I became interested in cannabis-infused topicals as I was researching cooking recipes. The two delivery methods (ingesting and skincare) bear similarities as the process of making topicals is not much different than your typical dish creating. Many times, the infused ingredient within the ointment will either be coconut oil, olive oil, or one of several types of butters. The infused fat is then blended with other typical skincare components such as essential oils and extracts.
Topicals refer to cannabis-infused lotions, creams, ointments, oils, and balms that are absorbed through the skin, most commonly to treat soreness or local inflammation. Many companies commercialized their topical products, and these are widely sold in dispensaries. While the industry’s focus is definitely skincare and pain relief, it is worth noting that innovation is buzzing and other skin-oriented delivery mechanisms, such as long-lasting patches, lubricants and more are being introduced to the market as well. But we will leave those to a different post…
Our endocannabinoid system is made up of two different receptor groups – CB1 and CB2 – that absorb the plant’s qualities into the body. When we ingest or inhale cannabis, the plant’s psychoactive ingredients enter the bloodstream and are carried throughout the body binding with both receptors. Topicals, on the other hand, do not go into our bloodstream and only interact with the dominant CB2 receptors present on our skin. Even if a topical product contains active THC, it still will not induce the famous euphoric high as, in order to do so, it must go deeper into the body. Therefore, using cannabis-infused topicals is really a no brainer even for those who are hesitant to experiment with the psychoactive effect of marijuana. That said, this is far from an invitation to overuse cannabis topicals as, theoretically, if you apply enough cream to your skin, it might leak down to your skeletal muscles but there is no study that I found to substantiate this theory.
Cannabis topicals bind to receptors in the skin that manage the sensation of heat, itching, and pain- which explains its soothing effect. This makes them great as muscle rubs or pain relief creams, though admittedly there is little hard scientific evidence the supports the thesis that cannabis-infused topicals are more effective than other off-the-counter creams such as Tiger Balm or BenGay.
While there is an overall agreement that topicals can be an effective solution to treat pain within 1 centimeter of the skin, one of the biggest questions engaging the market today is whether they can be used as a legit method for deeper pain relief. Many industry advocates claim the results are encouraging in treating all kinds of pain: neuropathic, muscular, joint, and even bone pain. I am fairly confident the next couple of years will bring a substantial increase in scientific statements in the matter.
While the regulators and the scientific community are moving at their own, sluggish, pace, people living with debilitating conditions such as back pain or arthritis, are not waiting. Seeing as there is no known health downside to using cannabis-infused topicals, patients are trying these products, and many report some level of success.
Additionally, the cannabis plant has great anti-inflammatory qualities, and therefore applying it topically is a good solution for treating swelling and local rashes. Cannabis creams and lotions are used to treat bug bites, scratches, and even alleviate symptoms of chronic skin ailments such as psoriasis. Cosmetic skincare is another interesting venue. Cannabis lotions are used as an anti-aging solution, which can be explained by the fact that the cannabis plant is a powerful antioxidant. Acne products containing CBD also show promise as an all-natural alternative to cortisone.
Since cannabis topicals are not considered a medical product, there is an issue with quality control. Today, in order to produce and market these products, one does not have to jump through any regulatory hoops. This means quality is not assured or standardized. If you aim to purchase an off-the-shelf product, I advise you to do your research and make sure you are buying a credible product.
That said, you can always choose to make your own topicals. There are numerous recipes on the web such as this one or this one. I did not post any recipes as I’ve yet to experiment with that type of chemistry (though after doing the research for this blog post, I imagine I will fairly soon).
To sum things up, from what I’ve been able to gather it seems to me that if you have mild skin conditions or even chronic skin ailments, giving a try to credible cannabis-infused topicals has no downsides (other than cost). It is one of those things I’d say you should give a try and compare vs. other all-natural solutions. If you are using cannabis creams or lotions – I would love to hear about your experience!