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Everything You Need to Know About Cannabis Topicals

You may not think of lotions when you think of cannabis consumption, but topicals are a helpful part of the regimen for those with chronic pain, arthritis, and other conditions. Topicals provide fast-acting localized relief within a few minutes: Infused with phytocannabinoids and terpenes, these products are absorbed through your skin, where compounds like Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) influence the endocannabinoid receptors in your skin and muscles. 

Whether you are an athlete looking for a post-game cooldown or you want something to ease your persistent joint pain, there are topical products geared toward your needs. This guide will introduce you to cannabis topicals, how they work, and the product options you can try. 

Why cannabis topicals?

Useful for zeroing in on specific problem areas, cannabis topicals achieve different goals than many other cannabis products. Here are some of the reasons you may want to try a topical:

  • Targeted relief: Topicals are especially effective at relieving pain, soreness, or swelling in specific areas[2]. They do not go through your bloodstream, called systemic, before getting to work on your back, wrists, knees, or anywhere else it helps.
  • Fast-acting: Topicals begin working within a few minutes of application, as soon as cannabinoids and terpenes absorb into your skin.
  • Discretion: Topicals are discreet, as they appear like any other lotion.
  • Portability: Topicals can be easily carried along on the go. They generally come in sealable containers that can be safely stored without risk of spilling.
  • Non-intoxicating: Even if a topical contains THC, it is not likely to cause intoxication because they do not enter your bloodstream. This is a positive for consumers who are looking for relief without an altered perception.

Although topicals excel in the above ways, they have their limitations too. These include:

  • Topicals only offer localized relief: Because cannabis topicals are non-systemic, they only offer localized relief. While this makes them exceptional for muscle aches, joint soreness, and local inflammation, it means they are ineffective for other conditions. As a result, topicals are often part of a cannabis routine that utilizes other products to help manage pain.
  • Non-intoxicating: If you are in search of an intoxicating experience, cannabis topicals are not the right product for you.
  • More effective in combination: Oftentimes, cannabis topicals are recommended alongside the use of other types of cannabis products, such as flower, concentrates, or ingestibles. Topicals alone often are not enough to completely manage some conditions, such as chronic pain.


How cannabis topicals work

Cannabis topicals deliver phytocannabinoids and terpenes to the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS), which influences a wide range of bodily operations. The ECS includes a series of cannabinoid receptors throughout your body, with large amounts in your skin and muscles. When a topical is absorbed into your skin, phytocannabinoids and terpenes influence the receptors there, influencing factors that can cause pain, stiffness, or soreness. The effects of a cannabis topical are limited to the area in which they are applied, since topicals do not reach your bloodstream. 

What are your options at the dispensary?

Cannabis topicals cast a wide net, with product options ranging from lotions and creams aimed at soothing tired muscles to serums and lotions geared for cosmetic purposes. 

In some cases, you might be able to find topicals that mimic the compound profile of a popular strain. Often, though, they are formulated in a specific THC to CBD ratio. Terpenes are important for topicals, too – not just for fragrance, but for function. The citrus-scented limonene is important here: This terpene increases the absorption of cannabinoids into your skin, increasing the effectiveness of the topical. You will find many topicals formulated with limonene for this reason.

When choosing a topical, consider the potency as well. This is expressed as milligrams on the label. The milligrams of cannabinoids per container will give you a sense of how potent the topical is, helping you gauge what an appropriate dose may be to provide relief. An example of a typical topical would be a cream with 500mg THC per bottle. 

How do you use topicals?

How and when you use a cannabis topical depends on the type of topical you choose and the purpose for which you intend to use it. You may choose to use a topical preemptively before any activity that may cause pain, or you may want to use it to help manage spikes in your pain. No matter the reason, application is the same: take a small amount and rub it thoroughly into the desired area.

Topicals are typically used in conjunction with other cannabis products. Cannabis flower, concentrates, and ingestibles are generally used for systemic release and psychoactive effects, while topicals are used for targeted relief during flare ups or to manage pain. Combining a topical with a cannabis routine can provide additional relief when needed.

Which cannabis topical is right for you?

From lavender-scented lotions to cooling creams, cannabis topicals offer many options which may be helpful for managing chronic pain, soreness, and stiffness. Just like any other cannabis product, though, finding the perfect match may be a challenge. When you walk into an Ethos dispensary, our helpful associates can walk you through your options and help you find the right fit based on your symptoms and how you want to use a topical in your regular routine. Explore our library of cannabis resources and education to get started, and if you have questions on which cannabis product is right for you, bring them to an Ethos associate who can help guide you through the dispensary’s menu.

SOURCES:

1. What are Cannabis Topicals? https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-are-cannabis-topicals

2. Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviors in a rat model of arthritis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4851925/

3. What is Limonene: https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-is-limonene-and-what-are-the-benefits-of-this-cannabis-terpe

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