A lotion or ointment that is applied directly to the body's surface. Topicals are utilized for fast-acting localized relief of inflammation and pain. Cannabis topicals are typically non-intoxicating, which allows patients to enjoy the plant's therapeutic effects without THC's attendant psychoactivity. This growing category of cannabis treatments has expanded to include transdermal solutions, as well as lubricants, often including essential oils such as clove and wintergreen for additional relief.
I use topicals on my sore knees after I run.
What are topicals?
Topicals are cannabis-infused products you apply directly to your skin to relieve an ailment. Cannabis used in topicals will allow cannabinoids to be absorbed into the bloodstream at a slower rate than smokable or edible cannabis, so the effects of topicals are typically felt only where they're used without the THC that causes intoxication.
They can include lotions, oils, patches, sprays, soaps, lubricants, bath salts, and cool or warm balms, and are often made with essential oils and other organic materials. You might find tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) in topicals, but whether they have an intoxicating effect depends on the cannabinoids used and where on your body they are applied.
How topicals work
What does topically mean when it comes to cannabis creams? Your body's natural endocannabinoid system (ECS) regulates your appetite, mood, and pain and pleasure receptors, among other functions. Cannabinoids THC and CBD, the active compounds in cannabis plants, are chemicals that activate that system. Your body also makes its own natural versions of these compounds, called endocannabinoids.
THC and endocannabinoids are also similar in that they both bind to cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors, and the molecules that bind to them, are responsible for a wide range of biological functions, such as anti-inflammation and pain relief.
Can you absorb THC through your skin?
When you use cannabis-infused topicals, THC can bind directly to CB1 receptors present in skin, muscle tissues, and nerves, and that brings relief to the affected area. It also makes its way into the bloodstream, where it interacts with CB2 receptors. Topical cannabis can get distributed to the rest of the body via the blood, but this happens so slowly that most people don't detect any mental effect.
What are the side effects of CBD or THC cream?
As a prospective topical consumer, you may wonder, do topicals get you high? Based on anecdotal reports, if the cream you're using is CBD- or THCA-based, there will be no intoxicating side effects. THC-based cannabis cream may cause the euphoric effects typically associated with THC, but the effects are typically mild.
Since there's usually little to no high, topicals can be a great choice for people who want the relief without the full intoxicating side effects.
Health benefits — What does THC and CBD cream do?
Pain and inflammation
Topicals can treat breakthrough pain, neuropathic pain, and chronic pain. In fact, some studies have shown cannabis to be better for treating chronic pain than opioids. And since arthritis pain is frequently caused by joint inflammation, treating the inflammation itself relieves pain. This is why CBD oil or infused topicals are often seen to reduce pain for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis (MS).
Researchers at the University of Colorado found that cannabis Topicals can effectively treat a variety of skin diseases including psoriasis, severe itching, and atopic and contact dermatitis.
If you have eczema, topicals can treat the itching and inflammation, and the antimicrobial characteristics of cannabinoids may even help manage Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which are a complication and a driving factor behind eczema. Be sure the product you choose is for the reduction of pain, inflammation, and skin irritation, not something developed for muscle and joint pain.
Acne sufferers, rejoice! CBD has been shown to inhibit lipid production in skin cells, thus effectively regulating how much oil your skin produces.
Topical cannabinoids have antioxidant properties that can protect against skin damage, and may also be the new frontier for those who want to look younger.
Dystonia, dyskinesias, and tics
Movement disorders are worse in patients who are anxious, so cannabis may be able to help. A 2015 study was somewhat inconclusive, but did show potential promise for cannabis topicals in the treatment of dyskinesias, tics, and possibly dystonia.
In 2016, research showed topically applied THC and CBD cannabinoids could provide effective pain and symptom management in the healing of malignant wounds. The antibacterial properties of cannabinoids may also help address antibiotic resistance.
Cannabis cream or lotion can be rubbed directly into your temples. There are even some preliminary studies showing that cannabis cream and other topicals could be effective for migraine relief.
From lube to suppositories, topicals can bring more pleasure and comfort to the bedroom (or wherever you get busy). It should be noted that these types of products are capable of causing euphoric effects if they are THC-based. This method of consumption can be compared to dosing with a sublingual tincture. The kinds of skin and mucosa we have in the oral cavity and on the genitals are very similar, both high in blood vessels that take up cannabinoids immediately.
What to expect when using topicals
The effects of some topicals can be felt right away, while others can take hours. And keep in mind that while most topicals will not get you high, some transdermal patches will, because they allow THC to enter the bloodstream. Similarly, while many cannabis creams won't cause you to fail a drug test, there are no guarantees, so proceed accordingly.