Weed has moved so far beyond the joint and bong, and we know it does more than get the user high. Now, many people turn to cannabis for therapeutic benefits, and one type of product promising to help them with this is topical THC and CBD.
Cannabis-infused topicals like balms, oils, and lotions are incredibly popular at dispensaries across Canada. How do they work?
What Are Topicals?
Topicals are products that allow users to absorb the cannabinoids THC and CBD through the skin. Most of these balms and lotions cannot intoxicate, making them a preferred choice of patients who want the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, like localized relief of pain, soreness, and inflammation, without any cerebral euphoria associated with other delivery methods.
They work the same way other forms of weed work: by affecting the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is the series of cannabinoid receptors present throughout the body, and they are associated with regulating pain, appetite, immune function, mood and more. Your skin connects to the ECS, and it has a high concentration of cannabinoid receptors.
These receptors become activated in two ways: by naturally occurring endocannabinoids in the body and the compounds in cannabis called “phytocannabinoids.” The main ones of these are THC and CBD, and they interact with the receptors in many ways. In this way, different topicals offer different benefits depending on how the body processes them and the ingredients included.
How Do Topical CBD Products Work?
Topical CBD products can help address pain or inflammation at a specific area of your body, such as on the joints. The product won’t enter the bloodstream. So a topical CBD product isn’t designed to address the systemic problem, but it may help directly on the skin.
Topical CBD products don’t just mask pain or inflammation as some over-the-counter topical pain relief creams do. They actually can make the pain go away for a certain amount of time. Research has shown that CBD can turn down inflammatory markers produced by certain medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. The effect of CBD can vary from person to person, as the ECS in everyone is different.
How Do Topical THC Products Work?
Most topical THC products don’t work like vapes, edibles, or dried bud. Even if a topical contains THC as an active ingredient, it won’t induce an intense “high” one would get from smoking or ingesting it in other forms. It’s because, as we mentioned above, the cannabinoids in most topicals can’t get into the bloodstream; they affect the CB2 receptors in your epidermis.
One advancement, called transdermal patches, could deliver cannabinoids to the bloodstream. They may have psychoactive effects if the THC content is high enough. Long-lasting patches could be ideal for patients and recreational consumers alike, who want the high without ingesting or inhaling THC.
In most products, though, THC is often included to assist the CBD. For most users, active THC does not affect inflammation, but when left in its acid form and combined with CBD, the two phytocannabinoids work to eliminate inflammation and the pain that comes with it.