New to Cannabis? Start With Marijuana Topicals

Although there are now myriad ways to consume cannabis, novice cannabis consumers often find topicals to be an easy introduction to the plant. Topicals are less intimidating than other forms of marijuana: They typically have no psychoactive effects while often proving to be highly effective for pain relief.

What exactly are marijuana-infused topicals? It’s a cream, lotion, oil, salve or balm that’s applied to the skin to help with localized pain or inflammation—that is, a cannabis topical treats the specific area to which it was applied and doesn’t enter the bloodstream. You may be surprised to learn that cannabis has been used as a topical for thousands of years to combat lower back pain, arthritis, inflammation, certain skin conditions and more.

How Do They Work?

At first, many people are dubious as to whether a cannabis-based topical will help provide relief. According to HelloMD’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Perry Solomon, “When a topical is applied to the skin, the cannabis is thought to interact with the CB2 receptors in the muscles or joints. This helps augment the endocannabinoid system, a series of cannabinoid receptors throughout the human body, which in turn may decrease inflammation and pain within that specific area.”

Do Cannabis Topicals Help Relieve Pain?

Dr. Kerklaan, D.C. has over 20 years of experience treating patients in the health and wellness space. Seeking a more natural pain solution to opioids and other pharmaceuticals, he developed a cannabis-based topical brand aptly named Dr. Kerklaan.

When asked how topicals can alleviate discomfort and pain, Dr. Kerklaan says, “The most common pains we experience are neuromusculoskeletal in origin. This means pain from nerves, muscles and structures like our joints. Cannabinoids, including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), are fantastic at helping with these three components. Topicals act by blocking pain nerves, reducing muscle tension and reducing inflammation.”

Although cannabis topicals can be very effective in relieving symptoms from various conditions, it’s also important to note that everyone is different in how their body reacts to cannabis. A topical that works for you may not work in the same way for your friend. Often, this means trying out a variety of cannabis-infused topicals before finding one that works best for you.

“There’s some debate about how much of the topical actually becomes absorbed through the skin,” says Dr. Solomon. “However, there are many people including professional athletes, who swear by cannabis-infused topicals for sore joints and muscles.”

What Role Do THC & CBD Play in Cannabis Topicals?

It’s common to find a topical that contains only CBD, only THC or a ratio of the two. People often ask which is best for them, but both CBD and THC may offer different effects depending on the person and the condition affecting them.

According to Dr. Kerklaan, “THC and CBD are the most common cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant. In simple terms, THC can offer painkilling relief, and CBD can act as an excellent anti-inflammatory. There are many other therapeutic effects offered by these molecules, but when they’re used in combination in certain ratios, they can have a compounding or entourage effect.

“In our Natural Skin Cream, we’re looking for the anti-inflammatory effect from CBD, hence the higher ratio of CBD to THC,” he adds. “In our Natural Sleep Cream, we’re looking to ease muscle tension. This is achieved by increasing the THC ratio. Pain is commonly targeted by a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio.”

Will Cannabis-Infused Topicals Show Up in a Urine Test?

Many people work in jobs where routine urine tests are given. Dr. Solomon says, “When only using a cannabis topical, there’s a minimal amount of absorption into the blood, if at all. As such, there’s little chance of the THC becoming detected in a urine screening test.”

That said, if you were to apply a topical and then place a plastic covering over it, so that none of the cannabis can evaporate, there’s a small chance that there will be enough absorbed into the blood to perhaps cause a positive urine screening for THC.

It’s important to note that if you apply a topical to your skin, and then rub your eyes or put a finger in your mouth with the hand you used to apply the topical, there’s a chance that THC can enter into the bloodstream. If this is something that concerns you, immediately wash your hands after applying a cannabis topical to the skin.

Do Transdermal Patches Work the Same Way as a Cannabis Topical Lotion Does?

Cannabis transdermal patches are medicated adhesive patches that are applied topically on a veiny area of the skin. However, unlike creams and lotions, transdermal patches deliver cannabis through all of the skin’s layers into the bloodstream. These patches release small amounts of cannabinoids into the blood over a longer period of time. The result is that medication from a transdermal patch gives both localized and non-localized relief.

Many consumers report having good to great success using these topicals for various skin conditions, sore muscles, arthritic joints or an aching back. So, if you’re looking for localized relief and aren’t interested in feeling high, you may want to try out a marijuana-infused topical. It just might give you the relief you need.

If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it’s easy, private and 100% online.


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