Topicals are cannabis-infused products that are applied directly to the skin. If an oil, balm, lotion, or salve is infused with cannabis oil, it’s called a topical. People using topicals are generally seeking to avoid the psychoactive effects associated with other cannabis products, as most topicals don’t reach the bloodstream in fast enough time to have any mental effect, but they do penetrate the CB1 and CB2 receptors. This provides the medicinal benefits without the euphoria from THC.
How do topicals work?
Topicals provide therapeutic/medicinal benefits by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system, specifically cell receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are involved in a wide range of biological functions in the body, including pain relief and the reduction of inflammation.
When you put a topical on your skin, the cannabinoid can bind directly to the CB1 receptors in your skin, muscle tissues, and nerves. That provides relief directly to the area. Slowly, some of the cannabinoids also make their way down into the bloodstream, where they interact with the CB2 receptors. Not all of the cannabinoids make it into the blood and those that reach the blood do so slowly.
Topicals can be CBD- or THCA-based, and these do not have any intoxicating side effects. THC-based topicals may cause some euphoric effects, but these are not as strong as the effects felt from smoking or ingesting the cannabis. It’s important to ask your budtender to be sure the topicals you are buying are CBD/THCA-based, as some of the THC-based products could produce some degree of a “high.”
What do people use topicals to treat?
Topicals can be used to treat any of the conditions listed on our qualifying conditions page, but people find the cannabis-infused salves, oils, and lotions to be especially effective for these conditions:
- Pain and inflammation — Studies show that cannabis is effective on chronic pain and inflammation, which is the hallmark of arthritis. Patients use topicals directly on their inflamed joints.
- Skin conditions — Research has shown cannabis topicals to be effective in treating various skin conditions: psoriasis, eczema, contact dermatitis, and severe itching. CBD has been shown to inhibit lipid production in skin cells, addressing the overproduction of oil in the sebaceous glands that causes acne.
- Headaches — Cannabis cream can be rubbed directly on the temples at the onset of a headache.
- Sex — Various lotions, oils, and other infused topicals can improve lubrication and other aspects of sex. Some of the THC-based products also add euphoric effects.