If you’re looking for a cannabidiol (CBD) product to soothe your aches and pains, you have a ton of choices. From gummies to pills to oils, CBD products abound, and they all have the potential to help alleviate pain. But for muscle or joint pain, topical CBD — like a CBD cream — may be particularly useful.

But it can be a bit tough to sift through the many CBD products on the market. How can you tell which CBD creams are the real deal? We’ve done the work for you to make shopping a little easier.

CBD is a compound contained in the cannabis plant. There are several forms of CBD:

  • Broad-spectrum CBD. Broad-spectrum products contain no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but do contain other cannabis plant compounds such as terpenes and flavonoids.
  • Full-spectrum CBD. This type of CBD contains very small amounts of THC (less than 0.3 percent), so you won’t experience any intoxicating effects when taking full-spectrum products. One theory suggests that when CBD and THC are present together, they may provide a greater benefit compared to THC or CBD alone. This is called the entourage effect.
  • CBD isolate. This is pure CBD. Unlike full- and broad-spectrum CBD, isolate doesn’t contain any additional compounds from the cannabis plant, meaning it contains no THC.

Research into CBD’s pain-relieving abilities is still in the early stages. However, so far, there’s some evidence that topical CBD products, like creams, may help with a variety of pain sensations, including:

  • Arthritis-related pain. A 2016 animal study found that applying topical CBD may help with arthritis-related pain and swelling.
  • Nerve pain. A small 2020 study looked at the effects of topical CBD oil on pain. Many people in the study, all with nerve damage, reported having reduced pain levels. They described feeling a dip in sharp, intense, and cold and itchy pain sensations.
  • Jaw pain. A small 2019 study looked into how topical CBD may provide relief from a specific kind of facial pain that mainly affects the jaw. The study found that people who applied topical CBD about two times a day experienced a lot less pain after 2 weeks.

Another 2020 study found that some people in palliative care use THC or CBD regularly and that topical products, in particular, help reduce pain.

All the products listed below meet our rigorous criteria for quality. Each CBD cream in this article:

  • is made by a company that provides proof of third-party testing by an ISO 17025-compliant lab
  • is made by a company that discloses the source of their hemp
  • contains no more than 0.3 percent THC, according to the certificate of analysis (COA)
  • passes tests for pesticides, heavy metals, and molds, according to the COA

We also considered:

  • the company’s certifications and manufacturing processes
  • product potency
  • overall ingredients
  • indicators of user trust and brand reputation, such as:

You might also notice that some of our picks include extra ingredients that may help specifically with pain, including arnica, camphor, and menthol.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $30
  • $$ = $30–$50
  • $$$ = over $50

Best anti-inflammatory CBD cream for pain

CBDfx Muscle & Joint CBD Hemp Cream

  • Price: $–$$
  • CBD type: broad-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 500 mg, 1,000 mg, or 3,000 mg per 50-mL container
  • COA: available on product page

This CBD cream has cooling capabilities, thanks to the included menthol. It also includes several anti-inflammatory ingredients like caffeine and white willow bark extract that provide an extra boost of pain relief.

CBDfx creates its products from CBD extracted without the use of solvents, and the company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. COAs are available through a link on each product page.

Use code “HEALTHLINE” for 20% off.

Best CBD isolate pain cream

Medterra Pain Cream

  • Price: $$–$$$
  • CBD type: isolate
  • CBD potency: 500 mg or 1,000 mg per 482-g container
  • COA: available online

If you’re interested in steering clear of THC altogether, you might want to try Medterra Pain Cream. It’s made with CBD isolate, which means it only contains CBD, and no other parts of the hemp plant.

Arnica and menthol are also featured to help with pain. The menthol delivers a pleasant cooling feel.

Best high potency CBD cream for pain

Aspen Green Muscle Relief Cooling Cream

  • Price: $$$
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 1,000 mg per 60-mL container
  • COA: available on product page

This cooling cream is made with arnica extract and organic menthol, which, along with full-spectrum CBD, help provide pain relief.

Keep in mind that full-spectrum CBD contains a small amount of THC. This can be helpful due to the entourage effect, which theorizes that CBD and THC work better together than they do alone.

Use code “HEALTHLINE” for 20% off.

Most affordable CBD cream for pain

Naternal Rescue CBD Muscle Cream

  • Price: $$
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 1,000 mg per 96-g container
  • COA: available online

Naternal’s full-spectrum cream combines camphor, arnica, menthol, and eucalyptus with CBD to deliver a pleasantly scented and soothing cream. It’s intended for daily use to prevent pain flare-ups.

Naternal makes its products from North Carolina-grown hemp that’s processed using an ethanol extraction method. Ethanol extraction is said to preserve more therapeutic terpenes in the final product, but it may leave behind trace solvents.

Best organic CBD cream for pain

Cornbread Hemp CBD Lotion, Menthol Formula

  • Price: $$
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 500 mg per 2-oz container
  • COA: available on product page

If you’re concerned about skin reactions, you may prefer to go with a cream that’s free of harsh synthetic ingredients. Cornbread Hemp‘s CBD lotion contains a host of naturally-derived organic ingredients, with menthol as an added pain reliever.

Cornbread Hemp uses U.S.-grown hemp from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Hemp Program and produces its products in a facility that’s been certified to follow the FDA’s current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs).

If you’re interested in trying an alternative treatment for your pain, you might want to give CBD a shot. However, keep in mind that CBD isn’t a replacement for doctor-prescribed treatments. It can also interact with some medications, including those with a grapefruit warning. If you take any of these medications, CBD may not be a good fit for you.

If your doctor gives you the OK, though, and you’re looking to target specific pain areas — like arthritis in your fingers, for example — a topical may provide some relief.

CBD might help you get some pain relief, but, there are a lot of products out there to sift through. Here’s what to look for when shopping for a CBD topical.

Third-party testing

The FDA doesn’t guarantee the safety, quality, or efficacy of any CBD product — at least for now. They can still take action against companies committing fraud or peddling false health claims, but it’s important for you to carefully read labels before buying.

Look for a product with a COA that’s up-to-date and comes from a reputable third-party lab. Check that what’s listed on the COA matches up with the company’s product description, and that the lab has performed contaminant testing.

We recommend looking for results for heavy metals, molds, and pesticides. If the company uses a solvent-based extraction method, it’s also a good idea to check for residual solvent testing results.

CBD type

Isolates are typically ideal if you’re looking to avoid THC and other cannabinoids, but broad- and full-spectrum may offer more benefits than isolates.

Keep in mind that while any CBD product can have trace levels of THC, full-spectrum CBD will intentionally contain a low level of THC — up to 0.3 percent in federally legal products.

Ingredients

Choose CBD creams made from all-natural, U.S.-grown hemp. Since you’ll be applying the cream to your skin, check the ingredient label for any irritants or things you’re allergic to.

If you’re looking for a CBD topical specifically for pain relief, you may also want to look for products with additional pain-relieving ingredients. Warming and cooling creams, which often contain menthol or arnica, provide an added pain relief component for aches and pain.

Potency

Most topical CBD products contain around 3 to 8 milligrams (mg) of CBD per recommended application. If you have chronic pain, you may want to opt for a higher potency product. But if you’re new to CBD, it’s best to start with a lower potency product.

For more information on how to approach CBD dosage-wise, check out our CBD dosage guide.

It’s always best to read the instructions on the package before using any CBD cream. However, in general, CBD creams are meant to be applied topically and massaged into the skin wherever you’re experiencing pain. Have arthritis in your hands? Rub the cream onto your hands, focusing on the painful joints.

If a product contains ingredients specific for pain relief, like menthol or arnica, you might feel cooling or warming sensations. Start with a small application in case those sensations bother you.

Patch test the product by applying a little to the inside of your wrist and waiting to see if you experience any irritation. Even the most natural products can cause irritation in people with very sensitive skin.

Keep CBD cream away from mucus membranes and broken skin.

A 2017 research review showed that CBD is generally safe to use.

Most topicals are for external use only, so you shouldn’t ingest them unless the packaging says it’s safe to do so.

If you have any sores or open wounds, wait to apply CBD cream. Many products shouldn’t be used on broken skin.

While small amounts of low-dose CBD products shouldn’t make you feel “high,” some people occasionally experience side effects like:

  • sleepiness
  • diarrhea
  • changes in weight or appetite

However, topicals are unlikely to absorb into your bloodstream and cause full-body effects.

Talk with your doctor before using CBD since it can interact with certain medications.

Does CBD cream work for pain?

Research is still ongoing, but some smaller studies and animal research suggests that CBD may reduce inflammation and help provide pain relief. Studies have specifically looked at CBD for arthritis, nerve, and jaw pain.

How long does it take for CBD pain cream to work?

It depends on the person, but generally between 15 to 30 minutes.

Can I rub CBD oil on my skin for pain?

Yes. CBD oils meant to be taken orally can also be rubbed into the skin. Just make sure to read the ingredient list for any irritants before you apply oils directly to the skin.

And keep in mind that you can apply some CBD oils to the skin, but you shouldn’t ingest products meant specifically for the skin.

The jury is still out on whether CBD topicals offer up definitive pain relief, but many people report having success with creams, lotions, and salves for all kinds of ailments.

For the best results possible, pick a potent, full-spectrum CBD cream from a reputable company that sources quality, organic ingredients. Talk with your doctor before trying CBD.

Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3 percent THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.

Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.