Do CBD Patches Ease Pain? 6 Patches That Might Help
These CBD patches for pain meet our experts' quality standards.
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CBD patches for pain
Ever thought about trying a CBD patch for pain? It’s tempting to try something as easy to apply as a Band-Aid for an aching back or muscle strain, instead of swallowing a pill or capsule. But do they work?
“In theory, these things should work,” says Martin A. Lee, the cofounder and director of Project CBD, a California-based nonprofit, and author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana–Medical, Recreational and Scientific. “The transdermal mode of administration is a proven mode of administering pharmaceuticals.”
Transdermal medications—like nicotine patches and scopolamine patches for fighting motion sickness—pass through the skin and into the bloodstream, so their effects are felt throughout your system, Lee explains. A company that makes a transdermal product “should have public data available, on its website or upon request, demonstrating how well one will absorb the contents of their product,” he adds. “There’s got to be some science behind the product.”
Right now, though, the science is pretty skimpy, says Greg Gerdeman, PhD, a cannabis neuroscientist and educator. “Very few product makers are actually doing the pharmacokinetic experiments” to see how the product is absorbed, and whether different formulations affect absorption, he says.
CBD patches are often marketed as a local treatment, like the pain patches you can buy at the drugstore, to be placed directly on the painful area. Others are sold as having systemic effects. Either way, what’s out there on the currently unregulated CBD market is a far cry from regulated transdermal or topical products available over-the-counter or by prescription.
“I would be a bit skeptical overall, and be very careful about this as a consumer. It’s a relatively new area for the CBD and cannabis world,” Lee says. “Some people feel it works. But how much is placebo, who knows.” (Here’s more about using CBD for pain.)
Before you slap on a CBD patch, it’s worth taking a moment to be sure you’re getting a product that really contains what the label says it does, and is free from potentially irritating additives or adhesives. We’ve saved you that step and found six CBD patches that meet our experts’ quality standards.
What to look for
Right now, there’s no government infrastructure in place to regulate CBD products. The 2018 Farm Bill allowed farmers to grow hemp, which includes Cannabis sativa plants containing less than 0.3 percent delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the substance that makes people “high.” Both hemp and marijuana are Cannabis sativa plants, but they contain differing types and amounts of compounds.
While this helped flood the market with CBD products, the new law didn’t legalize CBD, making for a tricky regulatory environment. (Learn more about CBD vs THC.)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that CBD can’t be marketed as a dietary supplement, because it’s already on the market as a drug. (Epidiolex is a highly purified, medical-grade form of CBD approved for treating children with certain genetic seizure disorders.)
While the FDA has issued warning letters to companies that market their products as supplements, or claim they can treat diseases, it’s up to the companies that make CBD products to ensure their quality.
According to physicians and scientists with expert knowledge of CBD, there are several criteria for choosing quality products.
When shopping for a topical CBD product, make sure it’s been tested by an independent laboratory for its content of CBD and other cannabinoids, and thoroughly screened for contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and mold. It should also be:
- Made with CBD oil extracted using supercritical carbon dioxide, a high-tech method that doesn’t leave toxic solvents behind, or with food-grade ethanol
- Made from U.S.-grown hemp
- Certified organic
- Produced in compliance with the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP)
- Tested by a third-party laboratory, with authentic, batch-specific certificates of analysis (CoAs) readily available as proof
While some CBD companies will link to a single certificate of analysis (CoA) for their products that might be a few months or even years old, we chose only products that make recent batch-specific CoAs readily available.
We also made sure that none of the companies we include have received FDA warning letters.
Types of CBD products
You should also decide which type of CBD product you want. They include:
- Full spectrum, meaning it contains all of the other components of the hemp plant, including small amounts of THC and plant compounds known as terpenes
- Broad spectrum, which contains all of these components plus CBD, but no THC
- CBD isolates, which contain CBD only
Regular use of a CBD product containing tiny amounts of THC won’t get you high, but it can put you at risk of failing a drug test for marijuana.
On the other hand, products that contain small amounts of THC could offer a little bit of the “entourage effect” advantage, Lee says. “You might call it ‘entourage lite,’ but it’s there.” Lee and many other CBD experts believe that compounds contained in the Cannabis sativa plant, like THC and terpenes, act synergistically with CBD to enhance its effects.
The best CBD patches for pain
Nature’s Script CBD Pain Patches
$25 for a package of two 50-mg patches
These patches can be worn for eight to 12 hours. The company links to a CoA from early 2020, which shows the product is completely free from contaminants and contains a bit more CBD (54 mg) than the label claims. The patches also contain 4 percent lidocaine, a numbing medication used in many non-CBD pain patches, with an acrylic adhesive.
Healist Relief Infused Patches
$40 for a package of four 10-mg patches
These patches contain arnica, an herb with anti-inflammatory powers, as well as menthol, organic turmeric oil, and organic ginger oil. They can be used for 24 hours, according to Healist. There’s a link to a CoA for the product on its website, with results from testing of the product and the hemp extract used to make it.
Upstate Elevator Supply Co. Muscle & Joint Essential Oil Patch
Made with USDA-certified-organic hemp grown in Vermont using sustainable methods, these patches can be worn for up to 24 hours. Along with CBD isolate, the patches contain arnica, organic olive oil, cayenne, ginger, lemongrass, and rosemary. A link to batch-specific lab test results for all the company’s products is available on its website.
Uncle Bud’s CBD Transdermal Patches
$20 for a package of two 20-mg patches
These patches are made with hydrogel. Along with “advanced nano-emulsifying technology,” hydrogel helps CBD penetrate the skin more efficiently and produces longer-lasting effects, according to the company. It also lets wearers reposition the patch easily. These patches are made with broad-spectrum hemp extract, vegan glycerol, and polyacrylate. You can look up batch-specific lab reports here.
Social CBD Infused Patch
$8 for a 20-mg patch, $10 for a 60-mg patch, $20 for a 100-mg patch
These patches are sweat- and water-resistant, so you can wear them in the shower or even swim while wearing them, the company says. They’re made with hemp extract and a polymer blend. They take 60 minutes to kick in and the effects last for 24 hours, according to the company. You can look up lab results using the QR code on the package or the product lot code.
Hemp Bombs CBD Pain Patches
$25 for a package of two 50-mg patches
These patches contain 4 percent lidocaine along with CBD extract. They can provide relief for eight to 12 hours, the company says. Hemp Bombs offers a 15 percent discount for seniors, active-duty military and vets, and first responders. You can look up lab test results by batch number here.
- Molecules: "Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment"
- Pharmaceuticals: "Topical Administration of Cannabidiol: Influence of Vehicle-Related Aspects on Skin Permeation Process"
- Martin A. Lee, co-founder and director of Project CBD, a California-based non-profit, and author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana–Medical, Recreational and Scientific
- Greg Gerdeman, PhD, a cannabis neuroscientist and educator
- FDA: "Warning Letters and Test Results for Cannabidiol-Related Products"