The world of medical cannabis is expansive. Beyond the typical plants, concentrates, and edibles you’d expect to find in a dispensary, there have been a number of innovations to fit the needs and comfort level of each patient. One such specialty item is topical cannabis, an extract of cannabis meant to be applied directly to the skin to treat site specific or localized pain and/or inflammation. But what are topicals made from and how do they work? Can they make you feel “high”?
Topicals are any sort of medicine meant to be applied directly to the skin, this includes products such as lotions, salves, oils, sprays, and even transdermal patches. While cannabis will be an ingredient in topicals found in dispensaries, there are no other universal ingredients. It is true that most balms and salves will include coconut oil or beeswax, but this is entirely up to the entity producing it. It is always a good idea to find out what a topical is made with and how those ingredients will affect you. Many producers of topicals will include essential oils such as lavender or tea tree oil that can have added benefits, but this is still up to the discretion of the producer. There is no one right way to make a topical.
It is also a good idea to know the cannabinoid content of any cannabis topical that you are considering. Just as with the differing ingredients of a topical itself, the amount of THC, CBD, or other cannabinoids, including what type of cannabis strains used, and how much used per batch will differ from one producer to the next. Lab test results for the product will give you a more accurate understanding of the actual medication infused in the ointment. We recommend asking your supplier to see their most recent test results at these results when trying new cannabis products. The dose and consistency of the topical will dictate how much is to be used, but generally speaking a thin layer applied over the affected area is enough. Never apply a topical directly to the eyes, mouth, or an open wound.
Every person has an endocannabinoid system, a complex system connecting the brain to the body that is made up of receptors (CB1 and CB2) found throughout the body. When cannabis is inhaled or ingested, the cannabinoids from the cannabis bind to these receptors which can have a variety of effects depending on which cannabinoids are consumed. Both types of receptors are found in the skin’s epidermal cells and sensory nerves. When a cannabis topical is applied, the cannabinoids bind to the receptors in these cells causing localized effects such as pain relief and/or anti inflammatory response. Of course the exact effect of a topical is dependent upon the ingredients, including the cannabinoid content.
As the cannabinoids are binding to local receptors in the skin, topicals are mostly considered “non-psychoactive” as the cannabinoids are not actually entering the bloodstream. In order for a cannabinoid such as THC to have a psychoactive effect, it needs to enter the bloodstream and pass the blood/brain barrier. In fact, a study published by Forensic Science International found that a cannabis topical applied to the participants did not cause their blood or urine to test positive for THC. However as everyone’s endocannabinoid system is particular to their bodies, there is anecdotal evidence of people experiencing psychoactivity due to low tolerance, higher potency topicals, or a combination of the two. As with any new cannabis medicine, one should test it when free of obligations in order to fully register how the medicine interacts specifically with their body.
Interested in learning more about using cannabis topical treatments? Schedule a visit with an expert. If you’re in the Ann Arbor area, contact the team at Arbors Wellness for a free consultation.