Do Topical CBD Products Work?

Topical CBD products can help address pain or inflammation that’s at a specific area of your body, such as on the joints. A topical CBD product isn’t designed to address the systemic problems, but it may help directly on the skin.

Reliable topical CBD products don’t just mask pain or inflammation as some over-the-counter topical pain relief creams do. They actually can make the pain go away for a certain time period. This is because of the high concentration of cannabinoid receptors on the skin. Cannabinoid receptors are part of the body’s endocannabinoid system, a body-wide system discovered in the 1990s that affects many important functions.

Cannabinoid receptors are present throughout the body and are associated with pain sensation, appetite, immune function, mood and more. The chemicals produced by the body that interact within the EC system are called cannabinoids, and like THC and CBD, they interact with cannabinoid receptors.

Research has found that CBD is able to turn down the production of inflammatory markers that are made in overabundance by people who have conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Another study published in the journal Pain in 2017 found that prophylactic treatment with CBD stopped the pain and hindered the development of more pain in rats with osteoarthritis. However, a group of international rheumatologists concluded in a 2019 report in Expert Reviews and Clinical Immunology that more research is needed into the long-term effects of CBD and other cannabis-related products for rheumatological conditions.

In a small study with 20 patients published in 2019 in Clinical Therapeutics, a CBD ointment used over three months for psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and scars significantly improved symptoms and signs of the skin disorders. As with any small study, larger studies could help confirm results.

The effect of CBD may also vary from person to person. Some find it helps, while others don’t. For instance, a February 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that cannabis products with higher THC levels were associated with greater symptom relief among more than 3,000 people, but CBD products (with no THC) were not.

Yet overall, more research needs to be done to find out how effective all CBD and cannabis-derived products are, according to conclusions from a large 2017 report done by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

How Are Topical CBD Products Used?

One of the biggest uses for topical CBD products is for musculoskeletal complaints. A 2019 report from the Arthritis Foundation found that 79% of the 2,600 arthritis patients surveyed had considered using CBD or had already used it. Twenty-nine percent said they currently used it for arthritis symptoms; among those using CBD, 55% used a topical product applied to the joints.

In addition to arthritis, topical CBD products are geared to help people with eczema and psoriasis, says Samantha Morrison, a cannabis researcher at Glacier Wellness, a CBD company in Cedarhurst, New York.


A Buyer’s Guide for Topical CBD Products

If you’re looking to give a CBD salve, cream, patch or other topical product a try, here are a few tips to make sure you get a reliable, quality product. The truth is that consumers have to be extremely vigilant when it comes to buying CBD products, especially since the industry is still largely unregulated.

  1. Be wary of outrageous claims. Just like makers of other health products not regulated by the FDA, CBD product makers are not allowed to say that their product will treat or cure a health problem. 
  2. Ask for a certificate of authenticity. One way to identify a reliable CBD product is by looking online or asking the company for its certificate of authenticity. This multipage document will tell you the product has been tested in a lab and will give a per-lot or per-batch breakdown of how much CBD the product contains as well as other ingredients. The report should be done by an independent, third-party lab.
  3. Know what you want to buy in advance. If you make an impulse purchase of a CBD cream or other topical product, you may not get what you hoped. In research done with a local law firm, Liogier-Weyback and colleagues found that a third of CBD products they bought in the Miami area did not have any CBD in them. “You have instances where people are spending $150 or $200 on a small vial of canola oil,” he says.
  4. Talk to your doctor in advance. It’s always a good idea to let your doctor know if you plan to try a CBD product, but it’s especially important if you have an underlying condition that requires you to take medicine daily. This is because CBD can affect other medications you use, although this is a bigger concern for ingested CBD rather than a product just used on the skin, Halpert says. In the survey from the Arthritis Foundation, 66% of respondents had talked to their doctor about CBD.
  5. Read the label carefully. First, you’ll want to make sure that you aren’t allergic to the other ingredients that are part of the topical product. (There are no reports in the medical literature of CBD allergy, Liogier-Weyback says). Second, there may be other ingredient considerations that are important to you, including cruelty- and paraben-free, American-made and no GMOs, Morrison says.
  6. Isolate or full-spectrum? Another label note: You can find out if the CBD contained in the product is what’s called an isolate or full spectrum. “This is important because isolates typically need to be administered in significantly higher doses to be effective,” Morrison says. “On the other hand, full-spectrum CBD is generally more beneficial and more effective at much lower doses.”
  7. How often? The label also can tell you how often to use the topical product,  topical products are used in four- to six-hour intervals.
  8. Watch for side effects (not necessarily from CBD). Topical CBD products are not associated with any particular side effects. However, you could experience irritation from another ingredient in the product.


CBD is not a medical treatment for any disease or disorder and can interact with several medications. Anyone with a chronic health condition or taking medication should consult with their healthcare provider before adding CBD oil or CBD vape oil to their diet.

Dr. Chin's Herbal shall not be held liable for the medical claims made by customer testimonials. The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products and the testimonials made have not been confirmed by FDA- approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require this notice.

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