Hot Topic: Topicals

Hot Topic: Topicals

Hot Topic: Topicals

Let’s try to Salve some of the confusion about THC and CBD Topicals.

Topicals are cannabis-infused creams, lotions, salves, lubes, bath soaks, and other products intended for use directly on your skin. Topicals are valued for their potential to provide localized relief from pain and inflammation. Cannabis topicals are unlikely to induce psychoactive effects. We suggest buying topicals from a licensed cannabis dispensary, so you can be confident in the quality and potency of the ingredients in the product you choose.

Cannabis topicals are not a panacea, but can be quite helpful. Prepare for subtle, innocuous relief and relaxation. Different products will also have different ingredients for additional effects such as peppermint for a cooling sensation, lavender for a calming aroma, or a coconut oil or shea butter base for additional moisture. Just like a heating pad or store bought ointment, cannabis topicals don’t necessarily cure our ailments, they simply make them more bearable.The two main cannabinoids in cannabis are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The most commonly known of the two is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the chemical that is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. THC and CBD are processed through cellular receptors in the Endocannabinoid System, but both of these chemicals have different effects and applications within the realm of topicals.


CBD topicals are infused with Cannabidol to produce skin-friendly products that contain the medicinal properties of cannabis. In topical form, CBD is most popularly used for managing pain and inflammation, it binds to CB1 receptors in the peripheral nerve terminals. CBD topicals penetrate the skin to provide targeted relief, without entering the bloodstream. This makes them a fantastic choice for anyone who wants to focus the healing properties in specific problem areas rather than feel the effects throughout their body.

CBD topicals can potentially provide relief for a variety of pain, headache, and skin issues such as:

Joint or muscle pain





Menstrual cramps

Foot or hand pain


Fun Fact: A warm shower will open the pores in the skin to make it more receptive to topicals!

Along with topical creams, CBD can be found in many other forms such as Lip Balms, massage oils, and bath soaks. Devotees may use these bath bombs and soaks to soothe menstrual cramps, radiating pain, or workout-induced muscle soreness. Lo Friesen, lead chemist for cannabis wellness company Heylo, believes CBD topicals are also a fantastic preventative medicine. She says using these topicals every day, multiple times a day allows the body to not only uptake CBD quicker, but also build a CBD level in those areas and prevent worsening inflammation.

“It’s just preventative maintenance,” says Friesen. “For example, people who have arthritis in their hands who use [CBD topicals] on their hands every day are going to have less pain, less inflammation. They’re going to have less pain in their hands over time than people who use it to treat [the pain as it happens].”


While CBD is a low intensity but effective anti-inflammatory, many users have debated that THC is a stronger painkiller. It also has anti-itch and other components which make it useful in a topical overall. Unlike CBD, THC can bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors in your endocannabinoid system, and interacts with the central nervous system to offer longer term pain relief. Where CBD can interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the skin to help with localized pain, THC is unlikely to penetrate the skin and get into the bloodstream in order to result in any psychoactive effects. Topicals are not typically intoxicating, even when they contain THC, but to avoid intoxication, take care to wash your hands after application and store topicals in a place away from children and pets.

Try adding some THC topical relief to these common sore spots (or, better yet, get your significant other to massage them for you):



Elbows, knees, and other joints


Soles of your feet

Back of the heel/foot



The effects of CBD are typically amplified when combined with other cannabinoids, especially THC. Even in very low levels, THC, plus additional components of the cannabis plant, seem to enhance the benefits of CBD on pain and inflammation. It’s common to find that a balance of CBD and THC offers the amplified symptom relief as the two work together synergistically.

It’s common to find topical products that use an equal ratio of THC to CBD, and these products are often referred to as “1:1”. Other ratios of CBD to THC also exist in various products, such as 5:1, or 10:1, but a ratio allows both cannabinoids to work their magic in unison. Since effects can be subjective, purchasing CBD and THC products independently and formulating your desired dosing at home can also be a good way to fine tune your results. The world of cannabis is wide and varied, and the uses and applications for THC and CBD are numerous, make sure to check out the topical selection when you next visit your local dispensary.


Rae Lland (November 18, 2019). A guide to CBD topicals, balms, and lotions. Leafly

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