Cannabis topicals are one of the dozens of different products continuously popping up in the cannabis market. The word topical is used to describe their method of application, meaning they are used as an on-skin application alternative.
So it’s not really something completely new to you, is it?
They are, however, a new way of “consuming” cannabis that might be able to provide more benefit than simply smoking flower or consuming edibles though.
What are Cannabis Topicals?
Think of products you already know and use outside the cannabis industry like moisturizing creams, pain relief balms, and even soaps or shampoos. These are all topical applications that are now being launched as platforms to cannabis products.
Even though cannabis topicals don’t usually deliver psychoactive effects, some newer product developments like trans-dermal patches may also provide the user with intoxicating experiences or “head highs”.
For the most part, topicals are used as a medical cannabis alternative in an attempt to aid in localized relief by treating physical pain and inflammation. Common uses of topicals are muscle soreness, tension, or even headaches. CBD topicals like oils and creams are of common use in treating physical pain due to the non-psychoactive effects cbd delivers.
CBD is even being used on a professional scale:
More and more professional athletes have been coming forward advocating for cbd and thc topical usage on their body as a part of the recovery process. Through anecdotal evidence, cannabis has proven to help people deal with stress, recovery, anxiety and other key aspects that might hinder on an athlete’s performance.
With the use of topicals, athletes and exercise enthusiasts alike have found a way to target cannabis effects with “rights reserved” to localized areas of the body. CBD is also a substance that does not come with any psychoactive effects that could hinder on your athletic performance, so as an athlete it might be the best option.
Can you get the same benefits from smoking or vaping?
Perhaps some of the benefits may be shared, but localized relief is not a common feature in inhalation products, and this is a big one when it comes to muscle soreness.
The reason for this lies behind the process that topicals use in order to work in a localized fashion.
How do Cannabis Topicals Work?
The content in cannabis topicals adheres to and activates the endocannabinoid receptors found naturally in your body and skin. This happens with any form of cannabis extracts you use, it’s not exactly unique to topicals, but understanding it will give us an idea of how all cannabis-derived products are able to deliver benefits to your body.
This is how:
Throughout your skin and other organs alike, the body possesses something called endocannabinoid receptors. These are receptors natural to your body to which cannabinoids may attach once they come in contact with your skin, palate, lungs, etc. THC in particular fits perfectly with receptors found in your brain, activating them and leveraging the psychoactive effects experienced with the heavy strains.
Unlike CBD particles which aren’t made to fit perfectly with the endocannabinoid receptors in your brain. This is why there is no “head high” experienced when taking CBD
The same thing happens with other organs like your skin where cannabis topicals make their move and activate other endocannabinoid receptors that can leverage alternative medical benefits. Topicals are often used as an option to fight acne or help with skin hydration because of the receptors found on t she kin.
Topicals don’t usually deliver psychoactive effects NOT because the cannabinoids found in them are non-psychoactive like cbd every single time, but because they latch onto the receptors on your skin and don’t penetrate deep enough to reach the bloodstream.
By reaching the bloodstream, cannabinoids will ultimately reach the brain and activate the endocannabinoid receptors in it.
Over the past decade, companies have been working on products called “trans-dermal patches” that allow for deeper penetration of cannabinoids like THC and CBD found in topical concentrates.
The content in these patches penetrates the epidermis and reaches your bloodstream, eventually latching on to the receptors in your brain and potentially activating the psychoactive effects of medical cannabis.
There are a few “buts and ifs” to this because concepts like bioavailability still play a role, but the fact that cannabinoids can reach the bloodstream through the skin layer is still a major break-through for cannabis product innovations going forward.
How do Trans-Dermal patches Work?
Trans-dermal patches are fabric material straps that come loaded with oils containing cannabinoids like thc and cbd which engage with the endocannabinoid receptors on your skin. But the question is, why do transdermal patches allow for psychoactive effects while other topicals don’t?
Even if they have a high concentration of thc in their formula other topicals don’t provide psychoactive effects regardless of how much you apply or how much time you wait.
It’s easier to understand than it sounds:
Like all cannabis topical products, patches have environments designed to sustain cannabinoids where they may survive. However, the environments in patches are designed to be unstable enough and “trick” the cannabinoids into looking for a more stable environment where they may thrive. In this case, an environment they are coincidentally attached to; your skin. Cbd and thc make their way onto your skin, penetrate it, and subsequently reach your bloodstream.
But it’s not only this act of sparking the “survival instincts” in the cannabinoids that make for a higher bioavailability in patches than with other topicals. The skin plays a role in keeping alien content out in order to protect you. The concentrates used on patches come infused with carrier oils that help cannabinoids penetrate the external layer of the skin and survive it.
The fact that patches are built to penetrate deeper doesn’t exactly mean that other topical products are inefficient. It just means that they have different benefits.
It will depend on the type of cannabinoids you’re taking, the carrier oils they are infused with, the type of medical relief your looking for, and at the end of the day it ultimately comes down to what product brands you use. Some topicals might have a more effective formula than others, and this is where brands come in and play their part.
Bioavailability in Topicals
Perhaps in order to understand what really happens once compounds latch onto receptors we need to understand the concept of bioavailability better.
Bioavailability refers to the proportion of a substance that is absorbed by the body and consequently enters the bloodstream. With higher bioavailability comes higher efficiency to the delivery method for that cannabis extract in particular. It largely depends on the main cannabinoid contained in the topical used.
Topicals don’t usually have a high bioavailability average because most of them don’t reach the bloodstream. But this doesn’t mean they are less efficient, it might just mean that they are meant to stay on the skin and not penetrate deeper.
Concluding Thoughts – Do Cannabis Topicals Work?
Cannabis products work in all shapes and forms, including topicals. As with any product, how effective they are will depend on the formula and the brand. Some brands are just better than others because they use better raw material or have more precise standard processes.
Topicals have different effects and vary in bioavailability. This is directly related to formulation and content. So make sure you know why you’re buying a topical and what effects you’re expecting from it. Research, read, and understand what each cannabinoid is good for in order to avoid being disappointed with a product.