What Are Cannabis Topicals and How Are They Used?

June 30, 2017


Cannabis topicals are lotions, balms and oils infused with cannabis and are used to provide localized symptom relief through skin absorption. They are also a non-psychoactive method of consumption, which is an attractive therapeutic benefit for both medical and recreational users.


When making topicals, the producers select ingredients that provide added relief (such as medicinal oils and herbs), and may also use strain-specific cannabis to ensure that certain terpenes and cannabinoids are contained within their chemical profiles.


Cannabis topicals are a safe and efficient way to deliver beneficial cannabinoids to the cells that need them most. Topicals generally do not produce the signature high that smoking or eating does, but there are time-release patches that specifically contain THC, which can produce some psychoactive effects.


Similar to conventional medicated products, there are many different types of topicals. They are developed with specific strains and cannabinoid ratios in order to be the most effective for their intended use. For example, a topical containing a high-CBD strain may be particularly useful for treating pain and inflammation. Furthermore, cannabinoids including THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN have all shown effectiveness in reducing symptoms of psoriasis.

New Ways of Consumption

Cannabis-infused topicals are an example of how modern methods of cannabis consumption – with improved safety, accessibility and efficacy – are changing the world’s perception of this remarkably beneficial plant. Growing numbers of people from all walks of life are improving the quality of their lives through use of cannabis-infused products that relieve pain and stress and don’t cause psychoactive side effects.


Cannabis topicals come in several different forms such as:








Some topicals do contain active THC, but it won’t cause the intense, euphoric feeling you get from eating or smoking it. Cannabinoids in the topical cannot enter the bloodstream, and can only bind to the network of CB1 and CB2 receptors that is present in the upper layers of the skin. If they cant enter the bloodstream, they can’t reach the brain, which is needed for a psychoactive response to really occur.


Furthermore, 2017 study in Forensic Science International showed that topical cannabis preparations were not enough to cause positive blood or urine tests! So if drug testing is a problem for you at work, using topicals is very unlikely to present any risk.


Note: you CAN apply cannabinoids including THC to the skin, and make them reach the bloodstream – but in that case, the product in question is NOT a topical but a transdermal treatment, such as a cannabis pain patch. “Trans” comes from the Latin meaning “across” – so just remember, transdermal treatments cross through the skin, while topicals stay on top.

How Does It Work?

Topicals infused with cannabis must work with the different layers within the skin. Some layers require drugs to be water-soluble, while others require lipid, or fat-soluble, drugs in order to be effective.


CB1 and CB2 receptors are abundantly located in many parts of the skin, including sweat glands, hair follicles and nerve fibers. These receptors are activated by the body’s own endocannabinoid compounds, or through cannabis compounds called phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD.


When a topical is applied, cannabinoids bind to the receptors in the skin, local nerves and muscle tissues resulting in relief from pain and inflammation in the affected area.

Which Symptoms Can You Treat with Cannabis-Infused Topicals?

Cannabis Topicals are most often chosen to treat localized symptoms such as:





Superficial Wounds and Cuts




Chapped lips, fever blisters, herpes

Cannabis- infused topicals also have antibacterial properties, which can aid in relieving bacterial skin infections like cellulitis, boils, folliculitis, impetigo and even MRSA. In 2008, researchers tested the five major cannabinoids found in cannabis – CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN and THC. All of the cannabinoids showed a high level of activity against several strains of MRSA (a bacterial infection that develops as a result of resistance to antibiotics).


Over-prescription of antibiotics is a primary factor behind the looming threat of antibiotic resistance, which is making it increasingly difficult for researchers to develop effective antibiotic medications. Some scientists believe cannabinoids will prove to be the antibiotics of the future.


Topicals infused with cannabis can even provide relief from burns. Burn injuries are extremely painful, and usually take weeks or even months to heal. Anecdotal reports of patients gaining relief from cannabis topicals are widespread. In addition, because they are known to aid in reducing pain and inflammation, topicals are proving to be useful tools during therapeutic massages.


Further research tells us that cannabis-infused topicals are proving to be effective in aiding treatment of these conditions too:




Cancer treatment - cannabis has been proven to slow the growth of cancer cells if not destroy them completely

Rheumatism and arthritis pain - inflamed and swollen joints are extremely painful and greatly reduce the quality of life for those who suffer with it. Applying a cannabis topical or transdermal patch to the affected area can often reduce the severity of pain the user experiences throughout the day.




Menstrual pain

Bronchitis, sore throat


Chronic inflammation of larynx

Sports injuries

Cannabis-infused topicals are becoming established as a very advantageous medication for a diverse range of ailments. Most dispensaries carry brands of topicals they can advise you about, or you can learn to make your own at home. Topicals containing cannabis have been proven to help patients suffering from many different disorders, and with remarkably few side-effects.



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