CBD Cream for Pain: Benefits, Safety, and How to Choose

Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is a natural compound derived from the hemp plant with various proposed benefits. The global CBD market was valued at $7.71 billion in 2023 and is projected to continue growing each year. This article dives into the topical use of CBD cream for pain, its pros and cons, and how to choose the best CBD for pain management.

What is CBD cream?

CBD cream is a topical form of CBD applied to the skin, which aims to relieve localized pain and inflammation. CBD is one of many cannabinoids, compounds of the cannabis plant, that do not produce any psychoactive effects. Even though some CBD products contain THC, the THC content in CBD products legally has to be less than 0.3%, which is unlikely to have any effect on cognition. Apart from topical products, CBD also comes in oral forms, such as extracts, gummies, and capsules.

Many people experience pain, caused by various underlying factors, leading them to seek additional remedies to manage it. CBD cream has emerged as a popular remedy for localized pain management due to its purported pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.

CBD cream is applied to the skin in target areas in an attempt to provide localized pain relief rather than being taken orally for a more whole-body effect. While many people report anecdotal pain-reducing benefits from CBD cream, there is limited clinical research on the exact mechanism and efficacy of CBD creams for localized pain. Further research is necessary to substantiate these health claims.

Ingredients in CBD cream

CBD cream can also contain a blend of various other ingredients in addition to the CBD, such as moisturizing agents or fragrant essential oils. Moisturizing ingredients may include coconut oil, shea butter, or vegetable glycerin, which work to hydrate and nourish the skin. Meanwhile, essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus, and lavender may irritate your skin.

Therefore, it is important to check the ingredients label of a CBD cream before purchasing to ensure its ingredients are safe for you to apply and don’t contain any ingredients that you’re allergic to.

How CBD cream works for pain

The mechanism of how CBD cream works is not entirely clear. It is thought to support pain through several different pathways, such as acting on the endocannabinoid system and targeting inflammation. CBD cream is applied to a specific area and is absorbed through the skin, which is proposed to support pain points in these body areas.

Endocannabinoid system

CBD acts on the body’s endocannabinoid system, a complex but critical body system that plays a role in pain sensation. Your body has specific endocannabinoid receptors located in your central nervous system, which is how your body processes and locates pain.

If you suffer from chronic pain, you may be curious how hemp-derived CBD may help manage it. When you ingest or apply CBD, it is thought that the cannabinoids present bind to your receptors and may support pain management.

Anti-inflammatory properties

CBD cream may also support pain by reducing inflammation. When applied to the skin, limited research shows its potential to lower inflammation, which can reduce the sensation of pain. In this one small pilot study, 20 elite athletes applied 10 mg of topical CBD cream twice daily for six weeks. After the six weeks, the participants reported improvement in pain levels from lower extremity injuries.

While more research is needed across a larger population, this preliminary data shows the potential use of CBD cream to reduce inflammation from exercise or injury.

Muscle relaxation

Anecdotal reports exist on CBD cream’s muscle-relaxing properties after intense physical training. One common effect after training is delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). However, more quality research needs to be done to confirm this effect in a wide population.

One 2023 randomized trial investigated the use of topical CBD to reduce DOMS. This study only involved 21 participants and re-tested perceived muscle soreness at 24, 48, and 72 hours post-exercise. The results showed that the topical administration of CBD cream did not reduce the effects of DOMS.

Benefits of using CBD cream for pain management

If you’re experiencing pain in a certain area, you’d probably want to relieve the pain in that area directly. Topical CBD is applied directly to the skin area in question. This may be beneficial for localized pain as compared to taking an oral form of CBD. However, exact mechanisms of action lack scientific substantiation.

Nonetheless, if you are looking to target specific areas of discomfort, a topical CBD cream may be a better choice than oral supplementation.

Types of pain CBD may help with

The types of pain CBD cream may support include joint and back pain, nerve pain, arthritis pain, cramps, and general muscle soreness. Let’s discuss its efficacy for each scenario.

Arthritis

Living with chronic pain and stiffness from arthritis is very challenging. One randomized controlled trial applied topical CBD to 10 people with thumb basal joint arthritis. Results showed patient-reported improvements in physical parameters of arthritis, without side effects.

Joint pain

Joint pain can occur with arthritis, after injury, or due to overuse of muscles, such as in the case of elite or competitive athletes.

One small recent study evaluated the effect of CBD cream in reducing joint pain in elite athletes. Twenty participants reported improvements in self-reported pain levels and pain-related disability.

Nerve pain

Nerve pain, known as peripheral neuropathy in the medical world, can be physically debilitating and negatively affect quality of life. One 2020 study showed that 29 patients with peripheral neuropathy who used CBD cream for four weeks had significant improvements in pain perception. The CBD cream was also well tolerated with no adverse effects.

Menstrual cramps

Dysmenorrhea, or menstrual cramps, affects many women. Since CBD cream has anti-inflammatory properties, it is hypothesized to help manage menstrual cramps. However, most research done on CBD and menstrual cramps has been on oral CBD supplements, not topical creams. For example, one 2024 open-label trial was conducted involving 33 participants. Study subjects were administered either 160 mg or 320 mg of an oral CBD softgel twice per day for three months. After about one month, there were reported reductions in the severity of menstrual cramps that continued until the 3-month mark.

Research is needed to determine if the same effect would occur with a topical CBD cream, as currently, it is just a theory.

Back pain

Two patient case reports investigated the effects of a hemp-derived CBD cream for acute and chronic pain in the back. Based on the results, CBD cream provided significant symptom and pain relief from back pain in patients after surgeries.

While larger and higher-quality studies are needed, CBD cream may be a potential addition to a back pain management plan.

General muscle soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can occur after exercise or any type of strenuous activity, typically within 12–24 hours.

One potential use of CBD cream being explored is to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. However, based on available research, there is limited evidence that CBD cream can reduce this type of pain. More clinical trials have to be done before concluding its overall effects on pain.

Potential side effects and safety

While CBD cream is generally well-tolerated, there are potential side effects of cannabidiol to consider. The most common adverse effect is a skin irritation or rash at the application site.

Drug interactions with CBD cream are rare, as the cream does not have significant systemic effects on the body unless it is used consistently for a long duration. However, topical CBD cream may interact with other topical medications.

Topical interactions can occur if the CBD cream and another topical cream are applied to the same skin area. These creams may contain chemical compounds that can increase the skin's permeability to the drugs. These compounds are known as chemical penetration enhancers or CPEs.

Due to a lack of research in these population groups, CBD cream should not be used if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Always speak to your doctor before applying CBD cream, especially if you are taking other medications or have a diagnosed medical condition.

How to use CBD cream

When using CBD cream, it’s important to apply it correctly for the best results. Here is a simple step-by-step process how to apply and use CBD cream:

  1. First, clean and pat dry your body, then apply the cream liberally to the affected area(s). Commonly affected areas may be the knees, back, shoulders, or neck.
  2. Repeat as needed, up to 4–5 times per day, depending on the specific product recommendations and level of pain.

Doses of CBD creams can vary depending on the brand and intended use, and there is no clear research as of yet into the recommended dose. However, doses typically range from 200 mg of CBD per application up to 2,500 mg. Instructions usually specify to apply a certain number of pumps of the cream, depending on the dosage.

CBD cream may take some time to build up in the system to provide pain relief. Because of this, most manufacturers recommend applying it consistently for at least 5–7 days to achieve the desired effect.

How to choose the best CBD cream for pain

When seeking a CBD cream for pain, there are a few important factors to look for to ensure you’re choosing a quality product.

CBD concentration

While there is no universal dose for CBD cream or research to indicate the best concentration, doses typically start at 5–20 mg per application and can be administered multiple times daily. Since there is no standard dose, it's best to start on the lower end and observe how the body reacts.

Other pain-relieving ingredients

In addition to CBD, many CBD creams contain other cannabinoids and hemp terpenes, compounds that add an aroma and support CBD’s pain-relieving properties. Other pain-relieving ingredients added may include menthol, aloe vera, tea tree oil, and yerba mate extract.

Third-party testing

Seek products that are third-party tested and labeled as such, which ensures the product is tested by a reputable third party and held to the utmost safety and purity standards. It also ensures the ingredients and doses in the product accurately match what is present on the label.

Purity and transparency

When looking at a CBD cream product label, it’s important to know the ingredients and dose you’re getting. Steer clear of products containing proprietary blends, where you have no way of knowing the dose of each individual ingredient.

It always adds peace of mind when the manufacturer is transparent in their testing practices and shares the lab results directly on their website. Lastly, it’s also a good sign when you see a company outwardly share studies on their product and ingredients on their website, versus you having to actively seek this information yourself.

Positive customer reviews

It’s always a good idea to check customer reviews before choosing any product, and this is no different for topical CBD creams. If a product has a lot of positive reviews and minimal negative ones, there's a good chance it is a quality product.

Editor's top picks for CBD cream

Our editors scoured the various CBD creams on the market and narrowed them down to these top three brands. Let’s dive into their features, pros, and cons to help you make an informed decision.

RR-CBD Pain Cream
  • Contains a full-spectrum blend and 83.3 mg of CBD per serving
  • Helps manage inflammation with arnica montana, jojoba oil and MSM
  • Available in three potent doses: 1,000 mg, 2,500 mg, and 5,000 mg

Price: $68 for 1-month, $136 for 2-month, $204 for 3-month supplies

This product is a good choice for anyone looking for a generous dose of CBD cream without a tight budget.

BATCH CBD Cream supp
  • Contains a blend of aloe vera, lavender and peppermint oil
  • Wisconsin grown, non-GMO and third-party tested
  • Offers a potent dose of 1,500 mg of CBD per serving

Price: $55 per month or $44 via subscribe-and-save

For an extra soothing experience, the manufacturer suggests putting the cream in the refrigerator for an hour before applying.

Cornbread Hemp® CBD Lotion + Menthol
  • Enriched with ingredients like jojoba, argan, and peppermint oils
  • USDA Organic certified and third-party tested
  • Safeguarded by CannVerify authentication code

Price: $49.99 per month or $39.99 via subscribe-and-save

If you’re seeking an organic CBD cream, Cornbread Hemp is a solid choice with multiple quality measures in place.

A final word on CBD cream

CBD cream has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. However, more high-quality research is needed into the specific types of pain CBD cream is best for, the best dose, long-term safety, and more.

Topical CBD cream is generally well tolerated but can cause skin irritation in some people, especially in those with sensitive skin. It’s not recommended to use CBD cream if pregnant or breastfeeding, as there isn’t enough safety data on its use in these populations.

If you’re considering CBD cream to manage your pain, speak to your doctor for guidance before use. Your doctor can determine how to best include CBD cream as part of your overall pain management plan, not as a replacement for traditional remedies.

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