New to Cannabis? Start With Marijuana-Infused Topicals

A marijuana-infused topical being rubbed into a person's need

Marijuana-infused topicals are a nice introduction to cannabis for those who are less well-versed in the plant and its effects. Keep reading to learn more about topicals and how they work.

Although there are myriad ways to consume cannabis, novice users often find marijuana 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 and the treatment of inflammation.

What Exactly Are Marijuana-Infused Topicals?

First things first: Topicals can take many forms. They’re creams, lotions, oils, salves or balms that are 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 the outset, many people are dubious as to whether a cannabis-based topical will help provide relief. But here’s the science: When a topical is applied to the skin, the cannabis interacts with the CB2 receptors in the skin, muscles and joints, according to Dr. Blake Pearson, founder and medical director of Pearson Health, a specialized medical practice grounded in cannabinoid and integrative medicine practices. This helps augment the endocannabinoid system, a series of cannabinoid receptors throughout the human body, which in turn may decrease localized inflammation and pain.

Using Marijuana-Infused Topicals for Relieve Pain and Inflammation

The most common type of pain we experience is neuromusculoskeletal in origin. This means pain from nerves, muscles and structures like our joints. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are great at helping with this type of pain. Marijuana-infused topicals act by blocking nerves, reducing muscle tension and reducing inflammation. But that’s not all. “Topicals are also effective for things where itching is a symptom, like eczema or atopic dermatitis,” says Dr. Pearson.

There are also new topical products being developed every day that combine active ingredients with cannabis to zero in on certain symptoms. “There are new products coming out where the addition of things—for instance, salicylic acid in acne products—make a topical more suited to specific conditions,” says Dr. Pearson. “Now, you’ll find topicals specifically formulated for pain, for itch. There are even after-sun products for sunburns.”

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.

What Role Do THC & CBD Play in Marijuana-Infused 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. “I will often suggest a balanced formulation because I want the benefits of both THC and CBD,” says Dr. Pearson. “They’re both working on inflammation, and THC is a known muscle relaxant. The one-two punch of reducing inflammation and relaxing muscles can be effective.”

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

Many people wok in jobs where routine urine tests are given. 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.

It’s important to note that if you apply a marijuana-infused 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.

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