If you read the ingredient list, often everything in the jar is straight from mother earth. As long as that's indeed the case with the cannabis cream you have your eye on, the formula is immensely safe, chemically, says Gregory Gerdeman, Ph.D., neurophysiologist who researches cannabinoid biology and pharmacology at Eckerd College in Saint Petersburg, FL. And since hemp pain relief creams are formulated to be topical (absorbing into the top layer of skin) and not transdermal (which would pass through the skin and into your bloodstream) there's no risk of getting high, explains Gerdeman. (P.S. Here's How Marijuana Affects Athletic Performance.)
The other issue? Topical hemp pain relief products and cannabis creams will treat anatomical structures within 1 centimeter of the skin—and the muscle where your actual soreness is located is going to be deeper than that, explains Ricardo Colberg, M.D., a physician at Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, AL. (The good news: Since it doesn't need to be absorbed deeply, CBD and cannabis could do amazing things as a skincare ingredient.)
What Is Hemp Pain Relief Cream?
Hemp pain relief creams or cannabis lotions claim to offer muscle relief for your tired body, but what do experts have to say?
The second method of pain relief centers around the damage you do when you work out. When you strength train, you create micro-tears in your muscles, which is why you feel sore as you heal. Once your immune cells detect damage, they release inflammatory mediators in order to repair the tissue. CBD, though has the ability to limit the release of some proinflammatory signals, thereby helping with pain without thwarting the healing entirely, explains Gerdeman. (Related: Is Working Out When You're Sore a Bad Idea?)
These topical ointments, creams, and lotions are infused with CBD, or cannabidiol, a compound found in the cannabis plant. Manufacturers claim it can help alleviate acute pain and muscle soreness. To reiterate for the uninitiated: CBD is not the same as THC because CBD does not have any psychoactive effects — aka it won't get you high.
The roll-on worked more immediately than the oil. As soon as I rubbed it into my aching hamstrings, I felt the same pinprick cooling sensation I’ve experienced hundreds of times using other menthol-based topicals like BioFreeze. The effects lasted for the better part of an hour, dulling the soreness in my muscles.
Aside from the taste, I didn’t feel much of an immediate effect from the oil. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise, according to the expert. “Most sublingual formulations of THC or CBD cannabis products, such as the hemp oil, will take 20 to 40 minutes to produce any therapeutic effect,” said Palvia. “The advantage here is that sublingual administration results in therapeutic benefit in all muscles.”
Generally, Palvia said CBD is great for muscle recovery. In his experience, he’s observed a wide range of benefits, including reducing inflammation, stimulating appetite, relaxing and soothing sore muscles, and improving sleep. There’s still a dearth of scientific research on CBD, but preliminary research backs up some of its alleged benefits.
HempMeds Active Relief Roll-On
Using the cream was messier than the roll-on stick. There is a slightly oily residue on the applied area with the cream, which gets messy if you have lots of body hair or need to put clothes back on immediately. I preferred the roll-on for this reason.
How to take it: Orally, just like any other liquid supplement. Put the recommended dosage in your mouth (three-quarters of a teaspoon), then swallow.
“CBD and other cannabinoids work through the endocannabinoid system, an entirely different pain pathway compared to traditional topical agents. For example, Icy Hot, a menthol, and Tiger Balm, a capsaicin, work at the Transient Receptor Potential Channel,” Palvia said. “Therefore, via this alternative route, a Roll-on formulation of CBD can provide an adjuvant source of pain relief during recovery.”
How to take it: Topically, by rolling the stick on your sore muscles no more than four times in one day.
Scent: Some CBD creams smell downright bad. Others are overloaded with a menthol scent, tricking you into thinking they’re providing powerful pain relief. We personally smelled each CBD pain cream listed above, and scent played a role in our rankings.
CBD Dosage: CBD dosage varies widely between skin creams. Some people want a strong dosage of CBD, while others get similar benefits through a lower dosage. We preferred skin creams with a range of dosage options.
SolCBD Creams and Balms
A: Some CBD pain creams contain trace amounts of THC. However, these trace amounts are unlikely to cause you to fail a drug test.
In 2012, researchers performed a similar test, comparing the effects of menthol to the effects of ice. 16 subjects received a topical gel containing 3.5% menthol or topical application of ice two days after exercising the area. Researchers found that the menthol-based gel decreased perceived discomfort to a greater extent than the ice.
If you are concerned about a topical CBD pain cream, apply a small amount of cream to your arm, then observe the effects.