In our series for cannabis newcomers, we’ve looked at the many ways patients can take their cannabis—from smoking and vaping to consuming edibles and sublinguals. In this article, we take a look at how cannabis can be applied topically. This often underrated method of using cannabis is quite powerful at easing pain, tension and inflammation. Cannabis-infused topicals have helped patients with a variety of issues from relieving skin conditions to arthritis and muscle pain.
What Are Cannabis-Infused Topicals?
Cannabis-infused topicals come in a wide variety of forms, including oils, creams, lotions, balms, mud masks and more—all infused with potent cannabinoids. These topical options are designed to be applied directly to the skin, treating the specific area where it was administered. Because topicals don’t enter the bloodstream the way smoking, vaping or eating cannabis do, they don’t typically have any psychoactive effects.
That said, I did meet one patient who was so incredibly sensitive to cannabis that she reported feeling high after using a large amount of marijuana-infused topical all over her body. For the vast majority of patients, the effects of topicals don’t cause any change to your overall state—just relief in the area where you used it.
As a precaution, however, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after applying the marijuana-infused topical. Exposure to your mouth or eyes—by rubbing them with your cannabis-laden hands—could lead to accidental ingestion and an unwanted high.
Why Do Patients Use Marijuana-Infused Topicals?
Patients use topicals for a variety of reasons. If you’re sensitive to the effects of medical marijuana and find that you’re unable to function as well after ingesting it, topicals can make a great alternative to all of the other methods of administration.
The fact that cannabis-infused topicals don’t affect you systemically also means that they don’t show up on drug tests. So for patients in careers or other contexts where marijuana drug testing is prevalent, topicals are often the only viable method of using this powerful medicine.
Many patients use topicals for everyday aches and pains such as sore, tense or injured muscles. Powerful cannabinoids seep into the skin, helping ease tension while providing localized pain relief.
The plant’s anti-inflammatory effects also help reduce pain and inflammation at the site of any sprained, pulled or injured muscle. Much like regular application of ice helps speed up healing by reducing inflammation, cannabis-infused topicals also bring down inflammation, helping speed the recovery process.
Another popular use for marijuana-infused topicals is to apply it to arthritic joints. Arthritis can make everyday tasks very painful and sometimes even impossible. Thankfully, cannabis-infused topicals can help arthritis sufferers by providing direct pain relief to the areas where they need it most.
In addition, topicals may actually help reduce or even reverse arthritis. A Canadian study, currently underway, is looking at how cannabis’s anti-inflammatory powers may be able to actually heal the damage caused by arthritis, reversing the condition itself, rather than just offering relief from its symptoms. Scientists working on the study believe that by saturating the CB2 receptors in the affected arthritic area, joints may actually be repaired.
Arthritis patients who use cannabis-infused topicals regularly often report finding mild pain relief at first, but with regular use, their overall pain gradually reduces over time. If you suffer from arthritis, marijuana-infused topicals may be a great option to try out.
Patients also use cannabis-infused topicals for a variety of skin conditions. Cannabis is chock full of powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and pain-relieving properties. This potent mix makes cannabis-infused topicals incredibly helpful in treating a wide range of skin maladies such as eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea. With regular application of cannabis-infused topicals, many patients report that these conditions begin to subside.
How to Use Cannabis-Infused Topicals
The basics of using marijuana-infused topicals are simple. Apply the topical to your skin, at the site of your pain or irritation. This usually involves rubbing the topical in until it has been absorbed into your skin. Of course, usage can vary by product, so always be sure to read the instructions.
You should feel some pain-relieving effects within minutes of applying the topical, but may also find that regular application increases these effects and gradually improves the underlying condition. To get started with cannabis-infused topicals, or learn how to make your own topical.
When it comes to marijuana-infused topicals, the options are plentiful. Before you hone in on a particular topical, find out what types of oils were used to make the topical along with what other scents or ingredients were added. Think about what works for you. Is there a non-cannabis moisturizer or balm that you already use and like? You may be able to find something similar but infused with cannabis.
For example, I have sensitive skin and am allergic to many scents so I only use topicals that are made with non-pore-clogging oils like mango or shea butter, and I avoid any topical products that have added scents. Still, others may like something heavier like coconut oil, for higher levels of moisture. Meanwhile, many prefer scents in their cannabis-infused topical to mask any skunky odor. Thinking about your preferences ahead of time can help you ensure the product you’re purchasing will be something you can use.
In the next installment of the Cannabis for Newbies guide, we’ll move from talking about the many ways of using cannabis to going over the many different types of cannabis. There are so many strains—aka genetic varieties—of cannabis that it can be hard to know which one to try. We’ll give you the basics you need to know to understand what strains are and how to find the right one for you.
Photo credit: Jesper Aggergaard
Need a medical marijuana recommendation? Consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it’s 100% online, private and easy.