What are Topicals?

Topicals are oils, lotions and balms infused with cannabinoids that are applied to the skin. Even though some topicals may contain THC, most are non-psychoactive (the exceptions to this are transdermal topicals such as patches and pens, which enable cannabinoids to enter the bloodstream through the skin). Topicals are often preferred by those wanting to experience marijuana’s beneficial qualities without the psychoactive effects produced by inhalation or ingestion. Some people find topicals may have a positive effect for localized relief of aches, pain, and inflammation.

How do Topicals work?

Cannabis topicals work by binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are found throughout the body and are activated by the body’s naturally-occurring endocannabinoids or by cannabis compounds known as cannabinoids.

Research on topicals has been minimal, but one study published by the US National Library of Medicine found that both CB1 and CB2 receptors are located in many areas of the skin, including hair follicles, sweat glands and nerve fiber bundles. Essentially, this study finds that cannabinoids can directly affect the CB1 & CB2 receptors without allowing THC to pass through the brain or bloodstream, thereby preventing the user from feeling “high”.

Transdermal patches and pens, on the other hand, do deliver cannabinoids to the bloodstream and can produce psychoactive effects with the right amount of THC. Transdermal patches are also available with CBD, one of the many non-psychoactive cannabinoids found in cannabis.