5 Best CBD Creams for Arthritis
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Topical CBD products may help relieve arthritis pain. Here are the best CBD creams that met our experts' criteria for quality and safety.
CBD for arthritis
About a quarter of Americans have some form of arthritis, the most common being osteoarthritis.
While there are countless ointments, lotions, pills, and gadgets to help with arthritis symptoms, which can be debilitating, people with arthritis are also turning to products that contain cannabidiol (CBD) for help. (Here’s what you need to know about CBD and rheumatoid arthritis.)
“People do report benefits, particularly with topicals,” says Martin A. Lee, cofounder and director of Project CBD, a California nonprofit that promotes CBD research, and author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana–Medical, Recreational, and Scientific.
Topicals are creams and other products that go directly onto your skin. (These are the best CBD creams for pain.)
What’s the science behind these products? And how do you go about choosing between them? Here’s everything you need to know about finding the best CBD creams for arthritis pain relief.
What is CBD?
CBD can be extracted from both the marijuana plant and its cousin, the hemp plant. CBD is not the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, though. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the ingredient that can make you high. Typically, CBD products contain little to no THC and generally not enough to alter your mental state or make you fail a drug test.
CBD is often derived from hemp, which can only contain 0.3 percent or less THC. That’s compared to marijuana, which is a related plant that can contain 17 to 28 percent THC or even more. The 2018 Farm Bill allowed farmers to grow hemp as long as it didn’t contain more than 0.3 percent THC. (Here’s more on the differences between CBD vs THC.)
CBD and arthritis
Researchers haven’t conducted many human studies into CBD for arthritis. And their findings have been inconclusive. For instance, one analysis of four small studies, published in 2015 in Arthritis Care Research, concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to support recommending CBD for arthritis.
Research published in 2018 in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage suggests that CBD and a placebo were essentially equivalent in the treatment of osteoarthritis knee pain. However, the study hasn’t been vetted by other experts and only lasted 12 weeks which may or may not have been long enough to see an effect.
Preliminary findings from lab and animal studies are a bit more hopeful. One study in a 2015 issue of the European Journal of Pain, for instance, found that CBD gel relieved pain in rats with arthritis.
Other research published in 2019 in Current Opinion in Rheumatology suggests that CBD can affect different receptors involved with inflammation. But that is a far cry from saying CBD can actually relieve arthritis symptoms. Likewise, there is limited evidence that CBD can help with sleeplessness and anxiety, which can also plague people with arthritis.
(Here are some natural arthritis remedies to try at home.)
CBD and safety
The consensus among a number of organizations, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is that CBD is generally safe. People who are taking other drugs for arthritis, though, need to know that it can interact with common arthritis and pain medications including Aleve and Celebrex, and certain antidepressants.
The National Library of Medicine keeps a complete list of potential drug interactions. But always talk to your doctor before trying CBD.
CBD can also cause drowsiness, lightheadedness, and, in rare cases, liver damage. CBD does not seem to harm your joints, says Jahan Marcu, founding partner of the cannabis consultancy Marcu & Arora and editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Endocannabinoid Medicine.
Is CBD legal?
The simple answer is that CBD, though not THC, is legal in 36 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands. But it’s not yet legal on the federal level.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration still includes marijuana and all its components on this Schedule I list of controlled substances. CBD from hemp, on the other hand, is not illegal.
Although tons of CBD products are available, so far the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved (in 2018) only one CBD-derived drug: Epidiolex treats rare forms of childhood epilepsy. The FDA does not regulate the CBD products sold on the internet and elsewhere.
Tips on using CBD for arthritis
In its 2019 CBD guidelines for adults with arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation said that CBD “may help with arthritis-related symptoms, such as pain, insomnia, and anxiety.” It also noted that the compound can interact with other drugs.
Until there are more studies and FDA approvals, the Arthritis Foundation suggests the following guidelines on how best to try CBD:
- Don’t stop taking any disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs you’ve been prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory forms of the condition.
- If you do try CBD, start with low doses and, if you feel you need more, increase by small amounts every week.
- Approach this as a new treatment and work with your doctor, keeping regular appointments.
- Buy from a company that has had its products tested by an independent lab.
Types of CBD products
Before trying CBD, you’ll have to choose which kind of product to go with. There are three basic types:
- Full-spectrum CBD: This contains all of the components of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa), including CBD and also small traces of THC and terpenes, which are plant compounds.
- Broad-spectrum CBD: This includes all of the components except THC.
- CBD isolates: The purest form of CBD, these should contain only CBD.
Full-spectrum or broad-spectrum products seem to work better when taken at lower doses because they include additional plant components that will have synergistic effects above and beyond effects from individual ingredients. This is known as the “entourage effect.”
Products also differ by how they deliver the CBD. “You can ingest it [CBD edibles or CBD capsules], rub it on, or inhale it [vaping],” says Lee. You can also put it under your tongue (sublingual). Which variety you choose will affect how quickly it works.
Capsules and tablets “are likely to have a longer, deeper effect,” says Lee. But they “don’t come on as quickly.” Under the tongue and topical products, on the other hand, act more quickly, as does vaping, but vaping may involve some risks. For example, unregulated vape products may cause potentially life-threatening lung damage, a condition known as EVALI (short, for E-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Learn more about CBD vape oil.)
Some of it is personal preference (you may decide gummies just taste good) but many people with arthritis have reported relief when combining an oral product with a topical product, says Lee.
Creams and other topical products
On top of speed, there are multiple other reasons to opt for topical forms, says Sara Jane Ward, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology at Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine, in Philadelphia.
Those include avoiding “yucky-tasting oils in the mouth that are also sometimes difficult for people to measure out or take and to avoid adverse gastrointestinal effects like diarrhea associated with oral oils,” Ward says. Experts don’t yet know whether topicals can enter the bloodstream. If they don’t, you can also avoid the danger of any liver toxicity.
(Here are the best CBD oils for pain.)
What to look for
Unless you’re working with a licensed medical dispensary, do your research before investing in a product. CBD products are largely unregulated which means the labels may not reflect the actual ingredients or strength. The Arthritis Foundation recommends selecting products made in the United States from ingredients grown in the U.S.
Make sure the company follows FDA good manufacturing practices and buy from companies that contract independent labs to test their products. The labs should use testing methods approved by the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, the U.S. Pharmacopeia, or the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists. If a product claims to help a specific health condition, don’t buy it.
Best CBD creams for arthritis
There are no guarantees that CBD will relieve your arthritis symptoms. It’s always best to talk to your doctor first, but here are some products that meet our experts’ qualifications:
Spruce Deep Chill CBD Lotion
Recommended by the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network (RASN), Spruce Natural Labs sells only full-spectrum CBD products, all of which are tested independently. Ask for a certificate of analysis to confirm. For best results, the RASN recommends combining sublingual products with cream applied directly to the joint. (Here are some doctor-recommended home remedies for arthritis.)
Medterra CBD Rapid Cooling Cream
This cooling cream from Medterra consists of a CBD isolate that contains more than 99 percent CBD and 0 percent THC. CBD is grown in the U.S. and each batch is independently tested. The company ships to all 50 states and offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. (Also check out these simple habits that reduce arthritis symptoms.)
Naternal Rescue CBD Muscle Cream
The product combines CBD with arnica, camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol and has a cooling sensation. Naternal is based in North Carolina and creates its products there. This product, and others, are tested by third-party labs for purity. (Your diet may also trigger arthritis flare-ups. Here are the foods bad for arthritis.)
FABCBD Topical CBD Cream
Another company that independently tests its products (and makes the certificates of analysis available online), FABCBD makes not just creams but gummies, oils, salve, and “superfoods.” This cream combines full-spectrum hemp extract with 600 mg of CBD. (Here’s some doctor tips to prevent arthritis.)
CBDistillery Broad Spectrum CBD Warming Cream
Each bottle contains 300 mg of CBD per bottle—or 2 mg per pump—and no detectable THC, as verified by a third-party lab. CBDistillery is based in Colorado.
Next, here’s when joint pain is not arthritis.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Arthritis"
- CDC: "Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products"
- Arthritis Foundation: "Osteoarthritis"
- Arthritis Foundation: "Patients Tell Us About CBD Use" Martin A. Lee, co-founder and director, Project CBD and author, Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana–Medical, Recreational, and Scientific
- Arthritis Care Research: "Efficacy, Tolerability, and Safety of Cannabinoid Treatments in the Rheumatic Diseases: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- Osteoarthritis and Cartilage: "Synthetic Transdermal Cannabidiol for the treatment of knee pain due to osteoarthritis"
- European Journal of Pain: "Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis"
- Current Opinions in Rheumatology: "Joints for joints: cannabinoids in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis"
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: "Researching Marijuana for Therapeutic Purposes: The Potential Promise of Cannabidiol (CBD)."
- Arthritis Foundation: "CBD for Arthritis Pain: What You Should Know"
- National Library of Medicine: "Cannabidiol (CBD)"
- Jahan Marcu, PhD, founding partner of cannabis consultancy Marcu & Arora and editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Endocannabinoid Medicine
- National Conference of State Legislatures: "State Medical Marijuana Laws"
- Drug Enforcement Administration: "Drug Scheduling"
- Food and Drug Administration: "FDA Approves New Indication for Drug Containing an Active Ingredient Derived from Cannabis to Treat Seizures in Rare Genetic Disease"
- FDA: "FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD)"
- Arthritis Foundation: "Arthritis Foundation Releases First CBD Guidance for Adults With Arthritis"
- Sara Jane Ward, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology, Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Philadelphia
- Arthritis Foundation: "CBD for Arthritis Pain: What You Should Know"
- Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network: "Does CBD Oil Really Help Treat Arthritis Pain?"
- The Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association: The Problem with the Current High Potency THC Marijuana from the Perspective of an Addiction Psychiatrist