What are Cannabis Topicals and How do They Affect You

What are Cannabis Topicals and How do They Affect You (1)

In the ever-evolving world of cannabis products, THC topicals are stepping out as the unsung heroes for those seeking localized benefits without the psychoactive high. These cannabis-infused lotions, balms, and oils are applied directly to the skin, offering a unique way to experience the plant’s effects. While the buzz around THC often centers on its psychoactive properties, the introduction of cannabis topicals has broadened the landscape, showing that there’s much more to cannabis than just lighting up. As curiosity grows and the market expands, understanding how these products work and what makes them different is becoming increasingly important. 

Note that THC in cannabis topicals may be detectable in your bloodstream. Exercise caution with use. Please consult your medical professional for advice prior to utilizing.

Understanding Cannabis Topicals

Definition and Types

Cannabis topicals refer to a broad category of products including creams, ointments, oils, lotions, and balms that are infused with cannabis and designed for direct application to the skin. These products are primarily used for localized relief of pain or inflammation and do not typically produce psychoactive effects because they do not enter the bloodstream. Popular types of topicals include transdermal patches, which can provide more systemic effects, and various creams and balms tailored for specific uses such as muscle soreness or skin conditions.

Primary Ingredients and Their Effects

The efficacy of cannabis topicals largely depends on their ingredients. Common components like menthol and camphor are included for their soothing properties, while the primary active ingredients are cannabinoids—chiefly THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol). THC is known for its pain-relieving properties, whereas CBD is sought after for its anti-inflammatory benefits. These cannabinoids work in conjunction with other compounds like CBG and CBN to enhance the product’s overall therapeutic effects through what is known as the entourage effect.

Cannabinoid Content: THC vs. CBD

Cannabis topicals can vary significantly in their cannabinoid content, influencing their effects and legal status. Products categorized as full-spectrum contain all cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, including THC., Broad-spectrum topicals contain multiple cannabinoids but exclude THC, making them a legal option in areas where THC is restricted. Isolate-based topicals use pure CBD, providing targeted relief without the entourage effect. The choice between THC and CBD-rich topicals often depends on the user’s needs for pain management or skin health, as well as legal considerations.

How are Cannabis Topicals Made?

Creating cannabis topicals involves a meticulous process of combining cannabis-infused oils with other ingredients to achieve a blend that is both effective and easy to apply. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how these soothing topicals are typically made:

Step 1: Decarboxylation

Firstly, the cannabis must be decarboxylated to activate the cannabinoids like THC and CBD. This is done by heating the cannabis in an oven at 240 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25-45 minutes. This process converts the cannabinoid acid forms into their active states, which are crucial for the topicals to be effective.

Step 2: Infusion

The decarboxylated cannabis is then ground into a fine consistency and infused into a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil. This infusion can be done using a double boiler or a slow cooker for about two to eight hours, allowing the cannabinoids to meld with the oil.

Step 3: Straining

Once the infusion is complete, the mixture is strained using cheesecloth or a fine mesh to remove the solid plant material, leaving behind the cannabinoid-rich oil.

Step 4: Mixing with Beeswax

To achieve a salve-like consistency, the infused oil is gently heated with beeswax. The amount of beeswax added can vary depending on the desired thickness of the final product.

Step 5: Adding Essential Oils

Optional essential oils can be added for additional therapeutic benefits or fragrance. Common choices include lavender, peppermint, or tea tree oil, which are mixed into the warm salve.

Step 6: Final Preparation

The complete mixture is then poured into containers and allowed to cool. As it cools, the salve thickens and sets, ready to be applied directly to the skin.

How Do Cannabis Topicals Work

The Science Behind the Skin’s Absorption

Cannabis topicals function by penetrating the outer layer of the skin through a process called passive diffusion. This process allows substances to move from one layer of the skin to another, ultimately reaching the deeper viable layers of the epidermis. The rate and extent of this penetration are influenced by the concentration of the compound, its properties, the formulation of the product, and the condition of the skin. This method ensures that the active compounds in topicals, primarily cannabinoids like THC and CBD, can exert their effects without entering the bloodstream, thus avoiding systemic effects and maintaining localized relief.

Interactions with the Endocannabinoid System

Cannabis topicals interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of receptors spread throughout the body, including the skin. When topicals are applied, cannabinoids bind to these receptors, initiating responses that can help manage discomfort and inflammation locally. This interaction is crucial for the therapeutic effects of topicals but does not lead to the psychoactive effects associated with other forms of cannabis consumption, as the cannabinoids do not reach the bloodstream. This targeted approach makes cannabis topicals a unique option for those seeking localized benefits without systemic effects.

Evaluating Potency and Ingredients

When selecting cannabis topicals, it’s crucial to check the potency indicated on the product, typically measured in milligrams (mg). This helps gauge the concentration of THC, CBD, or other cannabinoids present, ensuring you choose a product that aligns with your needs. Always look for evidence of third-party testing on the label or company website, which verifies the product’s cannabinoid content and purity. Opt for topicals made from pesticide-free cannabis, as these are less likely to contain harmful contaminants. Additionally, check the list of ingredients for any potential allergens or irritants, especially if you have sensitive skin.


As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, THC and CBD-infused topicals are likely to expand, reflecting broader societal shifts towards natural and plant-based remedies. Yet, in navigating this terrain, it is crucial for consumers to proceed with informed caution and a critical eye, acknowledging the variance in individual experiences and legal landscapes. While further research is undoubtedly needed to fully map the benefits and mechanisms of cannabis topicals, their existing framework offers a compelling glimpse into the nuanced world of cannabinoid science and its potential to enhance personal well-being.


What is the purpose of topical cannabis?
Topical cannabis is an extract derived from the cannabis plant, specifically designed for direct application onto the skin. Its primary use is to alleviate localized pain and inflammation.

How quickly do the effects of cannabis-infused topicals become noticeable?
The effects of cannabis-infused topical products typically begin within 15 to 30 minutes after application. Some products are formulated to provide almost immediate relief. The duration of the effects can extend for six hours or more, attributed to the gradual absorption of THC and other cannabinoids through the skin.

Does topical CBD penetrate into the bloodstream?
Yes, but only specific types of topical CBD, known as transdermal CBD, are designed to penetrate into the bloodstream. Transdermal CBD is typically applied via a patch that reaches the dermis, a deeper layer of skin with better blood flow, facilitating absorption into the bloodstream.

Disclaimer: the information provided in this document is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


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