Cannabis Topicals: Exploring The Types, Uses, Benefits, And More

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Added 16 July 2023

The cannabis industry is always abuzz with new types of products that are innovative and increase our opportunities of experiencing the plant's therapeutic properties. There are several products including concentrates that capture your imagination. And one area that’s gaining immense popularity is the use of cannabis topicals. 

Topicals can be anything from lotions to balms and oils that you apply externally. Primarily, they provide a fantastic way to harness the advantages of cannabinoids without generating a psychedelic high. If you're interested to know more topicals and how they have the potential to provide relief, fight inflammation and promote overall health, this article is meant for you. 

Whether you’re simply curious about topicals or want to explore alternative ways of dealing with pain, read on to know everything about topicals. 

What are Cannabis Topicals?

What are Cannabis Topicals?

Cannabis topicals are nothing but products that are infused with cannabinoids including CBD or THC, meant for applying on the skin. Unlike other types of consumption where you smoke or ingest marijuana, topicals are not meant to enter your bloodstream, meaning they don't produce narcotic effects. Instead, they engage with the skin’s cannabinoid receptors and offer localized relief and other therapeutic benefits.

You can find various cannabis topicals including creams, lotions, balms, salves, oils, roll-ons, and transdermal patches. Generally, you use them straight on the skin so that it targets only a specific area. Typically, they are used to reduce inflammation, relieve pain in a local area, and soothe any irritations. 

Primarily, cannabis may have the potential to relieve pain related to arthritis and joint pain, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and various other skin conditions. Thus, topicals made using cannabis may help. You can also use them to improve overall skin health as well as they have excellent moisturizing properties. 

One benefit of using cannabis topicals is that they allow you to target certain areas so they don’t affect the entire body. They are non-intoxicating and don’t make you “high” unlike other cannabis products containing THC. Also, topicals are typically well-tolerated as they lack substantial systemic absorption and have fewer side effects in contrast to other types of cannabis products. 

However, keep in mind that the efficiency of cannabis topicals can differ depending on the strength, formulation, and the way you react to them. This means that while some individuals may find them incredibly helpful, others may not experience any effects at all. If you want to use cannabis topicals for any particular problem, consult your physician so you can pick the right product that helps. 

Overall, cannabis topicals provide a great way to harness cannabis benefits for pain relief and skincare, providing an alternative option to traditional health care. 

How Does Cannabis Help Your Skin?

How Does Cannabis Help Your Skin?

To understand the benefits of topicals, you must first be familiar with the role of the endocannabinoid system on the skin. The ECS is a complicated network of enzymes, receptors, and endocannabinoids that play an important duty in maintaining equilibrium or homeostasis within the body.

The skin, being the largest organ of our body, naturally has plenty of cannabinoid receptors. These receptors referred to as CB1 and CB2 receptors are located throughout the skin's layers. The existence of these receptors tells us that there’s a possibility that the ECS has a considerable impact on numerous skin processes. Additionally, the skin depends on the ECS to function optimally. 

One area the ECS plays an important role has to do with skin homeostasis. The ECS has an influence on various skin aspects, including hair growth, oil production, pigmentation, wound healing, and other defense mechanisms. The existence of CB1, CB2, and endocannabinoids like anandamide, 2-AG, and FAAH in skin cells puts an emphasis on the importance of ECS to regulate skin functions. 

Studies reveal that some types of skin tumors displayed a high amount of CB1 and CB2 receptors, thereby indicating that ECS may be playing a crucial role in preventing the growth of affected abnormal skin cells, which holds a lot of promise for further research. 

Here’s how the ECS plays a key role: 

Oil Production: Skin problems that occur due to the sebaceous glands secreting too much oil may see good results from fewer endocannabinoids. The cannabinoids can engage with the CB2 receptors and help to decrease excessive oil production. Similarly, an increase in endocannabinoids may help gain some relief from conditions like psoriasis, dry itchy skin, and other problems that also cause pain.

Inflammation: The ECS may possibly modulate skin inflammation and reduce it by engaging with the receptors. It can regulate inflammatory processes that occur commonly when there’s an infection or injury in the body. There’s a reduction in inflammation when the ECS functions well as it should. This anti-inflammatory result can have extensive implications for problems associated with excessive inflammation such as acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis.

Cell Growth and Differentiation: Incredibly, the ECS helps to modulate the growth and even death of skin cells. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids can regulate the turnover of skin cells and ensure a balanced rate of growth and shedding. Abnormal cell growth seen in conditions like psoriasis and skin tumors may be modulated by the ECS.

Wound Healing: The ECS plays a big role in the wound healing process. It produces endocannabinoids when there’s tissue damage. By interacting with the receptors, they also promote faster healing and repair.

Itching and pain: The ECS also helps to regulate itching and pain that can impact your mental and physical health. By boosting the nervous system, cannabinoids can assist with reducing chronic pain and also reduce itching that’s prevalent in many skin conditions. 

Skin Pigmentation: The ECS may also potentially play a part in skin pigmentation. Melanocytes or cells that produce the color of the skin, also contain CB1 receptors. Thus, this may hold promise in skin issues related to coloring like vitiligo. 

While our understanding of the ECS's impact on each element is still developing, these findings provide a ray of hope for the possibility of using cannabinoids extensively in skin care. Therefore, there’s a lot of interest in dermatology in cannabis, particularly in cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBG (known as the mother cannabinoid) that have antibacterial properties. 

These cannabinoids may have the potential to treat even skin infections that are stubborn. However, remember that these are just initial findings and we may have to wait a while before these cannabinoids are approved to be used in topical medications completely by the FDA. Currently, they aren’t sold as prescription medicines but you can still find them in stores under the cosmetics category. 

Cannabis Topicals and Skin Absorption

Cannabis Topicals and Skin Absorption

The effects of cannabis on the skin and the way it absorbs it are fascinating indeed. Now, you already know a bit about the ECS. Enough to understand that there are reactions as soon as the topicals interact with the receptors. These reactions could be anything from pain relief to reducing inflammation and pain.

Now cannabis topicals are products you apply on your skin externally. Compared to oral cannabis products that the liver processes before letting them into the bloodstream, topicals face different challenges. 

And, the first challenge has to do with absorption. If you’ve ever made cannabutter or any other cannabis product at home before, you already know that it’s insoluble in water; instead, it dissolves in alcohol and fats easily. This hydrophobic nature acts like an obstacle as it prevents the cannabinoids from permeating the skin’s water-based layer, thereby restricting absorption. Thus, topical products can only affect the outermost epidermis. 

It is essential to know the difference between transdermal solutions as well as topicals. While both routes provide distinct advantages, topicals act on the epidermis. In contrast, transdermal patches penetrate the epidermis and reach the dermis and deeper tissues, which allows for more cannabinoid delivery. As this path bypasses the liver, the bloodstream can absorb the cannabinoids directly. 

When choosing between CBD and THC topicals, you should pay more attention to the permeability — the capacity of any substance to penetrate cell membranes — that determines how the cannabinoids are absorbed. CBD and CBN show almost 10x more permeability than  delta-8-THC in a preclinical study involving guinea pigs, indicating that the skin readily absorbs CBD and CBN, which holds promise for their use in combination patch therapies and other transdermal applications.

Types of Cannabis Topicals

Types of Cannabis Topicals

There are many types of topicals. Choosing the right one may help you with your specific issue. For example, lotions are mostly water while balms contain more oil. Choose between the two according to your condition. 

Lotions and Creams

Lotions and creams are popular cannabis topicals that come in a liquid or semi-solid form. Typically, they are infused with cannabinoids and other beneficial ingredients including moisturizers and essential oils. These formulations are designed to be easily spread over the skin.

Advantages: Lotions and creams offer several advantages as cannabis topicals. They are easy to apply and can cover larger areas of the body with a thin, even layer. These topicals often provide a cooling or soothing sensation upon application, offering immediate relief. Additionally, lotions and creams often contain moisturizing agents that help hydrate and nourish the skin. Their versatility allows them to be used for overall skincare or targeted relief of specific areas.

Disadvantages: One potential disadvantage of lotions and creams is their higher water content, which may limit the absorption of cannabinoids into the skin. Due to their lighter consistency, you may have to apply them frequently compared to thicker formulations. However, this can also depend on the specific formulation and the individual's skin type and needs.

Balms and Salves

Balms and salves are thicker, concentrated cannabis topicals designed for localized application. These formulations often contain a higher concentration of cannabinoids and other nourishing ingredients. They are typically in a semi-solid or solid form.

Advantages: Balms and salves provide targeted relief to specific areas of the body. Their thicker consistency creates a protective barrier on the skin, allowing for longer-lasting effects. This barrier can also help prevent moisture loss and protect the skin from external irritants. Due to their concentration, balms and salves are particularly effective in alleviating pain, reducing inflammation, and soothing discomfort.

Disadvantages: Balms and salves can have a greasier texture and may leave a residue on the skin. Some people may find the greasiness less desirable, especially when they are being active or wearing certain types of clothing. Their thicker consistency may also take longer to absorb into the skin compared to lighter formulations.

Oils and Serums

Cannabis oils and serums are lightweight formulations that are quickly absorbed into the skin. Again, they are infused with cannabinoids and other ingredients like antioxidants and vitamins. These topicals are typically in a liquid form.

Oils and serums offer efficient delivery of cannabinoids and provide a range of skincare benefits. They are easily applied and absorbed, making them suitable for both targeted relief and overall skin health. Due to their lightweight nature, they are often well-tolerated by various skin types and can be used on both the face and body. Oils and serums may also have additional therapeutic properties from other ingredients, such as moisturizing or anti-aging effects.

Disadvantages: Oils and serums may have a more oily texture, so you may not like them if you have naturally oily or acne-prone skin. In addition, these products aren’t fit to be used during the day time. Also, you may need a dropper to apply them precisely due to their liquid consistency. 

Transdermal Patches

Transdermal patches are designed to deliver cannabinoids systematically through the skin. These patches consist of a layer that adheres to your skin and releases the cannabinoids continuously into your bloodstream. 

Advantages: Transdermal patches offer a convenient and discreet method of cannabinoid administration. They provide a controlled, long-lasting release of cannabinoids, maintaining a consistent level of relief over an extended period. You can apply these patches to any area of your body. They are for both localized and systemic effects. They bypass the need for frequent reapplication and eliminate concerns about accidental ingestion or dosage precision.

Disadvantages: Transdermal patches may have a slower onset of effects compared to other topicals due to the time it takes for cannabinoids to be absorbed and reach the bloodstream. You have to place it properly on dry and clean skin for optimal absorption. In some cases, individuals may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions to the adhesive on the patch. You should note that available cannabinoid ratios may be limited, as patches are typically pre-dosed and not easily customizable.

Roll-On Applicators

Roll-on applicators are cannabis topicals that come in a bottle with a rollerball for easy application. They typically contain cannabinoid-infused liquid or gel formulations.

Advantages: Roll-ons provide a convenient and mess-free method of applying cannabis topicals. The rollerball allows for targeted application and precise control over the amount of product used. They are portable and easy to carry, making them suitable for on-the-go use. Roll-ons are also versatile and can be applied to different areas of the body.

Disadvantages: Roll-on applicators may have a lower concentration of cannabinoids compared to thicker topicals like balms or salves. The rolling mechanism may sometimes cause uneven product dispensing, which may require additional manual spreading for even coverage. Additionally, if you have sensitive skin, you have to ensure that the other ingredients in the roll-on formulation are compatible with your skin type.

Each type of cannabis topical offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages, allowing individuals to choose the formulation that best suits their needs and preferences. Factors such as ease of application, desired concentration, texture, and personal comfort should be considered when selecting a specific type of topical product. It may be helpful to experiment with different formulations to find the one that works best for your individual needs.

Summary: Cannabis Topicals: Exploring The Types, Uses, Benefits, And More

Cannabis topicals are products infused with cannabinoids that you apply to your skin. Like other types of cannabis consumption, topicals also provide many benefits when the cannabinoids interact with the receptors found in the ECS. 

There are many types of topicals available, but you need to choose them depending on the type of problem you want to address. Transdermal patches work the best among all the topicals, but they may not contain enough cannabinoids, so conduct some research on the product you want to buy and then purchase it. 


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Thanks for the article. I'm looking to formulate a salve/balm to help with muscular and joint pain to add to my soap line I sell.
Nice one, buddy, exactly what I was looking for with my new CBD weed! 😘 Thanks a lot!!
thats awonderful aritcle, iam doing balm and cream from cannabis too. but here are some lovely reciepes i havent tried yet