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What's a Cannabis Topical?

Legalization of cannabis is bringing us further away from the idea that marijuana only belongs in a joint – or that it has to get you high, for that matter. Cannabis-infused topicals are an example of how new (old) ways of consumption are revolutionizing perceptions of marijuana as their accessibility, safety, and efficiency invite even the most unlikely consumers into the world of medical cannabis.

In December I was given a large jar of cannabis wax by a friend who owns a lab that produces CBD oil. The sticky wax was left over from a recent extraction so I decided to make a Healing Salve with it. To my delight, it worked exceptionally well for reducing pain and skin irritations. Plus it provided a wonderful, protective layer of moisture on my skin, which came in handy during my week long stay in chilly Toronto over the Christmas Holidays.

What are Topicals?

Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions, balms, and oils that are absorbed through the skin for localized relief of pain, soreness, and inflammation. Because they’re non-intoxicating, topicals are often chosen by patients who want the therapeutic benefits of marijuana without the high associated with other delivery methods. While topicals are completely non-intoxicating, cannabis is known to have both analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, making the plant perfect for use on surface-oriented pain.

How Do Marijuana-Infused Topicals Work?

Cannabis-infused lotions, salves, oils, sprays, and other transdermal methods of relief work by binding to a network of receptors called CB2. These CB2 receptors are found throughout the body and are activated either by the body’s naturally-occurring endocannabinoids or by cannabis compounds known as “phytocannabinoids” (e.g., THC, CBD).

Even if a topical contains active THC, it still won’t induce that intense “high” you’d get from smoking or eating cannabis. With most topicals, cannabinoids can’t enter the bloodstream; they only penetrate to the system of CB2 receptors. Transdermal patches, however, do deliver cannabinoids to the bloodstream and could have psychoactive effects with a high enough THC content.

What Symptoms Do Marijuana-Infused Topicals Treat?

Topicals are most popularly chosen for localized pain relief, muscle soreness, tension, and inflammation, but anecdotal evidence is beginning to show a widening spectrum of potential benefits, from psoriasis, dermatitis, and itching to headaches and cramping. A THC-rich rub infused with cooling menthol and peppermint is a perfect way to wind down from a brutal workout or hike. For intense localized pain, you may try a warming balm that combines the deep painkilling properties of cannabinoids with a tingling, soothing sensation.

Inflammation symptoms may require a different chemical profile, as Cannabis Basics’ CEO Aimee Warner explains:

“Arthritic pain is caused by inflammation. My products have [THCA] and CBD, both of which are anti-inflammatory. Active THC is not for inflammation, but when left in its acid form and combined with CBD, the two work to get rid of inflammation and the pain that comes with it.”

Different topicals have different benefits to offer depending on the way they are processed and the ingredients that are used, so experiment with various transdermal products to see what works for you. You’d be surprised the difference that one special ingredient makes.

The Healing Salve I mentioned at the beginning of this article will be available for purchase at the next Market in the Alley on January 20th. Supply is limited so early arrival that day is suggested.

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