Cannabis-infused topicals can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt, and today you’ll find a wide variety of topical THC and CBD products formulated to serve a wide variety of purposes.
In this post we will explain what cannabis topicals are and how they work. We will also cover the differences between topical THC and CBD products and how they might be used. Let’s dig in!

What Are Cannabis Topicals? How Do They Work?

Cannabis topicals are cannabis-infused products that are applied to the skin for localized relief. Cannabis extracts can be added to any number of topical products, and today you’ll find everything from salves, lotions, and balms offering a variety of formulations targeted at specific concerns.

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are known for the effects they produce when inhaled or ingested, but they are equally able to produce effects in the skin. How? We can thank a system of receptors called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

cannabis topicals

Aside from impacting basic biological functions like sleep, appetite and mood, the ECS is also active in the skin where there are many receptors able to utilize cannabinoids when applied topically.

While research on the endocannabinoid system’s role in skin function is still in early days, investigators are uncovering several potential benefits for using cannabinoids topically, such as:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Pain relief
  • Antimicrobial effects
  • Anti-itch benefits
  • Oil gland regulation

Together these properties may offer relief for many different symptoms or conditions related to the skin, and initial research has looked at everything from the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, to the treatment of neuropathic pain and even how cannabinoids might impact more common skin conditions like acne.

Once applied, you should feel the effects of a cannabis topical within minutes, and effects typically last for about two hours.

Topical Versus Transdermal

You may come across another category of products when searching for cannabis topicals called transdermals. Transdermal products are, in fact, topical in that they are also applied to the skin. But there is one important difference between a topical and a transdermal product: Transdermal products are designed to penetrate all layers of the skin to eventually reach the bloodstream.

Most often sold as gels or patches, transdermal products offer deeper penetration of the targeted areas to which they are applied. Because they reach the bloodstream, they can offer system-wide benefits or effects as well. Transdermal patches, in particular, are designed to offer a steady and slow release of cannabinoids over a period of several hours, making them a great option for extended relief.

Like lotion and salve topicals, the effects of a transdermal gel or patch should be felt within a few minutes. The effects of gels last on average two to four hours, while transdermal patches can be designed to release their active ingredients for many hours. Be sure to check out the product label since this will vary from patch to patch.

While there are topical and transdermal products featuring a variety of different cannabinoids on the market, in most cases you will find the main active ingredients in cannabis topicals are THC, CBD or a combination of both. Let’s unpack them next.

cannabis topicals

Topical THC: Cannabis Salves, Lotions and More

One common question we get at Takoma Wellness Center is whether THC-infused topicals will make a person feel intoxicated, or whether using THC topicals might show up on a blood test.

Since topical products cannot penetrate the skin to reach the bloodstream, you should only feel localized effects to the application when using THC topicals. And, as research supports, using THC topicals alone shouldn’t show up in a blood test.

THC topicals are being investigated for the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases, neuropathic pain and even for the treatment of glaucoma. Many patients use THC-infused salves, lotions and balms to help them relieve muscle soreness, joint pain or other sources of pain and discomfort.

Keep in mind that transdermal products containing THC will penetrate through the skin to enter the bloodstream, which may produce feelings of intoxication and can show up on blood tests.

Topical CBD: How Do CBD Topicals Work?

Do CBD topicals like a lotion work any differently than topical THC? The answer is yes and no.

When applied topically CBD works, in essence, in much the same way as topical THC: by activating the cannabinoid receptors that are found in the skin. But CBD modulates different receptors than does THC, meaning that CBD may exert similar effects as THC but achieves these effects in different ways.

Like THC, CBD is being investigated for inflammatory skin conditions and for the treatment of different kinds of pain and discomfort, among other uses.

Some patients prefer the topical effects of CBD, or want to avoid THC altogether, making topical CBD a great option. But since THC and CBD work differently in the body to provide similar benefits, many products will feature a combination of both THC and CBD in order to take advantage of their synergistic effects.

When it comes to THC versus CBD topicals, there is no right or wrong answer. Ultimately it comes down to experimenting with different products and formulations to find what works best for your needs.

cannabis topicals

Cannabis Topicals: Final Thoughts

We hope this introduction to cannabis topicals has been helpful! If you have further questions about how these cannabis products work, or you’d like some help navigating the topical products we carry at Takoma Wellness Center, please come visit us today.

Our team is always here to help you make the best and most informed decisions you can when shopping for medical cannabis. Of course you can always browse our live online menu, too! Either way, we look forward to serving you.