Updated on January 28, 2019.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Marijuana is a diverse plant. For years, patients with different disorders have been using the herb to self-medicate and alleviate many painful symptoms. Now that modern medicine is finally seeing the potential uses of cannabis, the plant has been legalized for medical purposes in many states for several different conditions. It’s also entering a golden age of production.
States throughout the U.S. are allowing growers and producers to perfect strains. This lets patients find precisely what they need to treat their specific symptoms. THC isn’t the only cannabinoid in the plant — cannabidiol (CBD) is the non-psychoactive counterpart, which presents many medical benefits without the psychoactive side effects.
Patients also no longer have to light a joint or take a hit from a bong to experience much-needed relief for their medical conditions. Manufacturers can extract CBD from marijuana plants and use it to produce a whole line of cannabidiol products. CBD topicals are recommended if your condition or preferences prevent you from smoking, vaping or consuming marijuana edibles.
But what good is it to put cannabis on the outside of your body? Does it have legitimate medicinal benefits, or is it just a placebo?
What Are CBD Topical Treatments?
Topicals infused with marijuana, specifically CBD, are quickly gaining popularity among those looking to use cannabis for its medicinal benefits. Topicals aren’t transdermal, meaning they’re not designed to pass into your bloodstream. This alleviates even the smallest chance of getting high.
To create these medications, CBD is extracted from the high-quality cannabis flowers. It’s then infused into some sort of oil, usually coconut or olive oil. Sometimes the oils are blended with therapeutic or aromatic herbs to increase the cannabinoid’s effectiveness. Most manufacturers ensure all ingredients are natural.
Some of the most popular CBD topicals include:
However, CBD oil can be infused into a variety of other topical products. Manufacturers are becoming quite creative — you can now find infused lip balms, cosmetics, massage oils and more.
Do Topicals Work?
The skin is our largest organ. When you apply a topical, the active cannabinoids seep in and are absorbed directly into the area where you need the treatment. Cannabinoids, like CBD, interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) in surprising ways.
The ECS is a series of receptors found throughout the body, including organs, bodily systems, tissues and glands. It plays a role in immunity, digestion, emotional well-being and much more. Simply put, the endocannabinoid system regulates pain, hunger, mood and memory.
When we have a disease or disorder, it also impacts the endocannabinoid system. The cannabinoids in marijuana affect the ECS by binding to its receptors. One thing CBD is known for is elevating natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body. However, there are many other health benefits found in cannabis treatments.
When CBD topicals are applied to the skin, they interact with receptors present in our largest external organ. Once absorbed, patients can feel relief for a variety of symptoms, including:
CBD topicals are grouped with other marijuana products, making them federally banned despite having no harmful or psychoactive side effects. This, unfortunately, limits the amount of research available about their effectiveness. However, anecdotal reports from many patients attest to their benefits. It should be noted that because the skin has a low absorption rate, it’s recommended to apply all topical treatments liberally.
Benefits of CBD Topicals
Although smoking allows users to experience quick relief, the smoke has a negative impact on many medical conditions. Edibles are a viable option, but they can take up to two hours for a patient to feel their effects. When you apply a topical to an affected area, not only is the CBD absorbed directly into the skin, but it provides focused relief to the area where you need it the most.
Topicals are also great for first-time cannabis users. You may be unwilling to ingest a CBD product, but experimenting with it externally allows for a bit more control so that you can experience the benefits of cannabidiol. In addition to having no negative side effects and being completely non-addictive, some advantages of CBD topicals include:
Minimally Invasive: Won’t affect other parts of your body or mind
If you’re experiencing any kind of localized pain or ache, CBD topicals are a useful form of treatment. They’re also beneficial for patients with medical conditions that affect the respiratory system or lungs, as smoking marijuana increases breathing difficulties.
Athletes struggling with pain or inflammation may want to consider this form of alternative treatment, as well. CBD topicals provide relief without the “doping” effect of painkillers. Plus, it doesn’t impact drug testing. They can be used to massage sore muscles or for soaking in a warm bath.
Because CBD has a positive impact on our body’s immune system, CBD topicals could potentially treat skin allergies. Although this is still in the testing phase, cannabis has been shown to balance out the system’s response to outside allergens.
CBD topicals are applied directly to the skin and have been found to provide faster relief for patients combatting the following conditions:
Even though CBD topicals have no psychotropic side effects, they’re considered a medical marijuana product. If you feel you would benefit from these topical treatments, you first need to obtain a medical marijuana license. Your state will have had to approve cannabis for your medical condition.
Meet with a doctor to discuss this treatment option today. Our advice shouldn’t replace that of a medical professional, as they can take all aspects of your individual condition into consideration. For more information about CBD topicals, make an appointment with a marijuana doctor or contact a local medical marijuana dispensary.