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how much topical cbd is recommended for pain relief

Available in 17 oz. pump bottle

CBD topicals are a great herbal strategy to help with localized aches and pains, and they are generally considered safe to use. However, the FDA has yet to evaluate mainstream CBD skincare products, which is why you should always do your research and aim to purchase from high-quality companies. If you or your loved one are seeking the best CBD cream for pain, our recommendations are a great place to start.

Best for Sensitive Skin: R+R Medicinals CBD Cream

Cream available in pump bottle

Cornbread Hemp CBD Lotion + Menthol is made using a unique flower-only hemp extract that leaves out the stems, leaves, and stalks for a purer and more potent CBD. It's USDA orgranic and contains organic menthol, lemongrass, and eucalyptus for naturally cooling relief with no oily residue. Plus, it's free from parabens and preservatives.

CBD has been shown in clinical studies to help with pain-specific medical conditions including chronic pain, peripheral neuropathy, pain and inflammation, arthritis pain, and myofascial pain. Cannabinoids can also help improve pain in patients receiving palliative care. A 2020 cross-sectional study found that nearly 25% of outpatient palliative care patients use CBD, with topical application being the most common form used.

But at this point, we have no idea how deep the commercially available creams are penetrating. And even if they’re getting to that sweet spot in your skin, we don’t know how much CBD is getting there or how much is necessary to provide an effect.

You don’t need me to tell you that CBD (cannabidiol) is everywhere. You can eat it, you can drink it, you can vape it, you can even bathe in it. And although there’s still plenty to learn about this fascinating little compound, fans of it claim that it has some pretty impressive benefits—particularly when it comes to managing pain.

In fact, the most compelling research they found for using cannabinoids for pain came from a large review and meta-analysis published in JAMA in 2015. For the study, researchers looked at results from 79 previous studies of cannabinoids and various medical conditions, including chronic pain. However, of those studies, only four involved CBD (without THC)—none of which were looking at pain. So although we might assume that CBD is doing something to help address pain—according to the studies involving the whole cannabis plant—we don’t have great evidence to prove it.

So…is CBD cream just an expensive placebo?

Personally, I always keep a few jars of it at my desk to help with the shoulder and neck muscle tension inherent in a job consisting mainly of typing and holding a phone next to my face. But it turns out that the research behind these claims is pretty sparse, to say the least. Here’s what you need to know before you give topical CBD a try.

“Cannabidiol is a super messy drug,” Ziva Cooper, Ph.D., research director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative in the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, tells SELF. “It has lots and lots of targets and it’s not clear how much of its effects on each target contribute to the potential pain relieving effects.”

If you’re worried about a purely topical CBD product getting into your bloodstream, Dr. Tishler explains that’s unlikely. CBD is hydrophobic (meaning it isn’t water-soluble) and lipophilic (attracted to lipids, like oils) and tends to stay on the outer layer of skin or possibly accumulate in the sebaceous glands unless it’s paired with “enhancers” (ingredients designed to help them make it through the skin, at which point they would instead be transdermal). Making a truly “water-soluble CBD” has been a challenge for the industry, although there are a variety of patents out there.

First off, we don’t know much about the correct dose of CBD needed for a pain-relieving effect. The doses in the rat studies that were effective were pretty large (for a rat, obviously). And the human participants in the Phase 2 clinical trial we mentioned received 250 mg of synthetic CBD topically per day—as much as many consumer topical CBD products contain in a single jar.