Of all of the wonderful products you can make from cannabis, topicals are perhaps the least appreciated. These aptly named products are applied to the top layer of skin and can help with a variety of everyday ailments. Salves and balms are historically some of the oldest forms of topical medicine.
While THC balms are only available for purchase in states with a legal cannabis industry (or by being whipped up in the kitchens of plant lovers everywhere) CBD salves can be shipped across state lines and into many countries.
The benefits of cannabis salves
A salve or balm is a traditional healing remedy, which humanity has been using for centuries. Merriam-Webster defines salve as:
- An unctuous adhesive substance for application to wounds or sores
- A remedial or soothing influence or agency
In other words, a salve is simply a topical ointment with therapeutic properties.
What can cannabis salves help with? These products are usually marketed as remedies for pain and soreness – and who doesn’t have aches? Salves work by activating the local endocannabinoid receptors in your skin. This results in numerous changes to skin physiology, some of which could be highly beneficial for some conditions. The potential of topical cannabis has led to both research and public adoption, and anecdotal reports claim the following uses:
- Relieving aches and pains caused by the aging process, including arthritis and joint pain 1
- Improving delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and inflammation from a hard workout
- Relieving the pain and discomfort of a pesky itch or dry skin 2
- Easing the sting caused by nerve pain 3
- Help to reduce the growth of plaques in psoriasis 4
In short, if it’s pain that would cause you to reach for a Tylenol or ibuprofen, a salve may be able to help.
Because topicals don’t cross the skin barrier very well, the cannabinoids generally don’t enter your bloodstream. This means that you won’t get high from cannabis topicals, and you also don’t have to worry about any drug interactions. Instead, topicals provide localized relief by activating the receptors in your skin where the product is applied. Many cannabis salves and balms are made with additional terpenes too, like linalool for a pleasant scent, limonene for better skin penetration, or menthol for a cooling sensation. 5
Who uses cannabis salves?
Cannabis salves are useful not just for their ability to ease pain, but also as an entryway into the world of weed. Topicals are easy to use, don’t smell like weed, and won’t get you high. This makes them an optimal starting point for anyone curious about the benefits of the plant, but wants to avoid the intoxicating effects of cannabis.
Salves also work for people of all ages, because everyone deals with aches and pains. A CBD salve on a twisted ankle helps a child feel better while Grandma can use a roll-on balm for her aching shoulders or arthritic feet. Even better, topical cannabinoids can be used safely in patients taking prescription medication without fear of drug interactions.
Make your own cannabis salve
If you’re a craft cannabis consumer, you can easily whip up a salve in your kitchen. Since salves have been used for centuries, it’s easy to find a cannabis salve recipe.
All you need is some cannabis, oil, and beeswax. You can also add terpenes or preferred aromatics to customize it to your specific needs and preferences.
What to look for in a cannabis salve
If you’d prefer to buy a salve, you’ve got options. But it’s important to know what you’re looking for. People have been making salves for so long, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
Cannabis salves should be simple, with a short list of easily recognizable ingredients. There will be hydrating ingredients, like beeswax and oils, aromatics, like terpenes or flower extracts, and, of course, hemp extract. You don’t need too much else.
7 of the best cannabis salves in 2023
- Woman, veteran-owned
- 300 mg CBD in 1 oz
- Roll-on stick? No
Ingredients: Grapeseed oil, yellow beeswax, CBD from hemp extract, organic coconut oil, peppermint oil, eucalyptus leaf oil, rosemary leaf oil, sweet basil oil, spearmint oil, lavender flower oil, ginger root oil, ravensara oil, cinnamon leaf oil, lemongrass oil, helichrysum oil, roman chamomile flower oil, aloe vera leaf juice, fragrance
Cannabinoids: 3,000 mg full spectrum CBD
Package size: 1.7 oz
Roll-on stick? No
With 3000 mg of CBD in 1.7 oz, this balm rings in as the strongest on the list – but we’d expect nothing less from fan-favorite CBD brand, Koi. The highly potent balm combined with hydrating coconut oil and aromatics from lavender and peppermint provides relief in a glass jar. If you love it, you can subscribe for monthly delivery and save 20% on each order.
- Price: $14
- Ingredients: jojoba oil, shea butter, candelilla wax, oil and scent blend (argan oil, cedarwood oil, citronella oil, basil oil, hemp oil, lemongrass oil, meadowfoam oil, peppermint oil, rosemary oil, tea tree oil), mango butter, menthol, myristyl myristate, vitamin e, shea olein, hemp extract cbd, and fragrance
- Cannabinoids: 500 mg full spectrum CBD
- Package size: 1.8 oz
- Roll-on stick? Yes
Anyone who’s experienced the irritation of a bug bite knows how hard it is to find relief from the annoying itch. But this balm stick from New York-based Tap Root Fields is here to make it easy to get over bug bites and get back outside. 500 mg of CBD is blended with skin-soothing jojoba oil and mango butter as well as essential oils including lemongrass, peppermint, tea tree, and rosemary. The twist stick application makes even the bites in the middle of your back easy to reach.
Ingredients: organic caprylic/capric triglyceride, organic cera alba (beeswax), organics cannabis sativa (hemp) extract, organic lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, organic eucalyptus globulus leaf oil
Cannabinoids: 500 mg CBD
Package size: 60 mL
Roll-on stick? No
Joy Organic’s salve is made from broad-spectrum CBD, which means there’s absolutely no THC. What it does have is a hydrating formula blended with aromatic lavender and eucalyptus oil, for a spa-like experience every time you open the jar. All orders over $50 get free shipping, and you can save an additional 20% if you sign up for subscription delivery, so you get a new jar every month.
Ingredients: sunflower seed oil, beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter, menthol, camphor oil, squalane, full spectrum hemp extract, peppermint oil, mango seed butter, jojoba seed oil, apricot kernel oil, jojoba esters, turmeric root oil, marigold flower extract, bisabolol, sea buckthorn fruit oil, tamanu oil, rice bran extract, sunflower extract, rosemary leaf extract, tocopherol, vitamin B-5, vanilla fruit extract, camellia seed oil, ginger root oil
Cannabinoids: 525 mg full spectrum CBD
Package size: 1.75 oz
Roll-on stick? Yes
Crafted with cooling menthol and warming turmeric and ginger, this balm stick from CBD brand Charlotte’s Web produces a familiar hot/cold sensation. Combine the terpenes with 525 mg of CBD, and you’ve got a go-to salve for all of your aches or pain. The roll-on stick applicator makes it perfect for getting to those hard-to-reach places to deliver relief whenever you need it.
Ingredients: cacao butter, beeswax coconut oil, cayenne pepper (capsaicin), ginger root, whole-plant hemp extract, usda organic certified essential oils (turmeric, ginger, peppermint, copaiba, juniper berry, all spice, camphor, helichrysum)
Cannabinoids: 300 mg wide spectrum* CBD
Package size: 1 oz
Roll-on stick? No
Ananda Farms Warming Muscle Rub brings the heat – literally. Made with cayenne pepper and ginger root, this balm quickly goes to work relieving aches and pains. You’ll know it’s working when you feel a slight tingling and warming sensation at the site of application. If a short ingredient list and heat weren’t enough, Ananda Farms is a woman, veteran-owned farm that donates a portion of all proceeds to Veteran’s Ananda, a charitable organization that aims to help veterans rehabilitate through hemp and dirt therapy. All past and current military members, as well as first responders, get 22% off orders.
*Ananda Farms prefers to use the term “wide spectrum” because their products feature a wide range of cannabinoids and terpenes, but do not contain all of them.
Ingredients: calendula-infused grapeseed oil, shea butter, beeswax, aromatic essential oil blends (peppermint, ginger, rosemary), mandarin fragrance oil, full spectrum hemp-derived infused avocado oil
Cannabinoids: 600 mg full spectrum CBD
Package size: 2 oz
Roll-on stick? No
Packed inside a 2oz container is 600mg of CBD healing. Texas-based Bee Kynd’s Soothing Relief Balm has a blend of oil, butter, and aromatics to create a luxurious application experience that leaves skin feeling hydrated while the full spectrum CBD oil quickly goes to work soothing aches and pains. A little goes a long way with this balm, and one container can last a long time. Bee Kynd is a Black woman-owned hemp company that makes a full line of enticing CBD skin products.
Ingredients: jojoba oil, almond oil, beeswax, full spectrum hemp, burdock, calendula, comfrey, eucalyptus, lavender, tangerine, and vitamin E oil
Cannabinoids: 500 mg full spectrum CBD
Package size: 2 oz
Roll-on stick? No
500 mg of healing CBD is packed into 2 oz of salve from Michigan-based hemp company, Blooming Botanicals. Made with a blend of oils, aromatics, and cannabinoids, this salve is made to work fast and smell good, and once you try it you’ll always keep it close at hand. Suffer from migraines? Try applying it to the back of your neck or temples for some immediate relief. Also, in an effort to offset climate change and carbon emissions, Blooming Botanicals plants a tree for every purchase made. They also support the Last Prisoner Project in pursuit of a more equitable cannabis industry.
Don’t overlook cannabis salves. These products are perfect for cannabis lovers and the skeptical alike. Their ease of use, wide range of applications, and pain-relieving benefits make their appeal transcend demographics and open the door for cannabis use for people who may not otherwise use the plant.
- Corroon, J. Felice, J. Topical CBD for Pain, A primer for clinicians. 7.7.21. natural medicine Journal. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/topical-cbd-pain
- Mounessa, J. S., Siegel, J. A., Dunnick, C. A., & Dellavalle, R. P. (2017). The role of cannabinoids in dermatology. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 77(1), 188–190. https://doi-org.libproxy.chapman.edu/10.1016/j.jaad.2017.02.056
- Sheriff, T., Lin, M. J., Dubin, D., & Khorasani, H. (2020). The potential role of cannabinoids in dermatology. The Journal of dermatological treatment, 31(8), 839–845. https://doi-org.libproxy.chapman.edu/10.1080/09546634.2019.1675854
- Chen, J., Jiang, Q. D., Chai, Y. P., Zhang, H., Peng, P., & Yang, X. X. (2016). Natural Terpenes as Penetration Enhancers for Transdermal Drug Delivery. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 21(12), 1709. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules21121709
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