What Are Cannabis Topicals & How Do They Work?

August 28, 2023

If skincare is your thing, you’re going to want to stop what you’re doing and read this. Cannabis topicals are becoming more and more popular, and they come in a bunch of different forms, ensuring most cannabis enthusiasts can find a product that works for them. In this guide, we’ll demystify this unique form of cannabis and explain everything you need to know about topicals, how to use them, and what they may (or may not) help treat.

What Are Cannabis Topicals?

Cannabis topicals are products infused with cannabinoids that are applied to the skin. While there are THC- and CBD-specific topicals available, many topicals offer a full spectrum approach, meaning that they contain THC, CBD, and a variety of other cannabinoids and compounds.

If you talk to a cannabis enthusiast about marijuana topicals, chances are good that you’re going to get a whole variety of things that topicals can treat. The truth is that we’re still studying the effects of topicals, so you should focus on how topicals feel to you and whether they offer you any sort of therapeutic relief. 

How Do Cannabis Topicals Work?

Throughout your body, there is a system of receptors and endocannabinoids (the cannabinoids your body makes) called the endocannabinoid system. This system is responsible for your body’s ability to regulate when affected by different stressors, be it a hot day or hay fever season. Because there are also receptors in your skin, cannabis topicals can interact with those receptors to offer a more targeted approach to whatever relief you’re hoping to find. Cannabis enthusiasts will use topicals for a variety of reasons, including migraines and muscle cramps, but how your body reacts to a THC topical is entirely dependent on your body and your endocannabinoid system. 

What Are the Different Types of Cannabis Topicals?

If you can find it in your skincare aisle, you can likely find a cannabis topical version of it. The different types of cannabis topicals include:

  • Lotion
  • Oil
  • Balm
  • Salve
  • Bath salts
  • Bath bombs
  • Cream
  • Spray
  • Patches

If there’s a particular product that works best for you, we suggest looking for its cannabis cousin at your local dispensary. 

What Are the Benefits of Cannabis Topicals?

The benefits of cannabis topicals will always be personal to you and your endocannabinoid system. That said, there is research being conducted for a variety of conditions to better understand if marijuana topicals could provide therapeutic benefits. Those conditions include:

Psoriasis: This chronic condition can cause inflammation, plaques, scales, and ultimately, itchiness and pain. Because CBD binds to the CB2 receptor, studies are exploring how it may help with some of the inflammation caused by this condition. 

Acne: Millions of people around the world suffer from acne—but current treatments come with side effects. Researchers have found that CBD could have unique anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and anti-oil (lipostatic) properties that may help treat acne. 

Arthritis: This condition can cause inflammation and pain in countless people worldwide. Scientists have hypothesized that CBD may help with both issues when administered via transdermal patch. Studies on rat models have been promising. 

Eczema: A combination of severe dry skin and itchiness, eczema can be an all-consuming condition. In some studies, cannabinoids have been shown to help with some of the itching and even reduce some of the appearance of eczema. 

Anti-Inflammatory: A variety of conditions can cause inflammation on the skin and in the body. CBD has shown some antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in certain studies, and it is being explored further. 

While plenty of research is being done on these conditions and others, there is nothing definitive at this point that can prove the therapeutic value of cannabis topicals. 

Do Cannabis Topicals Have Psychoactive Effects?

For people who need to test clean of cannabinoids, they may be afraid to try topicals. The good news is that as long as you’re utilizing the topical on your limbs, neck, or torso, the cannabinoids cannot enter your bloodstream. As long as they can’t enter your bloodstream, they can’t have psychoactive effects.

The exception to this rule is cannabis lube. Due to the products contained in the lube, which are designed to help cannabinoids enter the bloodstream, it is possible to get cannabinoids in your system. That said, it’s unlikely you’d get enough THC through lube to feel any psychoactive effects. 

CBD vs THC Topicals: What’s the Difference?

The biggest difference between a CBD topical and a THC topical is typically the cannabinoid THC—CBD topicals may not have any THC in them, and THC topicals definitely have THC in them. THC topicals must be sold in a dispensary, but CBD topicals, as long as they have less than 0.3% THC, can be sold outside of a dispensary. 

Many people use and swear by CBD topicals for a variety of therapeutic reasons, but CBD and THC tend to work better together—especially if there is between 3% and 5% THC. This means that you’re better off purchasing a full-spectrum topical, which will have THC in it, from a dispensary to get the most value out of your topical. 

Just remember, anything you purchase outside of a dispensary is part of an unregulated market. It’s best to ensure you’re only purchasing from reputable sellers with adequate third-party testing. 

Answering FAQs About Cannabis Topicals

Cannabis topicals have become a part of many cannabis enthusiasts’ daily routines. Here are a few questions we regularly get from people just getting into topicals:

Can I make cannabis topicals at home?
Yes, you can make cannabis topicals at home. The only challenge is that it’s hard to ensure your dosing is correct, so be sure to do your research before making your own. 

Where can I buy cannabis topicals?
To purchase cannabis topicals with THC, you’ll need to visit your dispensary. There, you’ll likely be able to choose between sprays, lotions, oils, creams, salves, bath products, and more.

How long do cannabis topicals last?
Every cannabis topical is different, but in general, they will last between four and six hours. 

More About THC & CBD Topicals

If you’re interested in purchasing THC topicals, you can check the menu online and then visit your local dispensary. There, you should find a variety of topical options available. If there’s something specific you’re looking for, talk to your budtender. They can point you to a product that may be right for you.

Please consume responsibly. This product may cause impairment and may be habit forming. There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product.  State laws impact what dispensaries can and can’t sell to recreational customers and medical marijuana patients. Not every type of product, consumption method, dosage form, or potency mentioned on this blog will be permitted in all locations.

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