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Many people consider using CBD for pain management. Research suggests it may be helpful, but more long-term work needs to be done. Here, we review our favorite picks, vetted by experts.

CBD is one of several cannabinoids naturally present in the cannabis plant. A vast range of CBD products, including oils, tinctures, and balms, may help people experiencing physical pain.

This article discusses how CBD products may help relieve pain. It also provides a list of potentially effective CBD products that have undergone extensive third-party testing for safety.

Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.

Medical News Today has tested some of the products below. Reviewers may have received some products from the manufacturers for free, which does not influence their review. All opinions are the reviewers’ own.

Below, we compare the CBD products in this article for price, strength, and more.

StrengthKey ingredientsPrice
Joy Organics15 to 75 mg
broad-spectrum
• organic CBD
• olive oil
from $49.95
CBDfx1,000 mg to 3,000 mg
broad-spectrum
• CBD
• caffeine
• menthol
• white willow bark
from $79.99
PlusCBD100 mg
full-spectrum
• CBD
• almond oil
• beeswax
$35.99
Charlotte’s Web510 mg
full-spectrum
• CBD
• menthol
• arnica
$39.99
CBDMEDIC Sport Stick600 mg
broad-spectrum
• THC-free CBD
• menthol
• camphor
$29.99
CBDMEDIC Arthritis600 mg
broad-spectrum
• THC-free CBD
• menthol
$29.99

Medical News Today chooses CBD products for pain relief based on criteria we think are good indicators of safety, quality, and transparency.

As a part of our vetting process, we consider:

  • the product’s composition, ingredients, and overall quality
  • any third-party certifications
  • the company’s reputation and business practices
  • any lab test results
  • marketing claims

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

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A person can consider the following when buying a CBD product for pain management:

  • Strength: CBD products come in a range of strengths. People who have not used CBD products before should start with a low-strength product and build up until they get the needed effects to manage their pain.
  • THC content: Hemp products with less than 0.3% THC are legal on a federal level. A person should check the THC content before making a purchase.
  • Hemp source: People can consider CBD products from companies that responsibly source their hemp. Many companies use hemp that grows in the United States.
  • Form: CBD products can come in oils, ointments, creams, patches, or gels. People can consider how convenient their chosen product will be to apply, whether it suits different skin types, and how long the product will last.
  • Cost: Some CBD products can be expensive. People should consider how often they will need to use their CBD product to manage their pain and choose a product that will fit their budget and be effective.
  • COA: A person should consider products from companies that provide a COA, a document containing information about the product’s CBD potency, THC and other cannabinoids, and safety test results. A person can find COAs on a brand’s website or by contacting the brand directly.
  • Reputable supplier: People should look for high quality products from reputable manufacturers and retailers when shopping for CBD. These companies test every batch of their products via an independent third-party lab for purity, showing that the product does not contain harmful metals or toxins. Products that undergo third-party testing will have a COA.

Read our complete buyer’s guide to CBD.

CBD comes in several different forms, including:

CBD gummies and capsules are for oral ingestion. On the other hand, topical CBD products are for external use only. People can apply these products to specific body areas, such as sore muscles or aching joints.

CBD oils and tinctures are more versatile than other forms and usually come in tinted glass bottles with a dropper. People can either add a few drops of CBD oil to food or beverages or place them under their tongue, where they can hold the oil for up to 1 minute before swallowing. However, people may not feel the effects of CBD oil for one or more hours after using it.

Individuals should follow the directions and dosage information on the CBD product label.

Learn more about CBD dosages.

There is some evidence that CBD can benefit pain. Read on to learn how effective CBD can be for inflammation, chronic pain, and arthritis.

CBD for inflammation

A 2020 review states that CBD can have a positive effect on inflammatory pain. However, many of the studies in the review were animal studies, and their results may not translate to humans. A 2021 review found that CBD, as well as other cannabinoids, could have an anti-inflammatory effect, and stated that could point the way towards human clinical trials. CBD may also increase levels of AEA, an endogenous cannabinoid that reduces pain.

CBD for chronic pain

A 2022 systematic review stated that some studies found CBD may be effective and safe for use in treating chronic pain. However, these initial results are not concrete enough to make specific recommendations for usage. Study authors stated that CBD could be an effective alternative to opioids because it does not have psychoactive effects and it is not as likely to lead to dependence.

CBD for arthritis pain

A 2022 study found that CBD improved pain in 83% of participants with arthritis. In addition, 66% also believed CBD improved their sleep quality and ability to move. The authors noted that participants with osteoarthritis found the most benefit in their movement and pain reduction when compared to those with rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune arthritis.

Authors of a 2020 study also wrote that CBD exhibited anti-arthritis activity. They found that it targeted inflamed cells in the synovial fluid in the joints and improved rheumatoid arthritis.

Learn more about CBD for arthritis.

While more research, such as large-scale, high quality clinical trials, is still necessary, these preliminary studies suggest CBD may help manage pain. A 2021 study also notes that participants in the research have positive attitudes toward CBD treatment options and report positive outcomes when using the substance for pain-related conditions.

How does CBD work for pain?

There are compounds in the cannabis plant called endogenous and exogenous cannabinoids. Endogenous cannabinoids are naturally occurring lipids that the body produces. However, the body does not produce exogenous cannabinoids. Exogenous cannabinoids include CBD, THC, cannabichromene (CBC), and cannabigerol (CBG).

Cannabinoids, both endogenous and exogenous, bind to endocannabinoid receptors attached to cells. These include cannabinoid 1 and cannabinoid 2 receptors. This binding action stimulates different cell responses that influence pain signaling pathways.

As with any substance with claimed therapeutic effects, there can be advantages and drawbacks to taking CBD for pain.

Unlike more conventional prescription pain medications, research into the benefits of CBD for pain is still in its infancy. So, scientific evidence of safe and effective doses and long-term effects is limited.

However, some studies explore CBD’s more immediate safety and effectiveness.

For instance, one 2021 study recruited 2,841 people using cannabis for medical purposes to complete an online survey. The results showed that 67.2% of the people had replaced pain medication with cannabis. Others replaced medications for other types of illness with cannabis.

Among those who substituted cannabis, 65.8% found it much more effective than prescription medication. Additionally, 85.5% said they experienced much worse side effects from prescription drugs than from cannabis.

However, the researchers highlighted a need for more long-term research into using cannabis to treat medical conditions. It is also important to note that the people completing the survey were already using cannabis before the study started, which could have affected their responses.

Benefits and disadvantages

In light of the opioid crisis, reducing reliance on addictive opioids is one of the main potential benefits of prescribing cannabis to treat pain.

For instance, a study from 2021 found that cannabis reduced opioid use by an average of 78%. The researchers said cannabis could be a less harmful method of managing pain than opioids.

Other research also shows that CBD can provide pain relief with fewer adverse effects than opioids.

Additionally, research from 2023 suggests that CBD could also be a sustainable pain management option. Growing hemp plants uses fewer pesticides and water compared to growing cotton, according to the study.

However, disadvantages of using CBD for pain include potential interactions with other medications a person may be taking, such as arthritis medication.

Other disadvantages include the side effects of medical cannabis. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), these may include diarrhea, nausea, weakness, and dizziness. People may also experience hallucinations or have suicidal thoughts.

CBD resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on CBD.

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Side effects of CBD include:

More severe side effects include:

  • liver damage
  • fertility problems in males
  • potentially severe interactions with alcohol and certain medications

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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People always need to start at the lowest possible dose of CBD, then increase the dosage gradually until they reach their desired effect. However, they should not exceed their product’s recommended dosage.

Research is still to determine what CBD dose is most effective for pain management.

When buying CBD oil for pain, people should consider the type of CBD it contains and its potency. Full-spectrum oil may be stronger but can expose a person to THC. A stronger oil may have more noticeable effects but may not be suitable for beginners. People should also research brands to see if they recommend their CBD oils for pain.

The strength of CBD a person should use to manage pain depends on their individual condition and the severity of their pain. Ideally, a person should speak with a healthcare professional before taking any CBD for pain. 

They should start with the lowest dose possible and work up to a dose that has the desired effect in reducing their pain. However, a person should not exceed the maximum dose stated on the product label. 

CBD for pain management shows promise in preliminary clinical studies, and animal studies suggest CBD may help relieve pain. However, more research is necessary to evaluate these findings.

CBD is generally safe but can lead to side effects, such as tiredness and appetite changes. People should speak with a doctor before using CBD for pain management, as there may be more appropriate treatments for their particular condition.