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Cannabis Topicals and Transdermals

A Tool for Wellness and Pain Relief

By Adam PhillipsPublished 6 months ago 4 min read
Photo by Alesia Kozik via Pexels.com. A cannabis-infused topical cream with a fan leaf.

Cannabis topicals are versatile products that anyone can benefit from. They can help address conditions such as chronic pain, eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. Likewise, they can also be used for more common afflictions such as acne, itching, and bug bites. This article explores the many uses and potential benefits of cannabis topicals for wellness and pain relief.

What Are Cannabis Topicals?

Cannabis topicals are any infused cannabis product intended for direct application to the skin. These are available in many forms and textures. The most common are lotion, cream, balm, and patch.

THC and CBD, which are cannabinoids more commonly inhaled or ingested, have another route of absorption through the skin. Cannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid system by binding with CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body. The presence of these receptors in all cell types of the skin explains the efficacy of topical applications of cannabis.

The Endocannabinoid System

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is part of the central nervous system and its role is to help regulate the body and aid in homeostasis. We have two types of cannabinoid receptors that are located throughout the entire body. The CB1 receptor is located mostly in the brain, skin, and along the spine. The CB2 receptor is located in the spine, spleen, heart, kidneys, skin, and other major systems. Cannabinoids act on these receptors to cause the unique effects that cannabis offers.

The skin is the largest organ in the body and is abundant with both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Under normal conditions, the skin naturally produces endocannabinoids such as anandamide. Cannabinoids play various important roles in skin health by regulating oil production and reducing inflammation. Cannabis products serve as a supplement to the endocannabinoids naturally produced in the skin, enhancing their effects.

Topicals can be a very effective tool to combat chronic pain, neuropathy, itching, and more. This being said, not every product is created equal. There are a few different types of products you could come across and they all vary slightly in function.

Which Product Should I Choose?

There are a variety of products to choose from which differ slightly in application and function. The product that will be most beneficial for you will depend on the condition you are addressing.


Topicals are infused product that is intended to treat the surface layer of the skin. These products are good for itching, bug bites, burns, and surface-level pain. Topicals do not penetrate the bloodstream to cause any systemic effects. I don’t recommend topical products for chronic pain or muscle pain for this reason. They may help, but will not be as effective as other products.


This is an infused product that is intended to be applied directly, but transdermals can penetrate the epidermis layer of the skin and enter the bloodstream. This type of product is better for chronic pain, muscle pain, neuropathies, and other systemic ailments. The strongest effect of the product is still achieved locally where it is applied.

Cannabinoids can enter the bloodstream systemically, and in some cases, cause a psychotropic effect. This is something to be aware of, but it is very rare. Elderly individuals and those sensitive to THC may want to start with a small amount to test the product first. You could also opt for a CBD-only product.

Transdermal Patch

This is very similar in function to a transdermal lotion. Instead of applying a lotion to the skin, a patch is applied which is designed to deliver cannabinoids through the skin over some time. Most products contain 10–50mg of cannabinoids delivered over 12–24 hours. This is sometimes preferable so you don’t have to reapply lotion every few hours.


If you can, find a product with both. THC binds mainly to the CB1 receptor, while CBD binds to the CB2 receptor. Our skin is abundant in both receptors and can benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects of both cannabinoids. I recommend starting with a product that is 1:1 THC to CBD. Each individual’s endocannabinoid system will respond differently, however, so trying different formulations may be beneficial.

Best Practices

Most of these products are simple to use, but there are a few things you can do to increase their efficacy.

  1. Make sure you choose a product that makes sense for you. Treat surface-level issues like itching, rash, and bug bites with topical products. Treat issues like chronic, muscular, and neuropathic pain with a transdermal lotion or patch. Remember, every transdermal is a topical, but not every topical is transdermal.
  2. If possible, apply after taking a warm shower. This opens up the pores in your skin and allows for better absorption.
  3. Keep in mind that topical products are not systemic and do not enter the bloodstream. They have no psychotropic effects and will not cause you to fail a drug test. Transdermal products enter the bloodstream, so it is possible to feel psychotropic effects as well as fail a drug test.
  4. Experiment with different products to find the formulation that works for you. There are also other similar cannabinoids to CBD, such as CBG and CBC. These products are less common, but function similarly and will be just as effective for many individuals.


Topical cannabis products are a great addition to anyone’s toolkit, regardless of their typical cannabis consumption habits. Their versatility proves beneficial for a variety of pains and ailments. Topical cannabis products are a great supplement for cannabis enthusiasts or anyone focused on their health and wellness.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this article is not intended as medical advice. Please seek guidance from a medical professional regarding medical conditions. This article is what I know from working years in the cannabis industry as well as research currently available. The legality of cannabis where you live may vary. Please check local laws.

marijuana minutestrainsindustryhow tohealth

About the Creator

Adam Phillips

I am a cannabis industry professional currently working in a medical dispensary. My passion is to educate people on how to use cannabis and other natural remedies to improve their quality of life.

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