBD Relief Salve comes in regular strength (500 mg of CBD) and maximum strength (1,000 mg of CBD). Reviewers say the salve is effective for pain, smells nice, and doesn’t leave a sticky residue. Cheef provides detailed information on how to choose and use products. And customers applaud the company’s excellent customer service and fast, free shipping.
- Adam Friedman, MD, FAAD, professor and interim chair of dermatology at The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences
- New York Times: "UN Reclassifies Cannabis as a Less Dangerous Drug"
- NORML: "The Clear Winner of Election 2020: Marijuana"
- Bonni Goldstein, MD, medical director and owner of Cannacenters, a medical practice in Los Angeles, and author of Cannabis is Medicine: How Medical Cannabis and CBD are Healing Everything from Anxiety to Chronic Pain
- Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology: "The Effectiveness of Topical Cannabidiol Oil in Symptomatic Relief of Peripheral Neuropathy of the Lower Extremities"
- Journal of Clinical Medicine: "Myorelaxant Effect of Transdermal Cannabidiol Application in Patients with TMD: A Randomized Controlled Trial"