By now, you probably know that CBD is just about everywhere it's legal. Snacks, skin serums, sensual perfumes, lubes—cannabidiol, better known as CBD, has worked its way into the world of wellness, thanks to its alleged blissful benefits on the body, mind, and spirit. And this includes CBD oils to help treat pain.
Skin care and sexy accessories aside, its medicinal potential has sparked a new wave of health products, especially in pain management. CBD oils for achy bones, sore muscles, and stiff joints now exist in many brick-and-mortar and virtual storefronts, promising holistic relief when you need it most.
So how exactly does CBD oil for pain work? And what makes the best tinctures stand out from the crowd? We tapped two experts to weigh-in on our CBD musings—keep reading to find their insights on how the plant-based super ingredient can relieve pain, what to look for, and the best brands to shop.
How does CBD help pain management?
While the benefits of CBD are still being studied, some research indicates it can be effective in soothing aches and pains. A 2020 review published in Frontiers Of Pharmacology suggests that CBD is thought to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that affect how pain is perceived, though more research is needed. Another 2021 survey that polled 235 participants with chronic pain found that, "participants reported to be able to reduce overall pain and specifically opioid medication [usage] and would be more comfortable receiving CBD through prescription or purchase from their healthcare provider."
While the hard-and-fast benefits of CBD are still up for debate, it seems to come down to inflammation. Acupuncturist and herbalist Giselle Wasfie, DACM, LAc, founder of Remix Lifestyle, a Chicago-based acupuncture studio, explains that CBD is an anti-inflammatory. "Generally speaking, [CBD] works by treating inflammation, which then relieves pain," she says. "Liquid forms can help more with overall systemic issues, say allergies, sleep, or anxiety. Topically, a CBD-oil or serum can help with skin, but I love balms for tight shoulders, period cramping, or painful muscles."
From post-gym soreness to chronic pain, it seems like CBD oil may be able to help. Your best bet is to talk to your doctor to see what's right for you (especially if you take daily meds). Once you get the A-OK, get a bottle of bliss below.
The best CBD oils for pain
There’s a lot to love about Equilibria. For starters, all of its CBD is grown at a single farm in Colorado, where it’s hand-harvested before being turned into high-quality, honest products. Whether you’re combatting all-over aches or day-to-day stress, Wasfie loves these Daily Drops are beloved for everyday support. Paired with the brand’s Relief Balm ($58) and you’ve got yourself a one-way ticket to relief city.
Scour the “best of” blogs and CBD fan-favorites, and you’re sure to find CBDDistillery’s potent tincture on their list. This full-spectrum blend contains CBD and just a smidge of THC which work in tandem to soothe your body and actually get some relief. All of the brand’s products are made with U.S. Hemp Authority-certified ingredients, so you know they’re good, and are third-party lab tested for better results.
Here’s the thing: when our brains hurt, our bodies hurt, too. This restful elixir is designed to promote better rest by staving away tension, inflammation, and overall restlessness. Each bottle contains 1500 mg of broad-spectrum CBD oil and terpenes (the smell-good compounds that make plants smell) that encourage the body to relax and rest. In turn, joints can loosen, muscles can melt, and bones can rest their weary, well, bones.
Really feeling the pain? Check out this extra-strength formulation from DTC-brand Feals. It’s ultra-concentrated, made with full-spectrum hemp and MCT oil grown entirely in the States. If you like it, you can subscribe to Feals subscription service which will deliver your tincture straight to your door when you run out. They offer tincture “flights” too, so if you’re not sure what strength you need, you can experiment and find relief faster.
Unlike the other oils on this list, Charlotte’s Web’s product isn’t ingestible. The oil is actually a topical that can be rubbed onto your achiest parts of your body for almost-instant relief. The CBD hemp oil is blended with camphor and menthol too, which give melt away aches and pains in a flash.
Penguin CBD oil is another great option for all-over relief. Made with Oregon grown hemp and broad-spectrum batches, Penguin CBD oil comes in five different strengths, ranging from 200mg to 5000mg. Like Feals, you can subscribe and have your dreamy oil delivered at a regular cadence. Best part is, Penguin oils come in delicious flavors, like cookies and cream, citrus, mint, and strawberry. Yum.
A W+G editor favorite, the Lord Jones Royal Oil is perfect for pain, relaxation, and overall stress relief. There are just two ingredients: hemp-derived CBD and grapeseed oil, which means you get a dose of goodness with every drop. If 500mg might be too strong, experiment with a lower dose. Or, go with the Full-Spectrum Tincture ($70) for those extra THC benefits.
Another topical option is this full-spectrum balm by Papa & Barkley, which Wasfie recommends for targeted pain relief. “The balm stays on the skin’s surface without entering the bloodstream and does a great job at treating local muscle pain,” she says.
What to look for in CBD
These days, it feels like there are millions of CBD products available for consumers—that's because there are. In an overly crowded market, knowing what A) ingredients to look for and B) brands are legitimate is of the essence. Here to help is Maia Reed, senior director of education at CBD brand Equilibria, who explains the first thing to wrap your head around when shopping for a CBD oil for pain is bioavailability. This complicated term isn't actually so complicated—it just refers to the amount of CBD that will be absorbed into your body.
"Bioavailability is a key concept when it comes to CBD dosing, as it essentially determines how effective or potent a CBD dose will ultimately be," Reed explains. "This differs between products depending on the way CBD is absorbed through the body. Oils or tinctures are absorbed sublingually, mostly bypassing the digestive system, allowing for increased bioavailability. Anything that goes through the digestive system, such as edibles or soft gels, will lose some bioavailability to the digestive enzymes, but will also last in the system for longer."
Gum drops, balms, oil droppers, serums—since there are so many different ways to take CBD, Reed says exploring and figuring out what works best for you might take some time. Here are some general rules of thumb to keep in mind about each medium:
- CBD oils: "Most oils have a carrier oil of MCT oil, grape deed oil, or some other fatty oil," Reed says. "CBD is fat soluble, so the fattier the better!" Fattiness aside, remember that oils aren't supposed to be dropped down your gullet. You need to droplet them underneath your tongue, allowing the oil to fully absorb into the sublingual glands for at least a minute. Reed says the less you swallow, the better. Then, you can expect results to kick-in fast and last around 4-6 hours, but don't be afraid to microdose throughout the day.
- Edibles and Softgels: Reed says that anything that goes through the digestive system will lose some bioavailability. Since they're absorbed through the digestive system, they can take 1-3 hours to kick in, but can last 6-8 hours. "Softgels are the easiest way to ensure consistency in dosing—it’s the same dose every time," says Reed. "Gummies can be delicious, but the dosing can be inconsistent. Keep an eye out for excess ingredients added, too."
- Topicals: And finally, there are topicals, which are applied directly to the skin for targeted relief. Whether your neck is sore from a day hunched over the laptop, or you're on your period and the heating pad isn't cutting it, topicals are great for localized pain relief. "Look for something with a high content of CBD and minimal bees wax so it fully absorbs into the skin, instead of just sitting on top of it."
There's so much jargon on my bottle's label—how do I know what's legit?
Like we said before—not all CBD products are created equal. Some claim to be CBD and aren't actually at all (note: hemp seed oil is not the same as CBD). Layer on jargon like "broad-spectrum" and "isolate," and finding your perfect CBD fit can become confusing (as well as a challenge). Here are Reed's words of advice for teasing out a tincture that works for you.
First is the broad-spectrum versus full-spectrum argument, something you'll find on a lot of labels these days. Reed explains that an isolate CBD product contains only CBD. "While that may seem like a good thing, when it comes to effectiveness, CBD works best as part of a team. While broad-spectrum products do include some of CBD’s teammates, they are missing one key component, and that component is THC." Usually this amount of THC is at a very low dose (for example, Equilibria's full-spectrum products contain 0.3 percent THC). Together, these all work together to create the "entourage effect," which are more effective than just CBD isolates.
And of course, you need to know where your CBD is coming from. If your bottle says "mixed" or "unknown sourcing," it's best to stay away. "Many companies source their product from multiple farms and slap their label on it which means it’s unlikely you’re actually getting the same product every time," Reed says. "Equilibria’s CBD is single-sourced and fully traceable from soil to bottle, so you know you’re getting a consistent dose."
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