On the Topic of Topicals

Written by BlackbirdGo September 27, 2018
The Product

In a previous article, we talked about cannabis sublingual tinctures and cannabis suppositories. This week we’ll be discussing the external uses of cannabis: topical lotions, balms, creams, and soaking agents! Whether you want to take a cannabis-infused bubble bath or you’re just trying to medicate an arthritic knee, we’ve got the information on topicals you’ve been looking for.

What Are Cannabis Topicals?

The word “topical” is an umbrella term for anything that is applied externally to the skin on a specific part of the body. For example, sunscreen is a topical lotion, and so are most moisturizers. In the world of cannabis, “topicals” refers to any externally-applied substance that has been infused with cannabis concentrates. Your local dispensary may carry cannabis-infused topicals that include chapstick, moisturizing lotion, balm, salve, and even soaking agents to use in a bath.

Topicals are rapidly gaining popularity in the legal cannabis market - they’re typically difficult to find on the black market, but many people who don’t smoke cannabis and live in legal states use medicated topicals to help soothe short-term aches as well as chronic pain. Some companies are even marketing cannabis-infused hair products, though these may offer moisture more than relief since there’s no direct contact with the skin.

Cannabis topicals may be formulated to contain a broad spectrum of cannabinoids. Some topical agents are high in THC, others are high in CBD, and still others have a combination of these and other cannabinoids. However, even with a high THC content, most cannabis topicals will not cause intoxication. That’s because of the way your skin keeps external substances out - but that doesn’t mean topicals are useless.

What Are The Effects Of Using Cannabis Topicals?

Your skin contains a vast network of endocannabinoid receptors. The cannabinoids in topical cannabis products are specifically absorbed through CB2 endocannabinoid receptors, but with most topical products those cannabinoids are not capable of crossing into the bloodstream - which means you will not feel intoxication.

Because topicals don’t cause intoxication, this delivery method may not offer much to cannabis users seeking a euphoric “high,” but infused topicals remain profoundly helpful to many people who use cannabis for its other therapeutic effects.

Further clinical studies are required, but so far, the existing studies that have been published seem to suggest that cannabis topicals may offer localized pain and inflammation relief without causing intoxication.

Researchers have also been studying the potential of cannabis topicals to reduce pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Other studies have even examined whether the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis topicals could have applications in treating eczema. Studies suggest that orally administered CBD may help slow the progression of certain types of arthritis and protect the joints against further damage, so it makes sense why many patients have anecdotally found relief using cannabis topicals given the abundance of endocannabinoid receptors in the skin.

In addition to helping patients with debilitating conditions, cannabis topicals may also have practical applications for active individuals without chronic health problems - for example, by helping with recovering from sore muscles after an intense workout.

Because cannabis topicals provide relief from pain and inflammation without causing intoxication, they have even gained favor among non-cannabis-using populations, including some baby boomers and the elderly. This new consumer market has helped to further push away outdated notions about “stoners” being the only users of cannabis, which in turn has helped remove some of the social stigma surrounding cannabis use for people outside the cannabis community.

What Types Of Cannabis Topicals Can I Buy?

The legal cannabis market has helped push new research and development of cannabis products to better serve the growing demand for relief. New cannabis products are constantly hitting the market, but some of the most common types of cannabis topicals include:

  • Lotion
  • Salve
  • Balm
  • Oil
  • External body spray
  • Soaking agents (bath bomb, bath salts, etc)

How Are Cannabis Topicals Made?

Cannabis topicals can be made by blending together extracted cannabis concentrates with topical ingredients like beeswax or shea butter. Many topical recipes use canola oil, olive oil, or grapeseed oil that’s already been infused with cannabis - similar to the recipe you’d use to make cannabis butter at home.

You can make your own cannabis topicals at home, or purchase premade topicals from a local dispensary. Unlike homemade edibles, which may be difficult to properly dose and can lead to feeling uncomfortably intoxicated, there is no real risk of making your own cannabis topicals other than making them too weak since there is no intoxicating effect.

Pros And Cons Of Using Cannabis Topicals

As we’ve discussed, there are a number of potential benefits to using cannabis topicals, including:

  • Pain relief
  • Reduced inflammation
  • No intoxicating effects

There aren’t really any adverse risks associated with using cannabis topicals unless you have an allergic reaction. Most experts agree that cannabis topicals should not cause a positive drug test since there is no absorption through the bloodstream (and therefore no intoxication), but this has not been clinically proven. If you’re concerned about failing a drug test, contact the manufacturers of a specific product you’re interested in to inquire about any potential complications that product may cause.

Are There Any Topicals That Do Cause Intoxication?

Cannabis topicals are a great way for some patients to relieve the symptoms of pain and inflammation, but they’re not the only way to externally use cannabis outside of your body. Individuals seeking pain relief along with the psychotropic effects of cannabis (such as help falling asleep or relieving anxiety) may prefer other methods of external cannabis application, like transdermal patches.


Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.