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What Are Cannabis Topicals and How Do They Work?

Cannabis topicals are a localized form of cannabinoid treatment, specifically designed for the treatment of pain, soreness and inflammation. Learn how they work in this article.

Once upon a time – only a few years ago – cannabis was something that belonged exclusively in a joint or rolled up in a paper to be smoked. But thanks to cannabis legalization, there are now many different ways to consume cannabis, some of which do not even result in intoxication. Cannabis topicals are one such way to experience cannabis. And in fact, the advent of products such as cannabis topicals has made cannabis accessible to more than just the everyday stoner.

Non-intoxicating ways to consume cannabis, such as topicals, has even given medical cannabis more validity in the medical and scientific world. Cannabis topicals offer virtually anybody the opportunity of localized healing treatment without the consequence of intoxication. That means cannabis topicals can be used by children, the elderly, and anybody who wants the remedial benefits of cannabis.

What are cannabis topicals and what symptoms do they treat?

A cannabis topical is essentially a formulated lotion that contains cannabinoids. It is made to be applied directly to the skin, providing localized relief for pain, inflammation and sometimes even as an antimicrobial agent. It is a non-intoxicating way of using cannabis, where cannabinoids are not consumed, but rather provide localized relief directly to the source of discomfort.

Typically, a cannabis lotion, cream or topical is used by someone who doesn’t necessarily fancy the cerebral effects of cannabis, but is interested in its remedial benefits. Some of the benefits of cannabis topicals include:

  • Relief from chronic localized pain (such as in the case of sore muscles, arthritis or back pain, for example)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Treatment of dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema or other skin conditions
  • Relief from cramping due to menstrual pain
  • Headaches or tension
  • A tingly kind of personal lubricant

Sometimes, cannabis topicals are even used to rub on wounds or sores. This is because cannabis contains cannabinoids and other compounds that are antibacterial.Although this is a less popular application of cannabis topicals, it can be used in this manner.

How are cannabis topicals made?

The entire concept of cannabis topicals is not a new one. In fact, before the days of prohibition, cannabis lotion was a staple on the shelf of just about every apothecary. And the same principles for their manufacture was the same back then as it is now.

In general, cannabis topicals are made by first creating a base. This usually contains a wax (such as beeswax), a softer butter (such as cacao butter) and oils (such as grapeseed oil or coconut oil). Once all are combined, a cannabis extract is added to the mixture. In some cases, raw cannabis flower is allowed to steep in the base while it is hot, in much the same way that cannabutter is produced. However, more modern mixtures contain cannabinoids in the form of concentrates such as full spectrum CBD oil.

In some circumstances, hemp seed oil is used in the preparation of a cannabis topical. However, hemp seed oil does not contain cannabinoids, and therefore may not have the same effect. More often than not, hemp topicals are made for cosmetic rather than therapeutic benefit.

Finally, certain companies will add other botanical oils or extracts to enhance the effects of their topical. For example, peppermint or menthol may be added to create a heating balm or a cooling balm. This can assist users in achieving the desired result by adding other herbs or botanicals that are synergistic with the effects of cannabis.

It’s worth mentioning that there are usually many options to choose from when shopping for a cannabis topical in a dispensary. Some of them are unfortunately made with synthetic materials that are simply not conducive to health or sustainability – two things that the cannabis industry is constantly striving for. It’s always worth looking at the list of ingredients before purchasing a cannabis topical and to be sure that it is in line with that you need from the product.

How do cannabis topicals work?

If a cannabis topical is prepared with marijuana or marijuana extracts, it contains the cannabinoids that are vital to localized treatment. The most common cannabinoids in a cannabis topical are THC and CBD. When these cannabinoids are ingested internally, they interact with cannabinoid receptors that are dotted all over the body, from the gut to the immune system to the brain. However, there are also cannabinoid receptors all over the skin. In fact, they are generously distributed on the skin.

When a cannabis topical is applied to the skin, THC and CBD (along with any other cannabinoids present in the sample) communicate directly with cannabinoid receptors on the skin. This is what leads to pain relief, a decrease in inflammation or a tingling sensation on a person’s nether regions.

While transdermal patches release cannabinoids that are absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin, cannabis topicals have no such effect. The cannabinoids do not leak into the bloodstream, but rather stay localized on the top few layers of skin. So those who choose to use cannabis topicals are not threatened by the cerebral effects of THC.

Interestingly, while THC is a mild anti-inflammatory, its precursor, THC-A is a much stronger anti-inflammatory, especially when applied topically. This acidic version of THC is the naturally occurring compound in the plant. It degrades into THC with heat in a process called decarboxylation. This is what happens when cannabis is smoked or heated. A topical treatment containing THC-A rather than THC may be a much more powerful anti-inflammatory product.

A medicine anybody can use

It has been revolutionary to the public opinion of cannabis that a friendly, non-intoxicating cannabis product should exist. It has opened up the demographic of cannabis users significantly, allowing elderly people and children to receive the benefits without the risks or the unwanted side effects (mainly intoxication). Plus, this has also given cannabis more validity in the medical world.

Cannabis topicals are remedial products that just about anybody can use. Cannabinoids pose no threat of allergy to the skin, especially if the topical itself is made with natural, organic baseline materials. At the bottom of it, cannabis topicals are a gentle way to receive the benefits of cannabinoids.