Friday September 13, 2019
By Erin Hiatt
Many people new to cannabis – and even those in the know – are often confused about cannabis topicals and frequently ask one particular question: “Do topicals get you high?” While it may seem pretty simple, the answer is actually not so straightforward. Thankfully, we’re here to help you understand the ins and outs of cannabis topicals and how they can be used to their full potential!
What is a Cannabis Topical?
A topical is a preparation “designed for or involving local application and action (as on the body),” according to the folks at Merriam-Webster. In the cannabis world, topicals are often found as lotions, creams, bath salts and oils infused with cannabinoids.
Topicals are often confused with transdermal applications of cannabis, which are found as patches like those used for smoking cessation, birth control, or delivery of some pain relievers. They are only “topicals” in the sense that they are applied to the skin, but that is where the commonalities end.
The Difference Between Topical and Transdermal Cannabis Products
Both transdermal products and topicals can be infused with CBD and THC – two of the cannabinoids that help to relieve pain and inflammation by slowing down pain signals from the brain. The way that these interact with the body’s endocannabinoid can be very different depending on the preparation.
A topical is intended to have an effect at the actual application site, which makes it a soothing salve for skin irritations, muscle soreness, and arthritis. When absorbed through topicals, cannabis molecules linger in fat cells. Thus, when the topical is absorbed into in the body, THC molecules – the ones that get you high – are not absorbed into the bloodstream and remain at the site where they were applied.
The takeaway here is that a cannabis topical is not designed to get you high.
But transdermal cannabis products are a different story. With a transdermal patch, the medication in the preparation is designed to penetrate through the skin or mucosal membranes, and does its work into the bloodstream, away from the application site and throughout the body. Meant to release medicine over time and at a controlled rate, the effects generally kick in after a couple of hours but endure longer than a topical, with some people reporting relief for as many as two days or more.
Transdermal cannabis topicals have a very high bioavailability, meaning that the product has a very active effect and will send a consistent dose through the bloodstream. However, transdermal topicals may lose some of the aromatic terpenes and rarer cannabinoids in the manufacturing process. When terpenes are removed, some of their beneficial properties are removed as well. Those that medicate with strains of specific terpene profiles should be aware when medicating with transdermal topicals that the effect might differ.
The Benefits of Cannabis Topicals vs. Transdermals
Cannabis topicals have been shown to deliver very effective relief for common skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and rosacea, and can also be helpful in relieving pain from bug bites, scratches, and wounds. Topicals are ideal for treating skin conditions because, as mentioned, the cannabinoids linger in the skin.
Topicals are also an excellent solution for those who prefer to be discreet with their cannabis use, require site-specific relief, need to use the topical throughout the day, and cannot, or do not, want to get high. Typically, drug onset will be felt within a few minutes and remain for one to two hours. Frequent reapplication of a topical may be needed to deliver the best results.
A transdermal marijuana patch is an excellent option for those who have trouble swallowing, chronic pain, muscle spasms, and nausea. Generally, transdermals are not as widely available as topicals, but there are a few options available on the market offering different ratios of THC and CBD.
It’s important to remember, a transdermal cannabis product that contains THC will get you high.
Many people prefer transdermals because, like topicals, they are discreet and convenient. Additionally, by using a transdermal, some of the side effects that come with inhaled cannabis like dry mouth, dry and red eyes, and bronchial irritation can be avoided. However, transdermals may not deliver relief as quickly as inhaled cannabis (which is considered one of the quickest uptake methods).
Topicals that you apply to your skin like creams, balms, and patches are very effective tools in your healing arsenal. A cream, oil, or balm, even if it contains THC, will not get you high, however a transdermal patch that contains THC will, although not all transdermal patches contain THC. Be sure to find the preparation that suits your needs.
What do you use cannabis topicals for? Chime in with your favorite applications!