The 10 Best CBD Oils for Pain Relief, Based on Expert Testing
Can CBD oil help with chronic pain?
CBD oil comes in either topical or ingestible forms and has been studied as an alternative to opioids in the area of pain management. Research indicates that CBD oil offers relief for some patients, but not all, who are experiencing certain types of chronic pain. A review of existing research on cannabinoids and pain, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, explains that CBD "is thought to have significant analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, and anxiolytic" effects, and that it "regulates the perception of pain" by affecting a large number of receptors in the brain.
A study of 29 patients with peripheral neuropathy (weakness, numbness, and pain from nerve damage) in their lower extremities found that topical CBD provided a "statistically significant reduction" in pain over a placebo. In contrast, a 2020 review of research on CBD's connection to pain, also published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, found that in "studies of generalized chronic pain, CBD treatment did not significantly reduce measures of pain." The authors did note, however, that "there was consistent improvement in patient-reported quality of life and quality of sleep." If this is an avenue you're interested in exploring, talk to your primary care physician before making any changes to your pain management regimen.
Top CBD oils for pain in 2021
- Best Overall: Spruce Extra Strength Lab Grade CBD Oil
- Best Organic: Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower USDA Organic CBD Oil
- Best for Joint Pain: Plant People Drops+ Relief CBD Oil
- Best for Inflammation: NuLeaf Naturals Full-Spectrum CBD Oil
- Best Flavors: Charlotte's Web Maximum Strength CBD Oil
- Best for Back Pain: CBDistillery Relief + Relax Full-Spectrum CBD Oil
- Best Pharmacist Formulated: Green Roads Full-Spectrum CBD Oil
- Best THC-Free: Medterra CBD Oil
- Strongest Tincture: cbdMD Broad-Spectrum CBD Oil
- Best Dosing Guide: Naternal Full-Spectrum CBD Oil
How we chose these products
This list of the best CBD oils for pain relief was compiled based on personal experiences with the products, customer reviews, and in-depth research into hemp sources, potency, price, and third-party lab testing. All of the oils we recommend are high-quality and meet strict purity and safety standards.
Our CBD oil recommendations
Best Overall: Spruce Extra Strength Lab Grade CBD Oil
Best Organic: Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower USDA Organic CBD Oil
Best for Joint Pain: Plant People Drops+ Relief CBD Oil
Best for Inflammation: NuLeaf Naturals Full-Spectrum CBD Oil
Best Flavors: Charlotte's Web Maximum Strength CBD Oil
Best for Back Pain: CBDistillery Relief + Relax Full-Spectrum CBD Oil
Best Pharmacist Formulated: Green Roads Full-Spectrum CBD Oil
Best THC-Free: Medterra CBD Oil
Strongest Tincture: cbdMD Broad-Spectrum CBD Oil
Best Dosing Guide: Naternal Full-Spectrum CBD Oil
Research on CBD and pain management
According to primary care physician Carrie Lam, MD, who specializes in functional and integrative medicine at the Lam Clinic in Tustin, California, a variety of studies have been performed on the benefits of cannabis for pain. "Some of the disorders cannabis can help with include arthritis, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, neuropathy—resulting from nerve damage—cancer, [and] emotional pain," she states. The benefits of cannabis, and CBD, for pain are believed to result from its anti-inflammatory properties.
"Some of the anti-inflammatory effects are the result of the interaction of cannabis components with CB2 receptors in the brain," explains Dr. Lam. "If activated, the receptors release fewer pro-inflammatory substances called cytokines—which means less inflammation."
While Dr. Lam notes that more research is needed to determine exactly which substances exhibit anti-inflammatory effects, she points to current research that suggests terpenoids in cannabis play a key role in decreasing inflammation. Terpenes, or terpenoids, are a category of chemical compounds commonly found in plants that are responsible for a plant's taste, scent, and pigment.
Meg Byrne, DC, chiropractor and certified acupuncturist with Acacia Natural Medicine in Scottsdale, Arizona—and the Spring Training chiropractor for the San Diego Padres—explains the central role that terpenes found in CBD oil may play in pain relief. "Terpenes, specifically, affect the CB1 and CB2 receptors and neurotransmitters of the brain," she notes. The most common therapeutic terpenes include myrcene, caryophyllene, terpineol, and linalool.
"When these terpene-rich oils are blended with CBD isolate, research supports the use of topical and ingested CBD for chronic pain," adds Byrne. "Patients are seeing a decrease in pain associated with osteoarthritis, muscle injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, and tendonitis."
Early evidence suggests that CBD could also be beneficial to patients with fibromyalgia. Data presented in 2020 from retrospective trials and patient surveys in the journal Best Practice & Research: Clinical Anaesthesiology showed alleviation of pain, improved sleep, and an abatement of symptoms in fibromyalgia patients who used cannabis and cannabidiol. However, the authors of the review note that there are only a few randomized trial studies on the topic and "current evidence is still limited."
More research needs to be conducted to confirm whether CBD alone can help reduce or manage pain. Most of the current research looks at treatments containing both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD, so it's unclear which compound is providing the most wellness benefits.
CBD is not meant to be a cure for pain or chronic pain conditions. Talk to a health care professional before trying a CBD product for pain and do not stop taking prescription medication unless directed by your doctor.
How to shop for CBD
Choosing a CBD oil for pain relief involves more than just picking a flavor or potency. Here are a few things to consider when shopping for a CBD product.
Types of CBD
CBD oil comes in three spectrums: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and pure CBD isolate.
- Full-spectrum CBD contains the pure, natural form of the hemp plant, including other cannabinoid compounds like terpenes as well as small amounts of THC (less than 0.3%).
- Broad-spectrum CBD also contains other cannabinoid compounds, but unlike full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD products are THC-free.
- Pure CBD isolate is 99.9% pure CBD with no THC.
Source of hemp and potency
The best CBD oils use hemp sources from the U.S. that were grown through organic farming practices. Unlike CBD oil manufactured overseas, the U.S. requires federal testing to ensure the hemp is pure, potent, and safe to use and consume. A product's potency is typically measured by milligrams of CBD per 1 milliliter serving. The oils featured in this article have higher potencies than the ones you might use for stress relief.
Third-party lab testing
The purity and potency of a CBD product can be checked through third-party lab testing. Look for the following labels on a brand's website:
Before purchasing a CBD oil, read the full ingredient list to check for compounds or carrier oils that could cause an allergic reaction. Choosing CBD products that use all-natural flavorings with zero additives may decrease the risk of side effects.
How to use CBD oil for pain
CBD oil can be taken as drops under the tongue or as a capsule, and it can also be applied directly to the skin in topical form. Sublingual drops typically take 30 minutes to start working while it may take up to two hours to feel the effects of capsules, gummies, and topicals.
The amount of CBD you should take depends on a number of different factors, including your height, weight, and whether or not you've used CBD oil before. Consult a doctor about proper doses if you're planning to use a product for pain management.
Common side effects from using CBD oil are dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and drowsiness, but these symptoms are often mild. However, it's important to note that certain seizure disorder medications, immunosuppressants, psychiatric medications, blood thinners, and sedatives may react poorly with CBD. This is why it's imperative that you speak to your doctor before trying CBD products.
Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health editor, and founder of LighttrackNutrition.com. She has been a registered dietitian with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2010 and has over a decade of experience in the nutrition and dietetics industry.