When it comes to evaluating CBD products, sometimes it can feel like venturing into the Wild Wild West. The product category’s lack of FDA regulation means that almost anybody can slap the three letters C-B-D on a product, even if there aren’t any cannabinoids to be found in the product at all. This has caused the compound — which has genuinely useful therapeutic benefits — to be maligned as much as celebrated in recent years.
But not all CBD is good, but not all of it is crap, either. Some CBD products are very much worth the time and effort made to produce them. And worth your cash if you’re looking to ease routine aches and pains.
When evaluating topicals like lotions and balms, there are a few things that are particularly important to pay attention to. Dosing is the first thing to look for. Generally speaking, 300-milligrams of CBD per two ounces of balm, salve, or lotion would be the lowest dosing threshold to be therapeutically useful. Sourcing is another topic to investigate. Is the company using organic hemp? Is it American-grown, which comes with the guarantee of federal oversight as opposed to in other countries, which may not have as strict of an evaluation process? Is the company using full-spectrum CBD, which will contain traces of THC and may only be found in a dispensary setting? Full-spectrum is the goal, but it won’t be available to everyone.
For those without access to dispensary-grade CBD topicals, broad-spectrum is what should be sought-after next — as it will contain a broader range of cannabinoids and other cannabis plant compounds, which is believed to result in better therapeutic benefits. To be avoided in most scenarios are CBD products made from CBD isolate or distillate. CBD thrives when in concert with as much of the rest of the cannabis plant as possible. CBD labeled as being sourced from the “whole plant” is a misnomer designed to trick buyers into thinking it’s full spectrum. There’s no CBD found in the hemp plant’s seeds or stalks, so this is just marketing babble designed to get customers to pay more for a cheaper production process with no value to the end-user.
One last thing before we get started, CBD topicals often contain other active ingredients — arnica, camphor, etc. — that can lead you into thinking it’s the CBD that’s relaxing your muscles or calming your inflamed joints. That’s where this guide comes in. I tested some of the most respected brands peddling CBD topicals on the market, as well as some that are less-known but utilize top-shelf production processes, to see which are worth your hard-earned cash.
Zenbarn Farms Wolf Balm
Made from Vermont-grown hemp, Zenbarn Farms Wolf Balm combines 600-milligrams CBD and 400-milligrams CBN (Cannabinol) in a concentrated balm with a beeswax base, arnica, and peppermint, tea tree, camphor, rosemary, and cinnamon oils as other anti-inflammatory agents.
Apart from potency and high-quality sourcing, there are other reasons to shop Zenbarn. The company is Black-owned and donates one percent of sales to the Waterbury Anti-Racism Coalition, a grassroots organization working to combat racism locally in Vermont.
Terra Vita Cooling Salve
Terra Vita’s Cooling Salve with lidocaine is a surefire pain-buster. Boasting 500-milligrams of broad-spectrum CBD with lidocaine suspended in castor, olive, and coconut oils with beeswax, this is a potent balm that will kick the hell out of muscle pain wherever it’s applied.
Because lidocaine is a potent pain reliever, it can be hard to say which is the most active ingredient here. The dosing is right, however, and, at the end of the day, it works. Two thumbs up.
Cornbread Peppermint + Arnica CBD Balm
Kentucky-based Cornbread sells what is the first certified organic hemp products in the U.S., which means that it’s sourcing is reliable, to put it mildly.
Cornbread’s 500-milligram balm stick earns double points for being potent and portable. Peppermint and arnica are a welcome bonus to the flower-only CBD used, which brings additional levels of soothing and cooling to any affected areas on the body.
Pack this balm stick for any kind of on-the-go activity where acute pain might be an issue.
Xula Uff! (touch + soothe) salve
Featuring all organic ingredients, this full-spectrum balm is specifically formulated for those with wombs, especially for people who get menstrual cramps and other period-related discomforts. In addition to showing off 600-milligrams of full-spectrum CBD oil per one fluid ounce, it also contains 100-milligrams of CBG, or cannabigerol, another naturally occurring compound found in the hemp plant that, when applied topically, is said to help reduce inflammation and pain.
It also contains candelilla wax, mango seed butter, comfrey leaf, hyssop fower, cramp bark, ginger root, and cayenne pepper.
This is the ultimate period-busting formula. Full stop.
Green Roads Pain Relief Muscle and Joint Pain Cream
Green Roads’ pain cream packs 750-milligrams of broad-spectrum CBD from American-grown hemp into a one ounce bottle, which means it’s stronger than many creams available on the market. It utilizes a pharmacist-formulated blend of methyl salicylate, menthol, CBD, and other soothing botanicals.
Bottom line: People who suffer from intense, chronic joint and muscle pain may find this cream helpful above the rest.
Her Royal Hempress Age-Defying Whipped Serum
CBD is said to help inflammation, so because of that, it has become a popular skincare product for those looking to reduce redness, puffiness, and other skin indignities. Packed with full-spectrum CBD, green tea extract, resveratrol, CoQ10, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and other so-called age-defying compounds, this serum is a lightweight moisturizer that instantly brightens any dull face.
Is it actually age-defying? I keep getting older, despite its use, so who can say for sure. As a moisturizer though, it packs a punch without causing breakouts.
Goodekind CBG Topical
For those looking to switch up cannabinoids — which can be helpful after prolonged use of another cannabinoid (the body builds up tolerance to cannabis compounds quickly) — CBG is a great option for inflammation and pain management. Goodekind’s 300-milligram CBG topical also has organic peppermint and eucalyptus oils to sweeten the deal.
Beyond just providing quality products from lesser-known cannabinoids, Goodekind also donates an eighth of its profits to different human rights initiatives across the United States.
Inya Hemp CBD Balm
Inya Hemp’s San Diego County-based farm was destroyed by a wildfire in summer 2020. What was able to be salvaged and re-planted ends up in the company’s small-batch 300-milligram balm, which is useful or both muscle and joint pain.
Looking for an extra kick? Try the version with lavender and marjoram.
Papa & Barkley Releaf Balms 1:3
Okay, I’m cheating a little bit by including this balm, but seeing as it has a 1:3 CBD:THC ratio, it still contains enough CBD to gush over its potential healing properties.
Papa & Barkley is widely regarded as one of the best in the biz for producing medical-grade quality CBD and THC products, and the Releaf balm is no exception. This can be good for pain and includes tea tree, peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus oils. The presence of THC adds a supposed extra layer of pain relief and anti-inflammation properties and, because it’s applied topically, it won’t get you high.
Don’t live in a THC-legal state? Papa & Barkley also has a CBD-only line sold in all 50 states.
Care By Design 1:1 Pain Cream
Care By Design’s 1:1 pain cream is a pain management tour-de-force: 450-milligrams of CBD are combined with an equal amount of THC in three fluid ounces of aloe vera, shea butter, peppermint oil, and orange essential oil, among other ingredients.
Its potent and offers a truly full-spectrum approach to topical cannabis pain management.
Like Papa & Barkley, Care By Design also has a non-THC CBD line available for sale in all 50 states.
As a brand affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.