The 5 Best CBD Topicals For Pain Relief (Plus 2 Highly-Effective THC Balms)
From left: Populum, Onyx + Rose, Lord Jones, Baskin Glow, Dixie Synergy, Wildflower Cool Stick
I am, by no means, “athletic.” But like most New Yorkers, I try. (After all, this is a city of strivers and fitness-obsessed type-A individuals who like to rock Alo Yoga and Outdoor Voices gear.)
But I don’t engage in physical activity solely because of my woefully wobbly midsection. My sanity depends on it. Truly. In the immortal words of Elle Woods: Endorphins make you happy!
In my early thirties I dabbled in SoulCycle, swimming at the 14th Street Y, and three disastrous attempts at SLT. These days it’s running loops in Central Park, Y7 yoga, and contact combat. And let me tell you, hitting a weekly fitness goal isn’t always easy—especially when you’re rapidly approaching your 40s with a few minor injuries under your belt.
I’m no spring chicken and the occasional bout of soreness is now a fact of life.
So recovery is a big deal. And personally, I’m all about CBD (a.k.a cannabidiol)—the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis. It’s been having a moment these past few years, making appearances in all sorts of wellness and beauty products—from CBD edibles, to capsules, to transdermal patches, and beyond. But make no mistake. It’s not the passing health trend that activated charcoal and golden milk used to be.
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“CBD is extremely anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective. A normal person may use it to prevent conditions such as arthritis or even topically to prevent acne breakouts,” Dr. Shivani Amin, a physician and cannabis expert who is a member of the AMMPA (American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association), says. “I think CBD shows great promise for the future. It all boils down to educating the public about the correct usage and understanding the plant better.”
I’ve long been a fan of edibles and tinctures, but for those who are skeptical of ingesting it, I’m also a big believer in topicals. From lotions and creams to balms and bath bombs, I have experimented with many different kinds—and I’ve come to rely on them for localized pain and reducing inflammation.
But as with any CBD product, there’s no skeleton key that unlocks relief for everyone—you have to find what works for your body. And you certainly have to experiment with different products, brands, and dosages—it’s the only way for you to see which ones really work.
Just know that topicals, unlike edibles, serve a different purpose: They’re primarily for targeted surface areas to address tension, spasms, and muscle pain because CBD applied to the skin doesn’t reach your bloodstream. Think of it as spot treating problematic areas. For instance, if your lower back is shot, apply your preferred product to that area only.
One thing to note, though: Only buy from established brands from licensed dispensaries—not random bodegas, sketchy websites, so-called health food stores, or even Amazon. Always ask for COAs (Certificates of Analysis) to ensure that the topical actually contains the cannabinoids it claims to have. And have an open mind about using CBD topicals incorporated with THC—because those two cannabinoids combined are more effective when addressing inflammation, which is the primary cause of soreness and pain.
“I have treated many patients with chronic conditions with full spectrum CBD and attained great results,” Dr. Amin says. “I also believe the public needs to understand that CBD works in conjunction with THC. Usually this requires at least 3–5% THC to work for serious forms of pain and more chronic medical conditions. I have patients come in with chronic and severe pain expecting to have their pain alleviated with just CBD. Although CBD works well for pain, in many situations patients with severe pain need to have some THC. [The cannabinoids] work synergistically to help ease severe pain.”
Here’s what I have found most effective over the years.
WILDFLOWER CBD COOL STICK (300MG; $60)
Wildflower was my inaugural topical. At the time, I had just started learning Krav Maga—a rather intense Israeli contact combat sport where there are no real rules. (Except to survive.) And my body was sore all the time those first few months. It didn’t help that I’ve got this existing and highly-bothersome back condition. I was also running a few times a week. But Wildflower’s CBD Cool Stick, which conveniently comes packaged as a roll-on, helped me tremendously. The trick is to apply the cooling stick before your workout or any other physically strenuous activity—not after. Why? Because in my experience, sweat reactivates the cooling components of the Wildflower’s formula. A six–mile run is infinitely more pleasant when you feel the the cream working even when you’ve got a ways to go. Also note that the brand also carries a Healing Stick (500mg) for $75. But it’s got arnica and I’m not exactly fond of the odor it emits through my clothes. However, if you do like arnica-scented everything, go for it.
POPULUM COLD THERAPY HEMP RUB (100MG; $45)
Unlike Wildflower, Populum comes in gel form. Also: It’s artic. Kind of like a more aggressive Vick’s Vaporub—so much so that you will definitely need to wash your hands after application. (The last thing you need is to accidentally rub your eyes with that stuff still on your digits.) But it’s effective—despite its relatively low dose of CBD. And a little goes a long way. Use it for minor aches and inconveniences—like when you find yourself stiff because you’ve been sitting on your far-from-ergonomic work chair most of the day. And if you find yourself really hurting, I recommend using a topical that contains both THC and CBD. (More on that below.)
LORD JONES + TAMARA MELLON HIGH-CBD FORMULA STILETTO CREAM (200MG; $70)
This is every woman’s dream come true. High heels are just not made the way they used to be—stilettos these days are narrower, higher, and pointier. Remember: Louboutin does not concern himself with the comfort of his designs. (He said so himself in the documentary and several other news outlets.) Gone are the days of the sensible heels our grandmothers wore. But alas, sky–high footwear is a necessary evil. So Lord Jones, the wildly–popular CBD company, collaborated with Tamara Mellon to help ease that discomfort. Just dab a little solution onto your feet and wait for your skin to absorb the formula before putting on your four–inch torture device.
BASKIN BODY WELLNESS CBD CREAM (400MG; $60)
Baskin has a lower–dose formula that clocks in at 150mg CBD that costs $20 less. But I say, Go big or go home. Invest in the higher dose if you want real relief all over: It’s meant to be used all over the body versus its cousin, which was specifically created for smaller targeted areas. Beyond that, you can always use the 400mg cream the way you see fit: Nobody is going to stop you if you want to use it only in specific pain points.
ONYX + ROSE BROAD SPECTRUM CBD BLISS BALM (500MG; $54)
This high–dose balm seems to be a crowd favorite, certainly in my household. The jar itself contains two ounces of product. It doesn’t seem like much—But because the consistency of the cream is particularly smooth and spreadable, it glides easily onto the skin and covers more real estate. In terms of relief, you can expect gradual relaxation of the muscles—especially if you’re prone to spasms or simply incredibly tight.
BASKIN GLOW (50MG THC + 500MG CBD; $80)
Now this is where we change course. Serious athletes and people suffering from chronic pain will benefit from this lotion. And yes, it’s in a jar but it rubs on like an incredibly light lotion—not at all like a heavy body butter. The main difference is that it contains both THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in addition to CBD. And that’s a good thing. Both cannabinoids work synergistically together: THC will open up your receptors, enabling your body to absorb and metabolize more CBD. Beyond that, Glow is applied somewhat differently than the rest of the products on this list. Apply a minuscule amount to your pulse points, the insides of your elbows, and the backs of your knees—areas where the skin is at its thinnest. The reasoning: Because of its formula and consistency, your body will absorb the product so that it reaches your bloodstream—unlike many other topicals.
DIXIE SYNERGY RELIEF CBD AND THC BALM (50MG CBD + 50MG THC; $45)
I’m a huge fan of Dixie’s edibles, particularly its Birthday Cake White Chocolate and root beer elixir. But the cannabis company also does a damn fine job with its Synergy CBD and THC combo balm. It’s what I reach for whenever I’m too achy and cannabidiol alone just won’t cut it. It all boils down to the fact that the presence of THC opens up receptors in our bodies to allow for greater CBD absorption.
CBD (a.k.a cannabidiol) is the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis. And it’s been having a moment these past few years, making appearances in all sorts of wellness products. But make no mistake. It’s not the passing health trend that activated charcoal and golden milk used to be. This is legit.
The Best CBD Creams for Pain, According to Experts
Pain is a universal experience, one many people are all too familiar with. The search for pain relief is one reason why cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive herbal remedy, is quickly gaining popularity. But with so many options on the market it can be hard to find a quality CBD topical for pain.
In this article, we’ll look at the best CBD creams for pain, which have been medically reviewed by Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN.
Our favorite topical CBD products include soothing creams, balms, salves, and lotions, all of which are made from American-grown hemp and have been independently tested by third-party labs for quality and safety purposes.
Our top 5 CBD creams for pain at a glance:
- Strongest CBD Cream: Spruce Full-Spectrum CBD Topical Salve
- Best THC-Free: Medterra CBD Pain Cream
- Best for Recovery: Plant People Relief Balm
- Best Cool Therapy: CBDistillery CBD Cooling Cream
- Best Full Spectrum: FAB CBD Topical Cream
Can CBD cream actually help with pain?
As it turns out, topical CBD products may offer some anti-inflammatory properties to help alleviate pain through cannabinoid receptors within the skin. These receptors are a part of the body’s endocannabinoid system, or ECS, that governs functions such as our ability to process pain, as well as inflammation, mood, and sleep. The cannabis plant contains phytocannabinoids like CBD that interact with our ECS, which is why hemp has therapeutic properties.
CBD has been shown in clinical studies to help with pain-specific medical conditions including chronic pain, peripheral neuropathy, pain and inflammation, arthritis pain, and myofascial pain. Cannabinoids can also help improve pain in patients receiving palliative care. A 2020 cross-sectional study found that nearly 25% of outpatient palliative care patients use CBD, with topical application being the most common form used.
What to look for in a CBD topical
These are some of the most important considerations when selecting most CBD oil products, including topicals like a CBD pain cream.
- Quality control: A brand should display recent third-party lab testing results.
- Hemp source: We recommend you buy brands that make products from US-grown hemp.
- Extraction method: CO2 and ethanol extraction methods are considered robust.
- Brand reputation: Check out CBD brand reviews for specifics. Brand longevity and size can be relevant, but some newer, smaller brands are serious about quality, too.
- Strength/potency: No clinical consensus exists yet to inform dosing, as it depends on your personal needs and pain response. Hemp oil topical products vary in CBD milligrams per ounce.
- Type of hemp extract: Full-spectrum (whole hemp plant extract, contains no more than 0.3% THC); broad-spectrum extract (full spectrum of cannabinoids minus THC); CBD isolate (just CBD).
The best 5 CBD creams for pain
Now that we’ve explored the background on CBD topicals and how they might aid in pain management, let’s dive into our top five product recommendations for the best CBD cream for pain. Continue on to learn more about CBD cream usage and selecting the product right for you.
Strongest CBD Cream: Spruce Full Spectrum Topical CBD Salve
Spruce has tight control and full visibility of its CBD product manufacturing process from the hemp farm to the shelf, and its hemp extracts are designed to deal with muscle and joint pain. If you want a CBD cream for back pain this may be a good hemp cream to try. Its branding is also clean and minimalistic, making the facts easy to find.
- Strength: 1000 mg CBD in 0.87 oz. jar or 2000 mg CBD in 1.7 oz. jar
- Product: This hemp cream is full-spectrum and contains other moisturizing ingredients like olive oil, shea butter, and coconut oil. The salve rubs in smoothly without leaving a shiny finish
- Customer review:“This topical CBD cream out performs any other OTC cream I have tried for arthritic pain. I would not only recommend the product, I also recommend Spruce CBD. They delivered a well packaged product on time with excellent communication along the way. Five stars for both the product and customer service from Spruce CBD!”
Salve available in several jar sizes
Best THC Free: Medterra CBD Pain Cream
Medterra goes above and beyond when it comes to quality standards and transparency. It follows cGMPs for topical manufacturing, and its products are formulated with soothing natural ingredients to alleviate pain sensations. Every Medterra product has a detailed third-party lab report available that breaks down cannabinoid and terpene content, as well as pesticide and heavy-metal testing. This is a great CBD lotion to try if you want to avoid THC.
- Strength: 500 mg or 1,000 mg of CBD in a 1.7 oz. pump
- Product: This brand offers several CBD topical options, but this cream is specifically formulated to aid in pain relief with the help of high-strength CBD isolate, menthol, and arnica.
- Customer review:“I have a chronic ankle pain and it has kept me from running for 2 years. This cream takes the pain away like nothing else has done. Ready to try jogging again!”
Available in 17 oz. pump bottle
Best Topical for Recovery: Plant People Relief Balm
Plant People prides itself in selling high-quality hemp products, which are organic, lab-tested, non-GMO, and gluten free. The brand’s Balm+ Relief topical ingredient list specifically calls out other cannabinoids present, including cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabigerol (CBG). Plant People is also a certified B Corp, making this a pain cream from a top-notch organization.
- Strength: 450 mg of CBD in a 2 oz. container
- Product: This unique balm makes it easier than ever to apply to affected areas, especially when you’re trying to alleviate sore muscles and aching joints after a workout. The hemp is full-spectrum and is accompanied by other plant botanicals like arnica and peppermint extract to promote soothing recovery.
- Customer review:“Product worked to reduce pain immediately. I almost didn’t believe it however results were consistent each time used. Great product!”
Balm available in 2 oz. jar
Best Cool Therapy: CBDistillery Cooling Cream
This pain relief cream expertly combines broad spectrum CBD extract and other beneficial ingredients to promote joint support and reduce inflammation. Each bottle is made from Colorado-grown hemp plant extract, and this cream is also completely THC-free. All CBDistillery products are fully lab tested and made in America, so you can trust that its products are of the highest quality. CBD cream reviews usually include CBDistillery because of the value the brand offers. The brand also makes one of the best CBD oils.
- Strength: 300 mg of CBD in a 1.7 fl.oz. bottle
- Product: This topical cream incorporates menthol to create a soothing, cooling sensation that lasts for hours, among other skin-benefiting ingredients like sunflower seed oil and aloe vera leaf juice
- Customer review:“I use it in the morning and after workouts! Works great and it doesn’t have the strong after smell that other cooling creams have!”
To buy: 300mg CBDistillery Cooling Cream; thecbdistillery.com
Cream available in pump bottle
Best Full Spectrum: FAB CBD Topical CBD Cream
FAB is devoted to providing people with the best quality CBD it can. All of FAB’s CBD products are made from hemp organically grown in Colorado. FAB is community-oriented and regularly collaborates with charity partners. A full spectrum, or “whole plant,” therapy may offer additional benefits when compared to other CBD topicals for pain.
- Strength: 600 mg of CBD in 2 oz. tub
- Product: FAB cream is strong product at a good price, and applies smoothly with the addition of vitamin E and cocoa butter. We really like the addition of blood orange essential oil in this topical, which makes it smell great
- Customer review:“How did I live without this? This product is fabulous. I can walk the stairs, take long walks now and I feel great.”
Available in 2 oz tub
How to use CBD lotions and topicals
Since CBD topicals work on localized pain, the first step is to identify your problem area(s). You’ll then want to carefully clean and dry the area before applying a small amount of the topical on your skin to start.
Cannabinoids have low skin permeability, so you can dose up and apply more of the topical based on how you feel. Spend some time really working it into your skin, massaging gently as you go.
Once you’ve finished applying, you can wash your hands and wait. Most CBD lotions will take a few minutes before they kick in, but can peak one to two hours later. You may need to reapply a few times a day for full effect.
Do topical CBD products have side effects?
While CBD is safe for use, there are a few caveats you’ll want to keep in mind when incorporating a hemp topical into your pain-management regimen.
- Broken skin: Be sure you read the product label thoroughly as not all CBD topicals are designed to be used on broken skin.
- Carrier oils: If you have sensitive skin, allergies, or your skin is prone to irritation, be sure to check the label to see what kind of carrier oil your product contains.
- Facial application: Most CBD topicals formulated for pain relief are designed to be used on the body and not for facial application. Some brands will call this out explicitly.
Is CBD cream right for you?
CBD topicals are a great herbal strategy to help with localized aches and pains, and they are generally considered safe to use. However, the FDA has yet to evaluate mainstream CBD skincare products, which is why you should always do your research and aim to purchase from high-quality companies. If you or your loved one are seeking the best CBD cream for pain, our recommendations are a great place to start.
This article has been medically reviewed by Ashley Jordan Ferira, PhD, RDN, the Senior Editor of Health & Wellness Strategy at Remedy Review, an independent CBD reviews site. Dr. Ferira completed her PhD in Foods & Nutrition at The University of Georgia, where she researched the role of vitamin D in pediatric cardiometabolic disease. The products featured in this article were tested at ProVerde Laboratories in Milford, MA and Avazyme, Inc. in Durham, NC.
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The global burden of pain is massive. Vetted for source and quality, we present the best CBD cream for pain in this buyer’s guide of top hemp topicals.