Cannabis Topicals: A Beginner’s Guide

Photo Credit: Leaf Science

Photo Credit: Leaf Science

Cannabis topicals refer to cannabis-infused products like lotions, creams, oils, and slaves, that are applied to the skin, and they’re gaining in popularity due to the fact they can target localized areas of the body for instantaneous symptom relief without producing psychoactive effects. With topicals, cannabinoids are absorbed through the skin before reaching the endocannabinoid system, where they interact with cannabinoids receptors, which happen to be abundant in our skin’s epidermal cells, mast cells, and sensory nerves. The effects of topicals generally last one or two hours and can be safely reapplied as much as needed, but patients should be aware of any other ingredients included in the topical so as to avoid any sensitivity or allergic reactions.

The reason topicals produce localized and non-psychoactive effects as opposed to effects that influence the whole body is that the skin is a difficult barrier to penetrate, thereby preventing cannabinoids from entering the blood stream and flowing throughout the body. Dr. Ethan Russo, MD, explains, “THC and CBD work through independent mechanisms in a complementary fashion,” says Dr. Russo. “Both work well on the skin, but are poorly absorbed via this route… The skin is a difficult barrier to broach with medications…There are layers that require a drug to be water-soluble and others that must be lipid (fat) soluble. Cannabinoids are lipophilic (fat-loving) and do not penetrate readily into the bloodstream.”

Topicals are most commonly used to reduce pain and inflammation, and treat the symptoms of various skin conditions, like psoriasis and dermatitis. One study from 2009 published in the journal Experimental Dermatology suggested cannabinoids have immunosuppressive properties that could make it powerful as an anti-inflammatory drug, and that when administered topically, cannabis produces pain relief and antipruritic effects that reduces itching sensations. Americans for Safe Access also references anecdotal reports on the efficacy of topicals for treating superficial wounds, herpes, hemorrhoids, menstrual pains, migraines, and more.

This information has been provided by Leaf Science and approved by our Chief Medical Officer.