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Healthline has sole editorial control over this article. Potential uses for the products listed here are not health claims made by the manufacturers. The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. It’s not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from a healthcare professional. Healthline encourages you to make any treatment decisions with your healthcare professional.

If you’re interested in trying cannabidiol (CBD) to quell pain or inflammation in a specific area of your body, one way you can take it is through a patch. When applied to your skin, a patch allows the CBD to be absorbed in a targeted area.

Patches are convenient and discreet, but you might be wondering whether they’re really as effective as CBD oils, gummies, or even lotions. Read on to learn about the research and how to use them.

A CBD patch is a small patch that sticks to the skin. It’s similar to a nicotine patch, but it contains CBD and other ingredients to aid in localized pain relief.

This transdermal method of delivery means CBD is absorbed through the skin and directly into the bloodstream, making it really efficient.

CBD patches are about as effective as CBD that’s taken orally. But they offer several advantages over oral CBD, according to a 2018 review of studies.

As the researchers explain, CBD that’s taken orally is metabolized first by your body before it starts circulating in your bloodstream. CBD that’s taken through the skin — like in a patch — doesn’t have to go through this intermediate step, so more of it gets to circulate in your blood. More CBD in your bloodstream means more CBD that can get to the site of your pain.

What’s more, many CBD patches are designed to remain on the body for several days. You’ll get a slow and steady dose that targets the exact area you need, rather than having to remember to take CBD oil or apply CBD lotion each day.

There are downsides, however. Many companies add chemical carriers to help the CBD penetrate the skin and reach the bloodstream. Some people may be allergic to these chemicals.

The researchers in the same 2018 review note that the adhesive used in patches can cause skin irritation in some people, especially those with sensitive skin.

Additionally, a patch will be more effective if you have a specific area you want to treat, such as your shoulder or lower back, rather than dealing with general or diffuse aches and pains throughout your body.

Two case reports from 2020 suggest that topical CBD may be an effective treatment in decreasing inflammation and blocking pain in the recovery of back injury as well as relieving nerve pain. However, the report was focused on topical creams, so more research is needed on patches specifically.

Topical CBD has also been shown to promote muscle relaxation in people with pain related to teeth grinding.

It’s important to note that research on transdermal CBD patches is limited. These products can be expensive and may be as effective as a CBD topical, so it’s best to do your own research before deciding on the right product for you.

It may also be possible for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to show up on a drug test after using a patch made with full-spectrum CBD. If you want to avoid THC, look for a CBD isolate product, which contains only CBD, instead.

Some people prefer to use topical CBD products because they don’t want to inhale or ingest CBD.

A patch may be a better option than creams or lotions if you’re using CBD for chronic pain and you don’t want to reapply every so often. A patch is also mess-free compared with other topicals. You can stick in in place and forget about it for a specific length of time.

There isn’t a lot of research on CBD patches for pain. However, unlike gummies, oils, and capsules, patches deliver CBD transdermally, or through your skin. That means the CBD bypasses your digestive system, potentially increasing bioavailability, or the amount of CBD able to be used by your body.

And because you keep a patch on the skin, you’re potentially getting a steady stream of pain relief as the CBD enters your bloodstream over a longer period of time. The process is slow, though. So although there might be better bioavailability, that doesn’t mean you’ll instantly feel the effects of CBD when using a patch.

A CBD patch is a good option for people who are looking for pain relief in a specific part of the body, who aren’t interested in consuming CBD orally or sublingually, and who don’t like the taste of CBD.

It’s a mess-free alternative to CBD topicals like lotions and balms, and there’s no need to reapply. If you have a busy day ahead of you, using a CBD patch for steady relief may appeal to you.

However, a patch may not be a good fit if you’re looking for full-body relief, as they’re designed for localized effects.

Look for CBD patches that meet the following criteria:

  • The company provides current, readily available certificates of analysis (COAs). COAs show test results from third-party laboratories so you can verify how potent the product is and make sure it hasn’t been contaminated in the manufacturing process.
  • The product says how much CBD is in it.
  • The product contains less than 0.3 percent THC. This is the federally legal limit. Some states may allow products with higher amounts of THC.
  • The company is transparent about where they grow or source their hemp.
  • The company tells you exactly what’s in each patch.
  • Product testing is done by an independent third-party lab.

Additionally, think about how long you’d like to wear the patch and what features are important to you. Some patches can be applied for several hours, a full 24 hours, or as long as several days. Some may be sweatproof or waterproof, allowing you to keep them on even while showering.

Most patches will be stick-on, but some may be more of a wrap style and won’t be sticky.

Keep in mind that patches aren’t meant to be applied to mucous membranes or broken skin. Be sure to read the instructions on the packaging before applying, but in general, here’s what you’ll do.

If the patch is adhesive, you’ll remove it from the package and place it on the area that’s achy or sore. Adhesive patches are best used on soft tissue sites, like the lower back, rather than, say, a joint like an elbow, where it can come off with movement. Wear for the maximum amount of time the packaging suggests, remove, and then reapply another if necessary.

If the patch is not adhesive, you’ll use it much like you would a heating pad: Place it on the affected area and kick back while it works its magic. Discard after the recommended number of hours indicated on the package.

Dosage

If you’re new to CBD, look for a low-dose patch and build from there, if necessary, after you know how your body responds.

For many people, 20 milligrams (mg) is a good starting dose. If you have chronic pain or notice a smaller dose isn’t working for you, increase your dosage slowly. More potent patches contain 100 mg or more of CBD.

It’s best to talk with a doctor or cannabis clinician before trying CBD. They can help you figure out the right dose, and they may be able to offer product recommendations.

While CBD is generally considered to be safe, some people may experience side effects, including fatigue, diarrhea, changes in appetite, and changes in weight, according to a 2017 review of studies.

CBD can interact with medications you may be taking. Talk with a healthcare professional before starting CBD to make sure it’s safe for you. Don’t use CBD while pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you develop irritation, stop using it. Don’t use adhesive patches on broken skin.

Do CBD patches work?

Yes. In terms of effectiveness, they’re on par with other forms of CBD.

Are CBD patches better than CBD oil for pain?

Because you wear a CBD patch for a few days, you’ll get a slow, constant release of CBD, which may be helpful for chronic pain. Unlike when using an oil, you won’t have to remember to take another dose.

However, patches aren’t as effective as ingested oils for total body relief. You’ll have better results with a patch if you’re trying to treat a specific area, like your calf or shoulder.

Some people are also allergic to the adhesives and added chemicals in patches, so if you have sensitive skin, you may find them irritating.

Will CBD patches make you high?

It’s not likely. Most patches contain only small amounts of THC, and not enough to cause a high.

Will CBD patches show up on a drug test?

It’s possible. If you’re taking a broad-spectrum or full-spectrum CBD product that may contain trace amounts of THC, it might show up on a drug test. If you’re worried, opt for CBD isolate products and verify that the COA confirms the patch is THC-free.

How long should I leave on a CBD patch?

It depends on the patch. CBD patches are designed to be worn anywhere from a few hours to a few days, so make sure to check instructions on the packaging. Don’t leave a CBD patch on longer than the maximum time noted on the instructions.

Can CBD patches get wet?

It depends on the patch. Those with a longer application phase are often sweatproof and waterproof, but that’s not always the case. Reference the manufacturer’s instructions for how to properly wear a CBD patch.

CBD patches are a good option if you’re looking for targeted pain or soreness relief in a specific spot on your body. They offer fast absorption and are available in varying potencies. Be sure to talk with a healthcare professional before taking 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.


Jessica Migala is a freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition, and fitness content. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two young sons, and rescue pup. Find her on LinkedIn or on Instagram.