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Cannabidiol (CBD), the cannabis compound that’s been touted for its potential 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, topical CBD 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.

We looked for the best brands offering safe, effective, high quality products backed up by third-party testing and positive reviews from satisfied customers.

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 by a company that discloses the source of their hemp
  • contains no more than 0.3% 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

Here’s a quick look at how our picks compare:

CBD product Price CBD type Form of CBDSubscription discount
CBDMEDIC Active Sport Pain Relief Stick$isolatestick balmsubscribe and save 20%
CBDistillery CBDol Topical — CBD Balm$$full-spectrumbalmsubscribe and save 30%
Level Select CBD Roll-Ons$–$$broad-spectrumroll-on balmsubscribe and save 30% for 1 item or 35% for 2 items
PlusCBD CBD Balm$full-spectrumbalmsubscribe and save 25%
CBDfx CBD Cream For Muscle & Joint$$$broad-spectrumcreamno subscription, but offers discounts often
Aspen Green Pain Relief Body Balm$$$full-spectrumbalmsubscribe and save 30%

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 CBD 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 people with chronic, noncancer-related pain. Research into CBD and pain is ongoing.

The National Library of Medicine currently lists almost 90 clinical trials testing CBD on different types of pain.

CBD alone should not show up on a drug test. But there’s a catch: Most CBD products contain trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabis compound that does show up 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 isolate CBD products, which, by definition, should contain no THC.


  • acts as an anti-inflammatory and may help with pain relief
  • may relieve stress and anxiety
  • easy to buy online or in stores
  • many types of products available


  • most CBD products contain trace levels of THC, which may appear on a drug test
  • more research is needed on CBD’s safety and efficacy
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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, 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 from 2017, CBD is generally considered safe and has few side effects. Some people might experience issues like:

  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in weight

Don’t use topical products on broken skin.

Since CBD can interact with some medications, it’s important to talk with a doctor or pharmacist before trying any CBD product.

Don’t use CBD if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant.

Talk with a doctor before using any new CBD product, especially if you take medications or have any health conditions. CBD can interact with certain medications.

Also talk with a doctor or other healthcare professional if you experience long lasting or severe muscle pain and stiffness that doesn’t improve with home treatments, including CBD balms.

Seek immediate medical care if you have muscle pain and stiffness in addition to any of the following symptoms:

  • high fever and stiff neck
  • muscle weakness
  • difficult moving the affected area
  • redness, pain, and swelling in the affected area
  • symptoms that started after taking a new medication
  • severe muscle pain with no clear cause

Currently, there aren’t any recommended CBD dosages for athletes.

However, many products come with suggestions on the labels.

It’s best to begin with a small area of unbroken skin to see how your body reacts to the CBD before treating large areas, increasing the dosage, or reapplying.

For athletes, the best time to apply topical CBD is after your workout. This is because CBD may help ease any soreness or inflammation you may be experiencing.

Yes, CBD may be able to assist with muscle recovery due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Exercising and weightlifting cause the breakdown and regrowth of muscles. However, too much inflammation caused by strenuous exercise can delay recovery. Topical CBD can help with inflammation and muscle soreness, allowing your muscles to recover faster.

Although CBD doesn’t appear on drug tests, trace amounts of THC will. Trace amounts of THC may be found in any CBD product, even if it’s labeled broad-spectrum or isolate.

If you have to take drug tests and get a negative result, it’s best to avoid CBD products entirely.

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. However, be aware that trace levels of THC may still show on a drug test.

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% THC legal at the federal level. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them illegal at the federal level. Some states have legalized CBD, so 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.