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Cannabidiol (CBD), the cannabis compound that’s been touted for its healing effects without getting you “high,” has gotten attention for alleviating aches and inflammation. Some athletes have even said it’s a part of their health routine for enhancing performance, particularly when they’re experiencing pain.

While research on CBD still needs to catch up to the demand for its benefits, it seems to offer promising results for helping with muscle soreness. So it could be a good option for any post-workout pain.

To make sure you have all the information before you get in on the trend, here’s everything you need to know about CBD for athletes — plus, the best salves and balms if you decide it’s right for you.

A 2020 review of the benefits of CBD for athletes says animal-focused and preliminary research suggests it may help reduce inflammation and pain, a good payoff for those looking for post-workout relief. The review also notes it may:

  • protect against gastrointestinal damage that’s linked to inflammation
  • promote the healing of skeletal injuries
  • help relieve stress and anxiety, which can boost mental performance during physical activity

However, scientists say more research is needed.

Most of the animal research on CBD supports its anti-inflammatory effects, while other research demonstrates that CBD may offer a solid third-line therapy for those with chronic, noncancer-related pain. Research into CBD and pain is ongoing.

The National Library of Medicine currently lists more than 50 clinical trials testing CBD on different types of discomfort.

Simply put, CBD alone shouldn’t show up on a drug test. But there’s a catch, considering most CBD products contain trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating cannabis compound that does show on drug tests.

If you’re going to get drug tested, it may be best to avoid CBD products altogether. If you’re not concerned about a positive result, but still want to avoid THC, choose broad-spectrum or isolate products, which, by definition, should contain no THC.

We follow specific criteria when choosing the best CBD products, based on safety, quality, and transparency. Each product listed in this article:

  • is made by a company that provides proof of third-party testing by an ISO 17025-compliant lab
  • is made with U.S.-grown 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

When deciding what goes on the list, we also consider:

  • the company’s certifications and manufacturing processes
  • product potency
  • overall ingredients and whether the product contains any additional ingredients that may support pain relief
  • indicators of user trust and brand reputation, such as:
    • customer reviews
    • whether the company has been subject to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning letter
    • whether the company makes any unsupported health claims

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $40
  • $$ = $40–$60
  • $$$ = over $60

CBDMEDIC Active Sport Pain Relief Stick

Use code “HEALTH15” for 15% off

  • CBD type: Isolate
  • CBD potency: 200 mg per 30-mg stick

Price: $

Toss this stick in your bag for whenever you need a little pick-me-up while you’re on the move. The ingredient list includes THC-free CBD, menthol, camphor, beeswax, shea butter, and a mix of other oils.

For a little pain relief, simply roll it on the areas causing discomfort. It’s also hypoallergenic, which makes it good for those with sensitive skin.

You can review the COA by sending the company an email.

CBDistillery CBDol CBD Balm

Use code “healthline” for 15% off sitewide.

  • CBD type: Full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 500 mg per 1-oz. container

Price: $$

Have a sore back, leg, or arm? Massage a generous amount of this salve right on the spot that’s bothering you and you’re likely to find relief.

It not only contains CBD, but also a mix of oils like coconut, olive, apricot, and sunflower, plus essential oils such as lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus. Made of all-natural ingredients, its thick consistency will provide soothing hydration without the grease.

You can review the COA from the product page in the image carousel.

CBDfx Muscle Balm

Use code “HEALTHLINE” for 15% off.

  • CBD type: Broad-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 750 mg

Price: $

Put your body at ease with this broad-spectrum CBD muscle balm.

Peppermint, camphor, and wintergreen oil give it a comforting smell and both a warming sensation and cooling feeling — all to help your muscles relax.

To use, simply rub it on the affected area and let it do its thing. Need something more intense? Use more of the formula to enhance the effects. It also contains shea butter and coconut oil to moisturize the skin.

The COA can be found on the product page.

Papa & Barkley Releaf Balm

  • CBD type: Full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 180 mg per 15-mL jar or 600 mg per 50-mL jar

Price: $–$$$

Whether you have a tension headache or discomfort from an aching muscle, this balm should help you feel better. The mix of full-spectrum CBD, beeswax, and a blend of peppermint, tea tree, and lavender oil offers an anti-inflammatory effect.

The CBD comes from hemp plants grown in California, Oregon, and Vermont, and the manufacturer produces it without chemicals or unnecessary solvents.

Access the COA here.

Level Select CBD Roll-Ons

  • CBD type: Broad-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 300, 600, or 1,200 mg per roll-on

Price: $–$$$

This product comes in three different levels — 300 mg, 600 mg, or 1,200 mg of CBD — based on how much relief you need for your muscles. Thanks to the menthol, each one provides a cool mint scent and a refreshing, ache-alleviating feel.

Great for traveling and using hands-free, simply shake the bottle, then roll the blend right onto your trouble spot. If you don’t love it within 30 days, you get your money back.

Access test results here.

Harmonious CBD Pain Salve

  • CBD type: Full-spectrum
  • CBD potency: 500 mg per 1-oz. container
  • COA: Available on product page

Price: $$$

In addition to hemp, this salve also includes a mix of oils, from coconut and olive to lavender and rosemary. It also has extracts, such as aspen bark and grapefruit seed, and arnica for added pain relief benefits.

Apply it topically, anywhere you’re looking for a relaxed sensation.

You can check out the COA on the product page in the image carousel.

The best way to shop for CBD products is to look for companies that clearly state how they grow their hemp and how they produce their products, including extraction techniques. You should be able to find this info on the website, but if not, send an email.

Because the FDA doesn’t guarantee the safety, effectiveness, or quality of over-the-counter CBD products, you’ll also want to look for a product that has an up-to-date COA from a third-party lab.

Check the COA to ensure the product contains as much THC and CBD as the company says it does. Also, check for contaminant testing results, including heavy metals, pesticides, and molds.

As with any topical product, it’s best to test out a small amount of these salves and balms in a limited area before using more broadly on your skin. If you don’t have a negative reaction — like redness or irritation — and want to use more, go for it.

Most products will offer dosage suggestions, as well, but you can usually use them as you would other topical products that don’t contain CBD. If you’re new to CBD, start low and slow with a lower dose topical to evaluate what’s right for you and to prevent unwanted side effects.

There aren’t any evidence-based dosing recommendations for topical CBD products. Most known dosing recommendations for CBD products are for prescription medications like Epidiolex, a seizure medication approved by the FDA. More studies are needed to understand the proper dosing and therapeutic range of CBD for a number of medical conditions.

According to research, CBD is generally considered safe and has few side effects. But some people might experience issues like fatigue, diarrhea, changes in appetite, and changes in weight.

Don’t use topical products on broken skin.

CBD can interact with some medications, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before trying any CBD product.

If you’re looking for a product to help alleviate post-workout soreness or common muscle aches, CBD salves and balms may provide the relief you need.

Look for a product that comes with an up-to-date, comprehensive COA. If you want to avoid THC, choose a broad-spectrum or isolate product.

If you get drug tested, it’s best to avoid CBD entirely. Trace amounts of THC may be present in CBD products and can show up on a drug test.

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.


Mallory Creveling, a New York City-based freelance writer, has been covering health, fitness, and nutrition for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in publications like Women’s Health, Men’s Journal, Self, Runner’s World, Health, and Shape, where she previously held a staff role. She also worked as an editor at Daily Burn and Family Circle magazine. Mallory, a certified personal trainer, also works with private fitness clients in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Originally from Allentown, PA, she graduated from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.