4 Topicals, 2 Bad Knees, And One Steep Mountain
A comprehensive review of everything I tried while trying a survive a climb up Mt. Whitney.
The only thing more certain than death and taxes? Back pain. In the past, I’ve used many non-cannabis topical products to treat muscular soreness and pain in conjunction with physical therapy for various lower back and knee issues. Maybe y’all know this, but the human body is complex. Oftentimes, building strength causes me pain and soreness and Tiger Balm has always been my go-to topical treatment for this. As a child, my father drilled into me the idea that Tiger Balm was a cure-all. That’s why I can’t help but assume magic is happening when the warm, tingling sensations set in. But CBD has its own kind of magic and as the non-intoxicating compound has risen in popularity in recent years, I have started experimenting with CBD-infused ointments and balms. Some to great effect and others not so much.
This past summer, I embarked on a physical journey unlike any I have done before. I’ve always been an outdoorsy person who enjoys hiking and camping, but only recently have I upped my game and started backpacking. That’s right—I’m now the type of person who carries their home on their back and ventures deep into the woods. When a friend succeeded in snagging a coveted overnight permit to hike Mt. Whitney—the tallest peak in the continental US—I wanted in on the adventure. With our permit date set for September, I only had three months to physically and mentally prepare for the 22-mile trek up 6,000 feet of mountain. In an effort to come out of it in one piece, I tested four CBD topicals throughout my journey, the results of which you can read all about below.
Papa & Barkley: 1:3 THC:CBD Releaf Patch
TLDR: This patch is a great choice for isolated pain. It allows you to target a specific spot to great effect without worrying about getting weedy lotions on your athliesure wear. That said, if your aches cover wider areas, this patch probably isn’t the product for you.
All summer I’d been high-intensity interval training during the week and taking 10-14 mile hikes on the weekends. With a few weeks to go before the big trip, I hit a rough patch in training and couldn’t even keep up my diet. The reality of going from a couch potato to athlete had set in, and it was getting to me. My lower back was aching constantly and my motivation was low. I decided to try out some topicals for relief, and that’s where Papa & Barkley’s 1:3 THC:CBD Releaf Patch comes in. These patches resemble common over-the-counter Bengay patches, so I expected a similar experience. When I opened the package, a winter-fresh scent prepared my senses for tension relief. When I applied the patch over my lower back, I immediately noticed a mild tingly affect, which was likely due to the menthol mentioned in the ingredient list.
“Just as I’d think of removing the patch, another wave of relief would return.”
On the label, Papa & Barkley states the effects can last up to 12 hours, which is an impressive claim. Throughout the day, I felt waves of warm, soothing, and tingling sensations. At first these came in short spurts two times an hour, but as the day went on, relief came every hour or two. Just as I’d think of removing the patch, another wave of relief would return. Halfway through the dose, I did some light stretching that I learned in physical therapy for my lower back. I was pleasantly surprised my body had loosened up significantly. At the end of 12 hours, I removed the patch and my trigger point was less reactive.
Lord Jones: Body Lotion
TLDR: I regret to report this topical smells and feels like heavily scented hotel lotion to me. It doesn’t help that I didn’t feel any effects.
Several days after my experience with the patch, I was out of my funk and back in the gym. Regaining my momentum, I began to really push my body to use heavier weights in the home stretch before Whitney. My efforts were soon accompanied with a general soreness that comes with a good workout. I was excited to try Lord Jones’ lotion since it would allow me to apply to larger parts of my body, unlike Papa & Barkley’s spatially limited patch.
When I squirted some of the lotion onto my hand, I was disgusted by the scent, which reminded me of cheap hotel lotion. It was way more floral than I would’ve liked. Undeterred, I rubbed the lotion on the same spot on my lower back where the patch had been, but made more generous circles as I rubbed it in, spreading it further to the left and right. The application went on like your typical low-quality lotion and felt a little too silky for my liking. I felt a very mild warm feeling as soon as I put on the lotion, but that quickly subsided. Other than that brief suggestion of relief, I experienced no other distinct sensations after the first 30 minutes or so. In fact, the only thing I felt was the aching and pressure around my lower spine. An hour later, I retreated back to taking ibuprofen to reduce my discomfort.
Aponi: Balm 160
TLDR: So good I carried it to the top of Mt. Whitney. This balm works like a charm taking the edge off pain and muscle soreness. As my top pick, I can confidently say it’s well worth the steep price.
During the four days leading up to the Whitney hike, I began loading up on carbohydrates and slowing down on intense workouts. It was time to treat my body gently. A few nights before heading up to Lone Pine, California, I tried Aponi’s Balm 160 for the first time. It was late in the evening when my wife massaged the balm into my lower back. The texture of the balm was smooth, not too oily, and by far the most enjoyable topical to apply. Almost immediately I started to feel a tingle and a slow roll of relaxation down my spine. For over an hour, I felt as though I was still being massaged.
The afternoon we arrived in Lone Pine, I applied Balm 160 over most of my body, giving my knees some extra love. The group decided to do some jumping jacks and light yoga to keep loose. The warm, soothing feeling from the balm radiated throughout my muscles and allowed me to push into deeper stretches. Being more mindful of my muscles’ needs, I was also sure to drink plenty of water, which I’m sure helped as well. The next day, my body felt great even after the first seven-mile leg of our hike. As we got settled into camp, I took off my knee braces fully prepared for my knees to swell up. But to my surprise, I experienced only mild puffing below my kneecaps and barely noticeable aching when I walked around. Before going to bed, I applied Balm 160 over all my sore muscles and, of course, liberally around my knees. Then I locked the balm in a bear bin because no one wants to get their faces eaten off on account of some weed salve.
“I was shocked that while extremely tired, I felt no limping or stabbing pains in my knees.”
Then came summit day. We started our ascent at 2am, walking eight miles up and down 2,000 vertical feet before taking an hour to “relax” at summit. Although I was mentally struggling with the idea of hiking down the last seven miles, my body was feeling pumped thanks to the rush of summiting 14,508 feet, the lack of oxygen, and Balm 160. By the time everything was said and done, I was shocked that while extremely tired, I felt no limping or stabbing pains in my knees. The fact that I escaped with only a dull ache truly astounded me.
Leef Organics: Revive CBD Balm
TLDR: A satisfactory option for the price. While the texture was a little off, it still provided noticeable relief.
A few days after our summit and back to the realities of normal life at sea level, I decided to give Revive a try to soothe my still-recovering muscles. When I opened the jar, I was surprised that the texture of the balm was extremely hard. Since the entire container melted into an oily puddle while traveling through the California desert, I was expecting a smoother consistency. Compared to the other topicals I tried, it also had a strong, distinctly cannabis aroma.
Its thick texture made it difficult to rub into my calves. Chunks of the ointment stuck together and required a good amount of working into in order to effectively distribute it across my muscles. Once on, the topical did begin to provide some relief to my soreness and a warm, comforting feeling. While Revive may have provided a decent reprieve, it still didn’t compare to my experience with Balm 160.
Two months after scaling Mt. Whitney, I’ve continued to work out consistently. And as a part of that, I now incorporate Balm 160 into my self-healing regimen. The biggest change in the way I’ve used CBD-infused topicals is to use them consistently. Previously, I’d assumed applying the products a single time would magically cure all of my ailments. This is an unrealistic expectation for any treatment—CBD or not. My approach to evaluating topicals has also changed. I think the best topicals have to excel at their smell and texture in addition to the overall effectiveness, which is why Balm 160 and Papa & Barkley’s patch rose to the top of my list. Both of these products have comforting aromas, were easy to apply, and provided noticeable relief from pain and soreness. They really go the full 22 miles.