Our final part of this three-part Populace series considers topical treatments. Cannabis oil as a topical treatment dates back to ancient eras in Ayurvedic Indian and traditional Chinese medicine. In Tibet, cannabis was an ingredient in remedies for itchy skin.

Recently topical treatments have become a new way to get the pain relieving benefits of CBD and THC without the psychoactive effects that come with other forms of cannabis consumption. Hemp seed oil is also appearing more and more on ingredient lists of products offered by beauty brands for its high content of fatty acids, which make it an excellent moisturizing agent.

What Are Topical Treatments?

Topical treatments are an accessible way to benefit from cannabinoids by applying cannabis-infused oils, creams, sprays, or salves to your skin. They are most beneficial for people looking for localized relief from minor pain.

Transdermal pain-relief patches are also a way to deliver THC and CBD into the bloodstream, working similarly to nicotine patches by using chemicals to penetrate the dermal layer.

CBD is the most popular active ingredient in topicals. Studies show that CBD can penetrate the skin ten times better than THC, making it more useful for localized treatments.

How Are Topical Treatments Made?

The method used to develop topical treatments varies, though generally they are made by infusing cannabis into a carrier oil like coconut or cocoa butter (a little bit like our cooking lesson in part two of this series). Some make topical treatments at home, but there is a booming industry in selling wellness products using hemp-derived CBD, combined with other terpene-rich essential oils.

How do Topical Treatments Work?

Cannabinoids such as CBD and THC act as chemical messengers that bind to cell receptors throughout the body and unlock them to start and stop processes in the body. Cannabinoids are proving to be a new and exciting area in the field of pharmacokinetics study (how drugs move through our bodies).

CBD is the most popular active ingredient in topicals

Instead of entering the bloodstream and causing psychoactive effects, topicals are thought to be directly absorbed by cannabinoid receptors in the skin (specifically CB2 receptors), which influence inflammatory and allergic responses.

Topicals for Pain Relief

CBD has been shown to be an analgesic (pain reliever) that helps with inflammation. As a result, topical treatments are often used to treat conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis, multiple sclerosis and more. Topicals can take 20-30 minutes to take effect and can last for two to three hours, providing short-term relief. While topical treatments do not cure specific ailments, they are meant to make the pain associated more tolerable.

Though more clinical data is needed, preliminary research suggests that cannabinoids such as CBD can also help relieve irritation associated with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

Pain-relieving suppositories are thought to help with menstrual cramping, as are balms and salves -- actress Whoopi Goldberg has even launched a line of cannabis-based topicals aimed at period pain relief. Pain-relieving suppositories for men are also on the market, usually based on cocoa butter and contain a high CBD content.

Cannabis-infused Cosmetics

Topicals are not just for pain relief; the cosmetics and beauty industry is also starting to promote cannabis-infused products, like hair pomade, lip balm, moisturizer, mascara, massage oils, and bath salts. Luxury brand CBD-infused skin lotion is the latest celebrity must-have, endorsed by Hollywood actresses Olivia Wilde, Jessica Seinfeld, Busy Philipps, and Mandy Moore all singing the praises of high-end CBD lotions to help relieve tired muscles.
Also available are massage oils and personal lubricants-- cannabis oil-based ‘weed lubes’ are marketed as increasing blood flow and sensation for females. With increased access due to legalization, these products have experienced rapid growth in popularity in 2018.

However you choose to use cannabis topicals, it’s an exciting time for scientists and consumers alike. Cannabis legalization opens up the possibility for more research into topical treatments. With public perception changing, cannabis is becoming more mainstream and new products are exploring the benefits of cannabinoids beyond pain relief.