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All About Cannabis Topicals

Records of cannabis use, religious and medical, date farther back than the start of the common era in China, Egypt, and Greece, and later in the Roman Empire. We know this as writings from Herodotus, Pliny the Elder, Dioscorides, and Galen make mention of the plant in some manner. The method of use was also quite varied throughout history, from inhaling the smoke of burning seeds in a ritualistic fashion to oral or topical oils and balms to soaking cloth wraps or bandages in herbal mixtures that included cannabis.

Topical cannabis use has changed the most in terms of variety, like bath bombs, salts, and sprays, and is vastly different from historical practice. Gone are the days of guessing doses and soaking linens. Humanity can now rub in, roll on, and soak in the topical benefits.

What are Cannabis Topicals?

A topical is defined as something that’s applied directly to a part of the body, like the skin or hair. Cannabis topicals are infused with either just CBD (CBD Isolate), a combination of CBD and minor cannabinoids but no THC (Broad-Spectrum), or a combination of everything, including THC (Full-Spectrum). Of these three varieties, most research leans toward Full-Spectrum products being the most effective for the widest variety of uses due to the entourage effect of all the cannabinoids boosting each other.

One of the prime worries about using topical cannabis is getting high but transdermal patches are the only method of topical marijuana that can intoxicate a person, and only when THC is involved. In other words, using topical cannabis will not get someone high unless that is the express intent of the product.

Types of Topicals

Balms are thick and waxy in texture and are often sold in a stick format like lip balms or deodorant. These are best for creating a barrier against environmental irritants and sealing in moisture.

Salves are oiler and thinner than balms, thicker than oils, and usually have more moisturizing effects on the skin as they stay on the surface longer and penetrate the deeper dermal layers. Salves will absorb slower than oils or sprays.

Creams and Lotions are some of the most commonly available infused topicals, and nearly everybody would be able to make their own with access to the ingredients. Creams and lotions will absorb more quickly than salves. Additionally, creams will likely have a higher concentration of oil in them than lotions will, making them slightly heavier.

Oils often contain the highest percentage of cannabinoids of all the available topicals and will have potentially superior results. Oils will absorb quickly and usually start acting right away. For this reason, they are one of the most popular topicals for massaging into muscle.

Gels are thicker than lotions, like creams, but are usually oil-free and often have a cooling effect like sports liniments and a jelly-like texture. Gels will also be absorbed into the skin at a faster rate than creams will.

Sprays often contain alcohol as a solvent to encourage cannabinoid penetration through the skin. This is a fantastic option for people with oiler skin or those prone to breakouts since topical sprays don’t often contain oils.

Bath Products, like bath bombs, salts, and fizzes, often combine cannabinoids with essential oils and promote relaxation through warm water, aroma therapy and cannabis. Some people find that hot water allows a fiercer effect of cannabinoids, but research has not proven or disproven this.

Transdermal Patches are the only cannabis topical that can give off a ‘high’ as THC consumption does. This is because the slow release of cannabinoids from the patches is released into the bloodstream the same way smoking, vaping and ingesting cannabis introduce it to the blood. Transdermal patches are great for providing localized relief for a prolonged period, and many have found these to help relieve tension in the neck or lower back, though more research is needed to confirm this effect.

How Infused Topicals Work

Cannabinoids interact with the body through the endocannabinoid system by binding to CB1 or CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are typically found in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are established in the peripheral nervous system and organs. This means that the cannabinoids present in the topicals will provide a localized effect by binding to the CB2 receptors found in the skin all over our bodies.

Potential Effects & Uses

Despite the heavy use of cannabis for pain relief throughout history, and a strong likelihood of imparting medicinal benefits, research into cannabis topicals and their effects is underwhelming. With the vilification of cannabis in recent history, proper tests have only just gotten underway.

Studies are currently looking into the potential for cannabis topicals to be used for inflammation and pain reduction associated with peripheral neuropathy and certain types of arthritis, alleviating pain, and itchiness, speeding up wound healing, lessening tension and anxiety, reduction of psoriasis symptoms, and as a potential treatment for acne. Many studies are either preclinical or unfinished, so unfortunately, none of these claims can be made as fact.

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