Anyone who’s ever experienced neck pain knows how excruciating it can be — and how desperate it can make you. When I had neck pain last year, it meant that for months I would wake up, go through my day, and fall asleep with it. It was always there. I’d tried acupuncture, physical therapy, and massage. No luck. Over-the-counter pain relievers barely took the edge off.
As you can imagine, like so many people who turn to cannabis for pain relief — and there are a lot of us, with studies showing that 65 percent of medical cannabis patients use the plant to deal with chronic pain and 65 percent of recreational users do, too — I had reached the end of my rope. I was willing to try anything.
This openness turned out to have its pros and cons. It led me to topicals but also to a lot of tough decisions to make. The cannabis world is expanding by the minute; despite the backlash against legalization, Colorado alone has already sold $1 billion worth of cannabis products, and Barclays estimates the total U.S. market would be worth $28 billion if cannabis were federally legalized today. The end result is that, where you could find only a few products a year ago, you can now find dozens. How do you choose?
As the author of a book about CBD, I know one thing for sure: Not all cannabis products are created equal — and that rule applies to topicals as well. To help you narrow your options down, I’m rounding up the topicals that really worked for my neck pain.
I started my journey of trial and error with hemp-based CBD products. CBD has demonstrated an ability to relieve pain in specific circumstances, but when it comes to pain relief, THC is the cannabinoid that really shines. Knowing this, you won’t be too surprised to hear that most of the CBD-only lotions, creams, and gels I tried didn’t make a noticeable difference.
This Wildflower CBD+ Cook Stick was the exception. I used it after a hot shower or bath, as instructed, and it provided a nice numbing sensation. It contains 300 mg of CBD and additional ingredients like arnica, peppermint essential oils, and menthol crystals, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities of their own.
I’m not sure if it was the CBD, the additional ingredients, or the combination of the two that made it work, but if you live in a state with no medical or recreational cannabis laws, this might be one to try out. As a bonus, the application is completely mess-free.
I had (mostly) struck out with CBD-only topicals, so despite my sensitivity to THC — and with the reassurance from budtenders that they are non-intoxicating — I moved on to products that contain THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol, as it’s known in scientific circles, has demonstrated pain-relieving benefits that are hard to ignore. In fact, THC-based treatments have been studied for central and peripheral neuropathic pain, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer pain with a lot of success, as detailed in a 2008 research review published in the journal Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management.
When I used this pain cream, which has a 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC, I really noticed a difference. It smells like peppermint oil and is made by a company called Care by Design that has very high standards for sourcing, manufacturing, and quality and purity testing. If you’re interested in dipping your toes into topical cannabis products, this is a great place to start.
After my success with the 1:1 lotion, I was ready for the big leagues. I picked up this Papa & Barkley balm at a dispensary in California. It has a 1:3 ratio of CBD to THC plus organic eucalyptus, tea tree, and peppermint, and lavender essential oils. It smells intense, but it was also the most effective topical I’ve used. Almost immediately after I apply it I feel a warm tingling sensation in the area and then 10 minutes later, I notice I’m no longer in as much pain.
My positive results are no guarantee that this balm — or any of these topicals, for that matter — will work for you, but it’s nice to have some direction as you start your own trial and error journey.
The best thing about topicals? They allow even the very THC-sensitive among us to take advantage of its analgesic (i.e. pain relieving) properties. And seeing as how this is one of the main reasons people are interested in cannabis in the first place, I won’t be surprised to see the topicals market continue to expand at a rapid rate.