4 Best Cannabis Topicals for Pain Relief and Health

Joe Evans
Joe Evans - Content Writer

Nov 22 2021 - 6 min read

America has a pain problem. According to the CDC, an estimated 20.4 percent of all American adults deal with chronic pain. That’s an astounding 50 million adults. That’s where medical cannabis comes into play. A Michigan Medical New study found that 62.2 percent of all patients used medical cannabis to ease issues related to chronic pain. One of the most effective and valuable tools in treating pain and inflammation, no matter where on the body, is via cannabis-infused or derived topicals. 

Topicals usually come in creams or oils that contain high amounts of cannabinoid extracts that work when applied to the skin’s surface. While there are many different cannabis-infused options and treatments that you can use, topicals are effective for pain-related issues, especially when it comes to muscles, nerves, and skin.

Here are some essential qualities of most quality topicals: 

    • Independently lab tested for quality
    • Hemp or pesticide-free cannabis extracts
    • Easy to dose
    • Made in the U.S.
    • Labeled clearly

What to Consider While Choosing a Topical

When it comes to picking the right cannabis topical to treat your aches and pains, picking the right one is incredibly important. That means digging a little deeper than just the price tag and well-known brand name to determine which concentration, type of cream, and cannabinoid profile are best for treating what ails you. 

For example, a cannabidiol (CBD) cream used on dry, scaly, or damaged skin is more beneficial than a transdermal patch packed with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). On the other hand, the transdermal patch would be far more effective at dealing with muscle or nerve-related spot pain relief than CBD cream. It’s all about figuring out the right product with the right cannabinoid content for the right condition. 

Cannabinoids 

A key component of picking the right topical for you is to understand the differences between cannabinoids. CBD topicals, for example, tend to be most effective when it comes to reducing minor aches, pains, and soreness. At the same time, THC-infused creams are typically used to ease more painful conditions below the top few layers of skin, down the muscles and nerves below. The critical difference between those two products is where and how easily you can get them. 

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill passage, hemp-derived CBD products are available online and from most grocery stores and health food shops. It’s perfectly legal as long as the THC content is below a .3 percent THC threshold. However, products with THC in them are most likely only available from licensed dispensaries in states that have legalized either medically or recreationally.

Free Infographic Guide to Cannabinoids

Potency 

There’s no argument that THC-infused cream is simply more potent than CBD-based products when it comes to dealing with pain. There are, however, different degrees of potency available when it comes to topical products. The most potent options you can find are full-spectrum products, which means that the entourage effect can kick in thanks to the mix of several different cannabinoids. 

Third-Party Lab Testing 

There have been valid concerns raised in the past about the cannabinoid concentration of CBD-based products. The best way to ensure you know what you’re buying is to make sure it’s third-party tested. That third-party lab testing ensures that the products are pure, accurately dosed, and contain the amounts of cannabinoids that the label says they do. Third-party testing is essential not only for pure and high-quality products but for accurate dosage and effective results. It’s important to note that third-party labs that offer analysis certification are far and away from the gold standard for cannabis product testing. 

Cannabis Source

Just like all cannabis topicals aren’t created equal, neither are cannabis plants. The best quality products are infused with the best quality cannabis plants, free of harmful pesticides, contaminants, and poorly grown/harvested cannabinoids. Simply put, a cannabis topical is only as good as the cannabis compounds that go into it!

Ingredients 

There are other ingredients and components in the vast majority of the cannabis topicals available on the market today. Not only is their top-notch hemp-derived CBD and potent THC and other medical-strength cannabinoids, but some topicals even include refreshing essential oils for good smells and additional cooling/relaxing effects or moisturizers to nourish and heal the skin it’s applied to.

Price

It’s all about dollars and cents. If you’re looking to get the best quality cannabis topicals, you have to be willing to pay for them. Products with the best ingredients, the highest quality cannabinoids, the most trusted third-party testing, and the overall potency cost more, especially for medical patients. 

How to Use Each Type of Cannabis Topical

With so many different options for medical cannabis topicals, it can be confusing how best to use each one topically. Thankfully, we here at Leafwell are here to provide a step-by-step guide for each type. 

Balms and Salves

Likely the first form of medical cannabis you’ll think of when you consider topical, THC, or CBD salves and balms are possibly the most accessible form for medical cannabis users. All you’ll do is take the recommended dose out of the tube, tin, or container it’s in, apply it to the irritated nerves, sore muscles, or dry, damaged skin you’re looking to treat. 

While dosage with balms and salves can often be a challenge, they’re likely the easiest to use and among the simplest cannabis topicals to dose. 

Oils

Similar to balms and salves, infused cannabis oils can be applied topicals and vaped or taken orally in the form of a tincture. Using cannabis oils topically is very similar to using it orally as a tincture, except instead of using the dropper to put the oil under your tongue, you’ll use it to apply the same dosage to your skin. 

Gels

Unlike balms, salves, and creams, cannabis-infused gels are a little bit different. Unlike balms, creams, and salves, gels aren’t designed to absorb into the skin as quickly. They’re designed to sit on the surface of the skin, working for longer to moisturize and heal the upper layers of dry, flakey, or damaged skin. Gels are also great for dulling the pain and nerve issues associated with burns. 

Sprays

Great for quick, simple, and no mess application, cannabis-infused sprays are one of the easiest and least messy ways to get a dose of your medication when you need it most. Easy for yourself or a caretaker to spray on pretty much anywhere and anytime, without getting cream, gel, or oil all over your hands to apply it. 

Transdermal Patches

Another topical option for the medical patient who hates the sloppy mess that comes along with other forms of topicals on this list, transdermal patches, is little bandaids with topical medication on the side that’s applied to the skin. These patches send cannabinoids into the bloodstream slowly, over time, in a controlled manner.

Best Cannabis Topicals 

Now that we’ve touched on all of the details when it comes to what types of topicals exist, how to tell if they’re legitimate, and how to get your dosage correct, let’s break down the best brands and types of topicals for some of the major issues people use topicals to treat! 

Best Topical for Joint Pain

Joint pain can be debilitating. Whether it’s from a muscle strain, sprain, nagging injury, or a condition like arthritis, more than 15 million Americans — one in four adults — deal with severe joint pain.

Due to how painful joint-related issues can be, we recommend a full-spectrum product, one that contains a wide variety of cannabinoids that enhance and strengthen one another for added effects. That’s why CBDFX’s Muscle and Joint cream is our pick for overall joint pain.

A high-quality, broad-spectrum CBD-infused cream without any added scents, flavors, and extracts, this cream is about as pure as it gets. Along with the cannabinoids in the cream, other ingredients include painkilling components like white willow bark, caffeine, and menthol for a soothing, cooling effect. We highly recommend this one. 

topical for joint pain

Best Topical for Muscle Soreness

When it comes to using topical cannabis to relieve muscle and nerve pain, your best bet is a product that contains a wide range of active cannabinoids to take advantage of the entourage effect. That’s why Dr. Solomon’s Restore 1:1 transdermal lotion is our pick here. 

Easy to dose, simple to rub on topically, and great for relieving issues related to chronic pain, sore or inflamed muscles or nerves, or to take the edge off of a new or nagging muscle injury like a sprain or tear, this lotion is the way to go.  

topicals for muscle soreness

Best Topical for Dry Skin

Those dealing with rough, cracked, or dry skin due to conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or the leftover of a skin-level injury like a burn find consistent relief from the flaking, itching, burning, and splitting can feel like an impossible task. Thankfully, medical cannabis research has produced creams that can help. 

We recommend the Vertly Relief Lotion,  full-spectrum CBD cream with 500 mg of healing plant power in each tube. Along with the active cannabinoids, the formula contains aloe vera, peppermint, and lavender for a healing, soothing effect on the skin.      

Best Topical for Overall Health

Aging is all about figuring out how to do the stuff you love while keeping discomfort, pain, and other nagging factors at bay. To do that, you’ll need a topical cannabis cream that does a little bit of everything, is sourced with only the purest certified organic ingredients, and can serve multiple purposes for when you need it most. 

That’s why we think Cornbread Hemp Balm, a full profile, full-spectrum product that’s perfect for pretty much everything. This balm stick is great for aches and pain, contains enough cannabinoid power for flare-ups in the joints, and is excellent for making sure you ward off any discomfort that might impact the enjoyment of your everyday life. On top of all that, the product is certified organic, so you know you’re getting the best quality options.

Written by
Joe Evans
Joe Evans

Joe Evans is a journalist, writer, editor and contributor for Leafwell. He has, to date, more than 5,000 articles published online under his byline on topics like cannabis, local and National news, politics, automotive news, sports, pop culture and even a cult.

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