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CBD is where it’s at. It has tons of potential health benefits, including workout recovery and pain relief. But sadly, not all CBD products are 10/10.

To help you sift out the too-legit-to-quit from the hype, we vetted the best CBD salves for 2022 with #FitFam in mind.

Cannabidiol (aka CBD) is one of the many cannabinoids, or compounds, found in hemp and cannabis plants. Tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC) is also one of those compounds.

But even though both compounds come from the same place, CBD by definition will never contain more than 0.3 percent THC — and some CBDs have THC removed altogether — so CBD doesn’t make you feel high.

Here are the three main types of CBD out there:

  • Full-spectrum CBD has allll the compounds (cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes) naturally found in the cannabis plant, including THC. Research suggests that keeping all these bad boys together makes them all stronger. This is known as the “entourage effect.”
  • Broad-spectrum CBD contains all the same compounds as full-spectrum CBD, but the THC is completely extracted. Byeeee.
  • CBD isolate is exactly what it sounds like: isolated CBD. That means it has no additional cannabinoids, flavonoids, or terpenes. Zero. Zilch.

Research on CBD is still pretty new and ongoing — especially when it comes to athletes — but here’s what the latest research says:

  • A 2020 review of studies found that CBD has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and analgesic effects in animal models. It also found that CBD might protect against inflammatory gastrointestinal damage and help heal skeletal injuries.
  • Other 2020 research says that CBD can help manage pain, inflammation, and swelling associated with injury. It can also be helpful in managing anxiety, fear memory process, and sleep problems.

Exciting! BUT the most important takeaway is that basically, all research on CBD use in athletes recommends further research to confirm these findings. So it might be some time before we know for sure how CBD can help athletes specifically.

Other ingredients

CBD topicals always include ingredients other than CBD — like coconut oil, beeswax, or jojoba oil — to give it a balm/salve/lotion-like consistency.

Some topicals also include extra ingredients — like menthol, capsaicin, or arnica — that give ’em a pain-relieving boost. Many of these ingredients are evidence-backed and can bring athletes that sweet, sweet relief they’re looking for.

Not sure if using CBD topicals is the right move? Here are some pros and cons:

Pros

  • Research on how CBD can help relieve pain and inflammation is promising.
  • It’s easy to apply and use.
  • Many topicals contain additional pain-relieving and hydrating ingredients.
  • There’s a low risk of side effects.

Cons

  • Research on how CBD can help athletes specifically is lacking.
  • It’s not covered by insurance.
  • It can get pricey.
  • It doesn’t work for everyone.

This list is all about safety, quality, and legitimacy. We put every CBD product through a super thorough vetting process that makes sure each product:

  • contains 0.3 percent THC or less
  • is made with U.S.-grown hemp
  • has been third-party tested by an ISO 17025-compliant lab
  • is free of heavy metals and pesticides, according to the certificate of analysis (COA)

We also check out:

  • any special manufacturing processes or impressive certifications a company has
  • product potency
  • quality ingredients
  • brand reputation, with our primary indicators of trust being stellar customer reviews, a lack of FDA warning letters, and zero health claims like “this product can cure you!”

Pricing guide

This price guide will help you figure out the best salve for your body and budget.

  • $ = under $30
  • $$ = $31–50
  • $$$ = over $50

Best cooling CBD cream for athletes

CBDfx CBD Cream for Muscle & Joint: Cooling

  • Price: $$$
  • CBD type: broad-spectrum
  • Size: 1.7 ounces (oz.)
  • Potency: 1,000 milligrams (mg)
  • COA: available online

This powerful broad-spectrum formula has a killer cooling effect. We also love that 100 percent of the hemp is organically grown and of high quality. In addition to CBD, it has a few *extra* anti-inflammatory ingredients to kick it up a notch:

Reviewers are all about the cooling relief for muscle aches. Athletes and people with arthritis praise the quick pain relief and say it works better than IcyHot.

Bonus: It’s solvent-free and totes vegan.

Pros

  • contains extra pain-relieving ingredients that might benefit athletes
  • amaaaazing reviews
  • high potency
  • vegan

Cons

  • kinda pricey

Best full-spectrum CBD salve for athletes

Plant People Soothe+

  • Price: $$
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • Size: 2 oz.
  • Potency: 515 mg
  • COA: available online

This soothing all-purpose salve is formulated with full-spectrum CBD, along with some other fab ingredients:

  • Arnica. A natural pain reliever that has been shown to help reduce pain after eccentric exercise
  • Camphor and peppermint. Two more natural pain relievers known for relieving inflammation (Psst: Menthol comes from peppermint and other mint plants, so this will have a cooling feel)

It’s fab for achy muscles, knees, elbows, and hands. It also contains coconut oil, beeswax, and shea butter, so it’s hella hydrating for your skin. Reviewers love the gentle feel of the balm and say you need only a pea-size amount to feel the results.

Pros

  • contains extra pain-relieving ingredients that might benefit athletes
  • hydrating
  • good reviews
  • can save money by subscribing

Cons

  • might stain clothes

Best CBD stick for athletes

Go Green Hemp CBD Relief Stick Broad-Spectrum Unscented (1,000 mg)

  • Price: $$$
  • CBD type: broad-spectrum
  • Size: 2.2 oz.
  • Potency: 1,000 mg
  • COA: available online

This spirited stick has just three ingredients: beeswax, MCT oil (coconut oil), and organic broad-spectrum CBD extract. But the best part? The stick is mess-free and helps you target those tricky problem areas. It’s also hella portable — stick this guy in your purse or bag and apply it quickly on the go without having to wash up afterward.

Keep in mind that there aren’t any supplemental pain relief ingredients in this one — you’re totally relying on CBD’s pain-relieving potential.

Pros

  • stick formula is easy to use on the go
  • high potency
  • good reviews

Cons

  • doesn’t contain extra pain-relieving ingredients

Best CBD cream for athletes

Fab CBD Topical CBD Cream

  • Price: $$
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • Size: 2 oz.
  • Potency: 600 mg
  • COA: available online

The full-spectrum hemp extract comes from Colorado-grown organic hemp. And if you like citrus, you’re in luck — the blood orange essential oil gives this cream a zesty scent that reviewers go wild for.

It also contains super soothing aloe and chamomile (which is also used to treat pain and inflammation), along with hydrating ingredients like olive oil, cocoa butter, and coconut oil. And because this is a cream, it’s supposed to rub all the way in without leaving a greasy feel — which reviewers confirm is really impressive for a CBD product.

This cream has a 12-month shelf life and is best kept at room temp. And FYI, because it contains chamomile, anyone with an allergy or sensitivity to plants in the Asteraceae (aka Compositae) family should be careful about using it.

Pros

  • contains extra pain-relieving ingredients that might benefit athletes
  • smells great
  • amazing reviews
  • can save money with a subscription

Cons

  • some reviewers wish it had a higher potency

Best CBD lotion for athletes

Calm by Wellness Lavender Lotion

  • Price: $$
  • CBD type: broad-spectrum
  • Size: 4 oz.
  • Potency: 200 mg
  • COA: available online

Calm combines broad-spectrum CBD with pain-relieving white willow bark extract, organic coconut oil, aloe leaf juice, and lavender extract. So (obvi) it smells AMAZING. It also contains glycerin, which is an all-star moisturizer commonly used in lotions — so this one def has a different feel than the typical CBD salve.

But the reason we’re all here: It’s also a legit pain reliever. Just rub a dime-size amount into the painful area and let it do its thing.

Reviewers love the relaxing scent and how well it rubs in. They say it helps with pain and works wonders on dry skin.

Pros

  • hella hydrating
  • smells amazing
  • big bottle
  • can save money with a subscription

Cons

  • doesn’t contain extra pain-relieving ingredients
  • low potency

Best CBD balm for athletes

Lazarus Naturals Soothing Mint Full Spectrum CBD Balm

  • Price: $
  • CBD type: full-spectrum
  • Size: 0.7 oz.
  • Total CBD: 1,000 mg
  • COA: available online

This luscious blend of beeswax and mango butter is infused with high quality CBD hemp extract and loaded with all kinds of fun stuff:

  • Jojoba and sunflower seed oils. For that classic hydrating balm feel.
  • Menthol and wintergreen leaf oil. An icy combo that has been shown to help relieve muscle pain.
  • Capsaicin. This comes from red pepper and has spicy pain-relieving properties (but heads up — some people really don’t like the hot feeling of capsaicin and it can cause minor burns if you’re not careful). Make sure to start small when this ingredient is involved!

The brand says the mix of capsaicin and menthol makes for a unique cooling/warming sensation. Reviewers say it really does help with chronic joint pain and muscle aches too. Just keep in mind that it may take up to 2 hours to get the full effect.

Pros

  • contains extra pain-relieving ingredients that might benefit athletes
  • feels like IcyHot
  • hydrating
  • affordable
  • high potency

Cons

  • tiny jar (but also available in a bigger size)

Best high potency CBD cream for athletes

Level Select Sports CBD Cream Level 3

  • Price: $$$
  • CBD type: broad-spectrum
  • Size: 3 oz.
  • Total CBD: 1,800 mg
  • COA: available online

If you want to take things up a notch, this higher potency option from Level Select might do the trick. It contains 1,800 mg of broad-spectrum CBD, which is the highest potency on our list.

It contains arnica, chamomile, and menthol for triple pain-fighting power and a cooling feel. It also has hydrating ingredients like glycerin and vitamin E.

Reviewers are v pleased with the results they’re seeing from using this cream. They say it helps relieve tight muscles and soreness like a charm and works quickly. Most complaints center around the price. :/

Pros

  • contains extra pain-relieving ingredients that might benefit athletes
  • hydrating
  • good reviews
  • high potency
  • big jar

Cons

  • pricey

There are a kajillion different CBD salves, creams, lotions, and balms on the market. This can make shopping a sticky situation. Here are some things to look out for to make sure you pick the best one for you.

CBD type

A little recap:

  • Full-spectrum CBD contains all the compounds naturally found in the cannabis plant, including THC.
  • Broad-spectrum CBD contains the same compounds as full-spectrum, but no THC.
  • CBD isolate is CBD only, baby!

While research suggests that leaving all the cannabis compounds together (aka full-spectrum CBD) could strengthen CBD’s therapeutic effects, there isn’t enough research on athletes to say whether one type of CBD is more beneficial than another. It’s really up to you to decide what you’re comfortable trying.

A note on drug testing

Full-spectrum CBD products contain trace amounts of THC, so there’s potential to get a positive drug test result from using them (though the likelihood is pretty small — especially if you’re only using topicals).

If you know you’ll be taking a drug test, you might want to go for broad-spectrum or isolate products, which have no THC. And always, always, always check the brand’s COA to confirm that no THC was detected during testing.

Type of salve or lotion

Should you go for a salve, balm, cream, or lotion? Is there a difference? Yup!

  • Salves. These are typically solid and made with ingredients like beeswax.
  • Balms. Usually made with similar ingredients to salves but with a higher ratio of beeswax — so they’re even more solid than salves (think: lip balm that’s hard enough to keep its shape).
  • Creams and lotions. These usually have a thinner consistency — though it ranges — and should rub all the way into your skin without leaving a greasy feeling.

Which one you choose is really up to your personal preference. If you want something that rubs all the way in, you should probably go for a cream or lotion. If you want something that feels like it’s leaving a protective barrier on your skin, salves and balms are a better choice.

Other ingredients

A lot of products have other ingredients that can add to their benefits. Here are a few popular ones we discussed when going through our picks:

  • Menthol and other mint oils (peppermint and wintergreen). ICE, ICE, BABY! These give you that icy feeling a lot of people love, and they’re proven pain relievers.
  • Capsaicin. SPICY! Coming from red peppers, it creates a warming feeling that can also help relieve pain. Heads up though: Some people really don’t like the intense hot feeling of capsaicin (it can cause minor burns on the skin). Make sure to start with a small amount in a small area before applying it all over.
  • Arnica. This natural ingredient is known for helping relieve pain.
  • Jojoba, coconut, and olive oils. These happy hydrators often serve as carrier oils for CBD and other essential oils.

If you love that icy feel, look for salves with menthol or other mint oils. But if you hate that feeling, stick to menthol-free products — or even opt for simpler products with fewer ingredients.

Concentration

This is how many milligrams of CBD a product has. There isn’t currently an evidence-based rule to help you decide how much CBD can relieve pain, so it might take some trial and error until you find your sweet spot.

If you’re new to CBD, we recommend starting low and working your way up if you tolerate it without any issues.

Third-party testing and transparency

CBD is a kinda new thing. To make sure you’re getting a quality cream, stick to brands that have been third-party tested and are willing to post the results on their sites (or send them to you if you reach out via email).

If you’re in the mood to be super thorough, you can also make sure that the COA isn’t expired, that the brand also tests for contaminants like pesticides and heavy metals, and that the product’s potency matches (for the most part) what the brand claims.

When it comes to the gels, lotions, and creams on this list, the application is super simple. Just apply the recommended dose to the spot that ails ya.

You can also try other forms of CBD like:

  • oils or tinctures: swallow a few drops or add them to your fave drink (or mix them into lotion to use topically)
  • capsules and pills: pre-dosed, mess-free, easy to take
  • gummies: pre-dosed, mess-free, easy to take, tastes good

Dosage

There’s no specific recommended dosage for CBD. It really comes down to what’s best for you.

A 2011 review found that even high doses of oral CBD (we’re talkin’ 1,500 mg) are safe even when taken daily. But still, it’s prob a good plan to start slow and work your way up.

Pro tip: Some of the salves on our list have a high-ish CBD concentration. Try half of the recommended amount and see how it feels before you slather it on. A little can go a long way!

Since salves are topical, it takes quite the journey for CBD to absorb through your skin and make it to your bloodstream. But side effects are still possible — here are some to watch out for:

  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • drowsiness
  • appetite changes

Also, since you’re putting these on your skin, make sure you do a patch test before applying a new product all over your body. If you have a negative reaction, send that sh*t right back to where it came from.

Not interested in using CBD? No worries. Here are some other options to consider:

  • Non-CBD topicals. Products like IcyHot contain those pain-relieving ingredients we mentioned earlier — but not CBD. These kinds of products are usually cheaper and easier to find than CBD topicals.
  • Ice and heat. Rather than using ingredients that create cooling and warming sensations, you can go the old-fashioned route and apply ice and heat to areas that are hurting. Ice or ice baths might be helpful for muscle soreness or injuries. Heat can be helpful for muscle soreness and tightness.
  • Physical therapy. If you’re injured or have nagging pain, it might make sense to get in touch with a physical therapist (PT) for a full eval. A PT can create a plan for you to improve flexibility and strengthen any weak muscles that might be contributing to your pain.
  • Sports massage. Recent research found that sports massage can help improve flexibility and ease muscle soreness. Sign us up!
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs. Some OTC meds like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to reduce pain and inflammation from injuries. Just keep in mind that some research found that NSAIDs might interfere with strength gains, so they might not be a great option for some athletes.

Is CBD cream good for athletes?

CBD is still a baby in the world of science — especially when it comes to athletes. But so far, CBD is showing promise for helping relieve different kinds of pain and reducing inflammation, which can be hugely beneficial for keeping athletes in tip-top shape.

Most CBD creams contain extra ingredients that can also benefit athletes — like menthol, capsaicin, and arnica. These give CBD creams a pain-relieving boost.

What is the most potent CBD salve?

The most potent CBD salve on our list is the Level Select Sports CBD Cream Level 3. It contains a whopping 1,800 mg of CBD.

Will CBD show up on a drug test?

CBD shouldn’t show up on a drug test. But because full-spectrum CBD products contain trace amounts of THC, there is potential to get a positive drug test result from using them (though the likelihood is pretty small).

If you know you’ll be taking a drug test, you might want to opt for broad-spectrum or isolate products, which have no THC. The only catch is that you should always check the brand’s COA to confirm that no THC was detected during testing.

Is CBD safe?

CBD is generally considered super safe. But still, you have to know what you’re working with. This can be tough since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only one CBD product. That’s right: ONE (it’s a medication that helps treat two rare forms of epilepsy).

Still, stick to stuff that comes from well-respected brands. And to ensure quality, make sure it’s been third-party tested.

What are the side effects of using CBD?

Since salves are topical, there’s a super low risk that CBD will get into your bloodstream. But you still might notice some harmless (but annoying) side effects like:

  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • drowsiness
  • appetite changes

Reminder: CBD can’t get you high.

Is CBD legal?

Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level but legal under some state laws.

Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level but still illegal under some state laws.

Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved and may be inaccurately labeled.

Now that you know your CBD ABCs, you can pick the best salve for your sporty spice pains and injuries. With these picks, there’s something for everyone. Just remember, CBD isn’t a cure-all. Talk with your doctor if you have a chronic injury.

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.