Do CBD Topicals Work For Pain?

CBD oil is becoming increasingly popular in a wide range of products, from food and drinks to oral medications and topical creams and ointments. However, are CBD topicals really effective for the management of pain?

Do CBD Topicals Work For Pain

Here’s what you need to know about the different types of CBD topicals and how they may affect and control pain.

Types Of CBD Topicals

All types of CBD topicals are made from the flowers and leaves of the cannabis/hemp plant that have less than 0.3% THC. These cannabis plants are genetically modified to have high concentration of CBD and very low levels of THC.  Topicals can take the form of salves, gels, lotions, and more. They may be mixed with other ingredients like menthol or aloe vera. They may also be mixed with ingredients to cause them to go below the skin level to become transdermal medications.

Full-Spectrum CBD oil

This CBD oil has the closest to the chemical makeup of the cannabis plant. The oil is extracted then distilled. It is gold in color and has a sticky texture. 

It may have 70-80% or even more of CBD. It is an oil taken directly from the whole plant and relatively unprocessed, so it also contains many other natural components of the cannabis plant including cannabigerol (CBG), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), other cannabinoid and terpenes. 

Broad-Spectrum CBD oil 

This oil is very similar to full-spectrum CBD oil, except that it has been processed to remove THC. Typically the THC has been reduced to levels that are not detectable. Unfortunately, the levels of CBD and other cannabinoids will be decreased.  This is typically done because many distributors and customers don’t want THC in their topical products. 


This is the most purified version of CBD oil. It generally contains no more than 1% of anything that is not pure CBD crystals. It is easy to use in various topical CBD products because it does not have a flavor or a scent. It may also be known as pharmaceutical-grade CBD. 

The Entourage effect

While CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN and THC have been found to be effective at controlling pain and other symptoms, they often work better when used together with other natural components of the cannabis plant. This is known as the Entourage effect. Using cannabinoids and terpene in specific ratios can cause even more powerful effects. 

Less processed CBD oil, such as full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD oil, may be more effective than a CBD cream, lotion, or other product made with more processing and fewer ingredients thanks to the Entourage effect. 

Different types of cannabinoids have different beneficial effects on the body. Here are some of the cannabinoids that can be found in the cannabis plant and the benefits they may have:

Topical vs Transdermal CBD

Topical medications are only effective directly in the area that they are applied to the skin while transdermal medications move through the skin and enter the bloodstream. Both types of medications are typically given in the form of emollients like ointments, creams, lotions, and gels. 

CBD products typically are topical, however transdermal CBD products can also be found. Transdermal CBD lotions that also contain levels above .3% THC may move into the bloodstream and result in a positive drug test and psychoactive effects. However, transdermal CBD products that are low in THC will not result in these issues. 

Transdermal products may have more benefits than topical medications. They generally come at a higher cost since they require added ingredients to bring the CBD down into the bloodstream. 

How CBD Works with the Mechanisms of Pain

CBD isn’t approved as a treatment for pain by government agencies, but a wide variety of studies have been conducted on CBD in both animal and human subjects and found very promising results. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that as the status of cannabis with the government evolves, the use of CBD oil for the treatment of pain may also become a government approved medicine for a variety of types of pain. 

As many as 69% of people who use CBD oil use it for pain. Studies have found it to be effective for a wide range of different types of pain, from everyday aches and pains associated with regular life and exercise to more serious issues:

  • Transdermal CBD gel was found to be effective for reducing pain and inflammation in rats. 
  • Cannabinoids could suppress neuropathic pain by bonding with α3 glycine receptors in mice. 
  • CBD may be effective at reducing the itch associated with a number of skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis and can help patients of these diseases to sleep better. 
  • Some studies have indicated that CBD may be useful in reducing the pain of cancer patients. 
  • Cannabidiol may be useful in the treatment of spasmodic disorders, that is disorders that affect movement such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, and the pain associated with these disorders. 
  • There is a significant amount of research indicating that CBD may be useful in the treatment of arthritis pain.

Can CBD be Absorbed Through the Skin?

CBD can be absorbed through the skin. There are often fewer side effects such as gastrointestinal upset when CBD is applied topically. Topical CBD has been found to result in a wide range of pain-reducing beneficial effects, including reducing swelling and pain in the joints. Transdermal CBD is not only absorbed through the skin, but also enters the bloodstream. 

CBD Receptors in The Body

It is not fully understood exactly how CBD works within the body, but it seems to mechanically inhibit the release of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters in pain pathways so that nerves that are transmitting pain stimuli are shut down. A number of different types of nerves seem to be affected by CBD oil. CBD may also be able to supplement low levels of endogenous cannabinoids, restoring homeostasis and reducing inflammation.

Cannabinoids work with our endogenous endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system is made up of receptors, including CB1 and CB2 receptors that control a number of biological functions, including inflammation and pain response. When used topically on muscle and joints, cannabinoids move into the tissue and saturate your ECS. The result is a reduction of inflammation and resulting pain relief. Most of the time you will experience benefits within minutes and the results  last around 2 to 4 hours. 

CBD can bond to CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body, resulting in a wide range of beneficial effects. CB1 and CB2 receptors can be found in every system from the brain to the muscles to the immune system. CBD can work to activate these receptors and lead to various benefits:

Does hemp oil lotion help with pain?

There is much confusion regarding the differences between hemp oil lotion and CBD lotion and the effect that each has on pain. Hemp oil lotion is derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant, whereas CBD is derived from the flowers and leaves. Hemp oil extracts are often marketed for pain relief in a similar way as CBD, but are very different. 

Hemp oil has a number of benefits of its own as it’s very nutritious and rich in vitamins and fatty acids. It can be very good for the health of your skin and reduce problems associated with acne and eczema by reducing inflammation. It may also be able to protect the brain against inflammation. Because hemp oil can be effective against inflammation, and may also be useful for reducing pain, it makes sense to combine CBD and hemp oil for the treatment of pain. Hemp oil alone for pain appears scientifically and medically inferior to CBD oil.

CBD Pain Cream Dosage

Because CBD pain creams can vary in the amount of CBD that they contain, it is important to follow the directions on the product you’ve chosen in dosing. In general, you can expect between 3 and 8 mg of CBD per application. Higher potency and superior products should contain at least 8 mg of CBD. 

Typically, topical CBD creams for pain relief can be reapplied as often as the effects wear off. However, you will have to carefully monitor for any side effects. It is best to adjust dosage with the help of your doctor.

Because transdermal CBD can enter into the bloodstream, dosing is often different and more precise than for topical treatments. Be sure to distinguish between transdermal and topical CBD when you are determining dosage for your pain relief. 

How to Apply CBD Topicals

CBD topicals, like CBD creams for pain relief, are very easy to apply. Simply rub the product onto the affected area until it is fully absorbed. To determine how much to use, consult the directions on the product you have chosen. The amount that you should apply depends on the concentration in a given product and what your doctor has recommended that you use for pain relief.

What To Look For When Reading Labels and Reviews

CBD pain relief cream has exploded in popularity in recent years. Unfortunately, not all of the products advertising high-quality CBD are what they say they are. Therefore, it can be challenging to find high-quality topical CBD products that really will have the relief that you need and are safe to use. Here are a few of the essential things to look for when deciding on a high-quality, medically reviewed CBD topical treatment:

  • Third-party lab testing. Testing by third-party labs can help you determine whether a given product really has the CBD content that it advertises. The company should be able to produce a certificate of analysis proving the components in their products. 
  • Avoid heavy metals and pesticides. You want to choose a CBD product that comes from plants grown on soil that does not contain heavy metals and where pesticides haven’t been heavily used. These components can make their way into the plant and contaminate the oil.
  • CBD and THC content. Find a product that contains the right amount of CBD and/or THC for your needs. If you would like to avoid THC altogether, be careful to choose a company that advertises no THC in their products.

CBD Cream Side Effects

Most people do not experience adverse side effects as a result of using CBD lotions, balms, or salves. The most common side effects are lethargy and fatigue. Some people may also experience diarrhea when taking CBD oral, although it’s much less common, especially in a topical medication. 

Because the CBD in topical creams does not enter the bloodstream, even CBD cream that contains a fairly high concentration of THC is unlikely to affect the user mentally or make them “high.” However, it is always a good idea to start with smaller amounts of CBD products and increase use as you learn how CBD creams will affect you.

If you are using transdermal CBD, side effects like psychoactive effects from any THC components and gastrointestinal effects may be more likely, but are still not problematic for most users. 

Other Uses for CBD Topicals

CBD topical oil may be effective for a variety of things aside from the treatment of pain-related issues like arthritis, joint pain, and muscle soreness. CBD topical transdermal medication may be able to alleviate many of the issues that CBD that is taken orally can help with. 

Cannabidiol may be useful in the treatment of a range of anxiety disorders. It may also be effective for the treatment of depression. Many people find transdermal CBD products to be easier to tolerate and to apply than oral treatments for these types of diseases. 

Other Ways to Relieve Pain

CBD oil can be very effective at reducing a number of different types of pain, but that doesn’t mean that you should limit yourself to just the use of this oil to find relief. Using CBD oil in combination with physical exercises and stretches can result in much better effects for your pain relief than CBD oil or exercise alone. A number of physical therapy exercises can be highly helpful in the rehabilitation of issues like joint pain, shoulder pain, lower back pain, and tennis elbow. CBD could be used as a “natural bridge” for you to tolerate rehabilitating your ailment and promote healing by reducing inflammation. 

Consider CBD Oil for the Treatment of Pain

Topical CBD oil can have a number of beneficial effects, including pain reduction. Because the side effects are minimal or non-existent for most people, CBD oil may be a safer and better-tolerated option than many traditional pain medications. Do your research to choose a very high-quality CBD oil and see if it will be effective for controlling your pain.

Photo of author

Dr. Walter Damper

Dr. Damper, DO, specializes in holistic and nonsurgical treatments to alleviate back, joint, nerve and muscle pain. His patients range from injured professional athletes in the NBA, NFL, and NHL to weekend warriors.


Mayo Clinic Logo
Acsm Logo Horizontal Grey
British journal of sports medicine
Amssm Logo Grey
Sporty Doctor 2021 Logo Grey

2800 N 6th St, Unit 1 PMB 905 Saint Augustine, FL 32084

(904) 290-1785