How Do Cannabis Topicals Work?

Topicals; one of the most popular ways to use cannabis and take advantage of its many benefits. Even though they have been around for many years, recent cannabis legalization has allowed companies to improve and create better and more advanced products consistently. Created with Apothecanna.

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Since cannabis became legal and stepped away from the illicit drug category, it’s every day becoming more and more normalized by society. People are now understanding and taking advantage of the many benefits that the plant has and the many ways it can be used: smoked, vaped, eaten, drank, and even rubbed. Cannabis-infused topicals, which in reality have been used for years now, are taking advantage of the herb’s legality and bringing in more innovations and evolving towards more advanced and research-backed products.  

What Exactly are Cannabis Topicals?

Derived from the Greek word topikos, which means of a place, a topical is a kind of medication that is applied directly to a part of the body. Most cannabis topicals are epicutaneous, which means that they are applied straight to the skin itself. Different balms, salves, oils, and bath salts are infused with cannabinoids like THC or CBD that bind to the cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. This process of binding has been shown to produce anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects on the localized area where it occurs. Often these topicals contain other medicinal plants that work with the cannabinoids to maximize benefits.

When these cannabinoids are applied via a topical, they get trapped in the fat cells in the area they were applied to, causing them not to breach into the bloodstream. This means that even if your topical contains active THC, it won’t get you high like smoking or ingesting cannabis would. This makes them excellent solutions for people who want the medicinal benefits of cannabis on localized areas of the body, but do not want to actually get high.

The Difference Between Topicals and Transdermals

It’s important to note that cannabis-infused topicals are different from cannabis transdermals. While both are ways of applying cannabinoids directly to the skin, they interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system in dramatically different ways.

Topicals are designed to have localized effects directly on the applied area. This makes them very effective at treating things like acne breakouts, or for site-specific soreness. Other products work wonders on post-workout muscle aches. As mentioned earlier in this article, these products are not designed to get you high.

Transdermals, however, are a different story. If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking cigarettes with the aid of a nicotine patch, then you already know a little something about them. Cannabis transdermals are used in the same way the nicotine patch is—by placing an adhesive patch on a veinous part of the body. These patches then dispense cannabinoids into the bloodstream. Unlike topicals, transdermals do penetrate the epidermis, which means that using transdermals with active THC will definitely produce the psychoactive effects associated with consuming cannabis in more conventional ways.

Uses of Topicals

Cannabis-infused topicals have a myriad of different uses ranging from pain management to your skincare routine. The ease of use makes topicals one of the most efficient methods for delivering cannabinoids to the body, and due to the lack of intoxicating effects cannabis topicals are becoming increasingly visible in more mainstream markets.

Pain Relief

Topicals are a great solution for spot treating aches and pains. Scientific studies have pointed out the natural pain-relieving qualities possessed by cannabinoids that can soothe soreness, and are often combined with ingredients that create cooling sensations, like menthol or peppermint, to help alleviate discomfort. THC and CBD can work great together with peppermint to comfort sore muscles.  

Many who suffer from arthritis find that cannabis-infused topicals helps to assuage their symptoms. These anecdotal claims are also backed up by science. The main cause of arthritic pain is joint inflammation and cannabinoids like CBD and THCA have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce swelling and alleviate the pain that comes with it.


Take the beauty industry for example. CBD is quickly becoming the in-vogue ingredient in many different skincare products. Research shows that CBD can be an effective treatment for acne by inhibiting the production of excess sebum—an oily secretion of the sebaceous gland that keeps your skin naturally moisturized, but can make you more prone to breakouts when present in overabundance. The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD can also work to reduce redness and the effects of aging, which has beauty product manufacturers more than intrigued. But it doesn’t stop there: some pre-clinical trials have even suggested that cannabis may be effective at treating psoriasis and skin cancer. 

Cannabis-infused skincare products come in several different forms. You can find things like serums, face masks, lip balms, and body lotions or creams that contain CBD or THC. Often, these creams can pull double duty—not only moisturize the skin where it’s applied but also offer soreness relief.

Bath Salts

Not much beats a relaxing soak in the bath after a long hard day, but the addition of cannabis helps take that unwinding process up another notch. Cannabis-infused bath salts are incredibly easy to make and will make your bathing experience something incredible. The premise is very simple: mix any regular bath salts with cannabis oils that you can buy or make yourself by baking your buds and mixing them with any oil you want. Drop them in your bathtub and prepare to relax your body and mind. Talk about making a great thing even better!

What to Look For in a Topical

Not all topicals are created equal. When looking to purchase one, there are some things to consider. Like any product, a cannabis topical is only as good as its ingredients. Since the star ingredients here are cannabinoids, you’ll first want to make sure the topical you buy is derived from the finest herb. Look for reputable, ecologically responsible companies that don’t cut corners with their crops. Find growers like 48North, that produce high-quality organic cannabis plants without the use of any pesticides.

While cannabis may be the star, you’ll want a strong supporting cast as well. Find topicals that use natural ingredients and essential oils while avoiding any artificial aromatics that may be harsh on the skin.

Different topicals have different effects, and some of it is simply a matter of preference. The best thing you as a consumer can do is get out there and try different products to see what works for you. Apothecanna is a great place to start!

May 26, 2020 — Last Updated October 13, 2020
Written by Herb
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May 26, 2020 — Last Updated October 13, 2020
Written by Herb

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