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Science
June 13, 2019

How Do Cannabis Topicals Work?

Mel Perron
5 mins

How do Cannabis Topicals Work?

Medical cannabis comes in many forms, from smoking or vaping, to eating and skin creams. Having this many options is amazing for medical patients but can be daunting at the beginning of your journey with cannabis, especially if you don’t understand the benefits and the downsides to your consumption method of choice.  

Today we’re focusing on topicals, rather than the more talked about consumption methods like smoking and vaping. Topicals are unique for a few reason, the first is you don’t actually “consume” anything, the second, intoxication is not as prominent and finally, the way the cannabinoids are absorbed into your endocannabinoid system.  

What are Cannabis Topicals?

As the name may imply cannabis topicals are salves, creams, oils or ointments that are infused with cannabis and applied topically to your skin. Topicals are great for treating localized issues like joint paint, inflammation and skin issues like eczema or rashes.  

How do Topicals Work?

The endocannabinoids system is made up of two different types of receptors that absorb the cannabinoids CBD and THC into our bodies. When you consume cannabis via inhalation or ingestion the cannabinoids are either processed through your digestive track or lungs until the cannabinoids enter your blood stream. Once in the blood stream the cannabinoids are carried throughout your body binding with the various CB1 and CB2 receptors.

Topicals and your CB1 and CB2 Receptors

Topicals do not have to be processed through the lungs or digestive track before they are exposed to the receptors in our skin. Our skin is home to primarily to CB2 receptors. CB2 receptors bind with CBD and while this is the most abundant receptor in the skin, the CB1 receptors are still present in lower quantities. Topicals are applied to the skin, and are absorbed by the receptors. Because the receptors are directly exposed to the cannabinoids, the response is fast, providing relief to the localized area effectively and efficiently.  

Can Topical Get you High?

Because topicals are not consumed through inhalation or digestion, they do not enter your blood stream. This means that the cannabinoids are not exposed to receptors in the areas of your body that are responsible for the intoxicating, psychoactive effects associated with cannabis. So no, topicals do not get you high the way cannabis usually does. A word of caution, however: if topicals come into contact with areas of your body that have a higher concentration of mucus glands like the vagina or anus, increased absorption can occur. If you’re interested in understanding how cannabis behaves differently in regard to the vagina and anus Starbuds wrote a blog that better delves into that topic.  

What Ailments are Best Treated with Topicals?

Because our skin is home to higher levels of CB2 receptors, topicals are great for ailments or conditions that cause inflammation, swelling or an immune response. This is because these symptoms are what CBD is typically used to treat (more on CBD here). On a surface level, this usually looks like skin rashes, joint swelling, chronic back pain and new to the treatment possibilities, erectile dysfunction and increased pleasure for women during sex.

Where Can I buy Cannabis Topicals?

As the law currently stands purchasing topicals is illegal. This is expected to change in October 2019. In the meantime, we HIGHLY encourage you to make your own, as it is not illegal to create topicals. Creating your own cannabis topicals is easy and very customizable. Even when purchasing topicals from a Licensed Producer is legal, we would still encourage you to try your hand at a DIY recipe. Why? Everybody has unique needs, and ailments can present themselves with very different symptoms in different cases. A DIY approach to topicals allows you the freedom to make changes in your dose, and other accompanying ingredients that may also aid in relief. You will also likely manage to save a few dollars with the DIY approach. Although we don’t know how pricey topicals will be once legal, but saving money is never a bad thing!  

We’ve put together a few beginner recipes and have linked them below, remember it’s important to go slow and listen to your body. If a topical, cream or ointments is having adverse effects on your body, stop immediately and discuss your situations with your doctor. While the potential for an allergic reaction to cannabis itself is very low, we wouldn’t want you to neglect a follow up if needed.

A few Topical DIY Recipes to Try:

Cannabis Cream for Eczema

Cannabis Lube

Cannabis Massage Oil for Muscle Aches and Pains

Like the content? Sign-up for our newsletter and follow us on social. We’ll send you the latest and greatest cannabis content as well as answer any questions that might come up during a DIY project or in general cannabis use. As always, start low go slow, and take care of yourselves!  

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