What are cannabis topicals?
Cannabis topicals are balms, creams, lotions, salves, oils, and sprays. These products can be used for a variety of purposes, including first aid, skincare, and cosmetics. While many people are familiar with the concept of medical cannabis, fewer realize the vast potential of topical applications.
Firstly, these infused topicals are not going to get you high. Cannabis topicals work because of the unique phytochemicals found in the plant. These include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the primary psychoactive in the herb, the culprit behind the famous cannabis “high.” Yet, when applied topically, the psychoactive does not have any mind-altering effects. Instead, the cannabis compound works locally to reduce inflammation and ease pain. Similarly, CBD, the second most abundant cannabis compound, does not exert systemic effects when applied topically. Both of these main cannabinoids, as well as other minor cannabis compounds, can engage specific receptors on the surface of the skin. These receptors are called cannabinoid receptors. Research suggests that these cannabinoid receptors regulate inflammation in the skin, which is part of the body’s immune response. Evidence suggests that cannabinoid receptors also lend a hand in the production of sebum, which is the natural oil produced by the skin. Sebum helps waterproof the skin and is implicated in acne and the occasional breakout.
What about essential oils?
Cannabinoids, however, are not the only beneficial molecules in cannabis. Terpenes, the chemicals behind the herb’s famous scent, also have therapeutic benefits. Terpenes are molecules that are generally recognized as safe by the U.S. FDA and are found in plant essential oils. One of the notable terpenes in cannabis is pinene, which is also found in pine needles. Like an all-natural Vapor Rub, pinene is an expectorant and potent bronchodilator. This compound happens to be one of the most abundant terpenes in some cannabis varieties that fall under the “Kush” denomination. Another terpene to care about is linalool, which is also found in lavender oil. Linalool is thought to be particularly useful as a topical treatment for burns, as it has cooling properties. A 2015 study published in Natural Products & Chemistry Research found that linalool was more common in cannabis varieties that fall under the OG family. Evidence suggests that as little as 0.05 percent of these molecules can have pharmacological effects on the body. In general, about one to two percent of cannabis oils are terpenes. This is enough to be pharmacologically active. Unlike cannabinoids, which tend to be big molecules that may not soak deeply into the skin, terpenes can. When searching for a good cannabis topical, ones that contain both cannabinoids and terpenes are ideal. Terpenes are found in the essential oils of just about any plant.
What are cannabis topicals used for?
Topical applications of cannabis have been used for millennia. In fact, early concoctions of cannabis flowers and honey were used by ancient Egyptians to ease the pain of childbirth. In other cultures, including ancient China and in some regions of Europe, cannabis poultice and other topical remedies were applied to wounds. Apart from consuming the herb orally, topical cannabis was a primary way that humans have utilized cannabis throughout history. When it comes to more modern applications, here’s what cannabis topicals are used for:
Whether it’s a sprain, infection, burn, or another abrasion cannabis topicals are potent anti-inflammatories. Topicals provide localized relief to a specific area, potentially allowing you to avoid the need to take a systemic medication. While extreme cases of inflammation will likely require reinforcement, some of the common anecdotal ways cannabis patients use these anti-inflammatory topicals include: Twists and sprains, insect bites and stings, joint pain (arthritis), muscle pain, burns, bruises, and swelling.
Have a wound? It is now fairly well accepted that cannabis has antiseptic potential. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD have even been found to be effective in killing Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is a superbug that is resistant to the use of antibiotics. Evidence suggests that these compounds hold antimicrobial qualities for the plant, protecting growing plants from harmful pathogens. It is possible that these same qualities are what give cannabis powerful antiseptic properties for the skin.
3. Pain relief
If your pain is skin deep, topical cannabis may be able to help.
Not only is the herb a potent anti-inflammatory, but it is a well-known analgesic. In fact, surveys suggest that many medical cannabis patients prefer cannabis over prescription painkillers. Unfortunately, there has yet to be sufficient human research on whether or not topical cannabis can ease severe pain from ailments like arthritis or muscle strain. However, many patients report relief from these conditions through topical cannabis application. Until there is more data, the only way to say for sure if canna-ointments will work for you is to test them out.
Cannabinoids are potent antioxidants. Antioxidants are vital for preventing cell and DNA damage caused by free radicals. Many free radicals come from external sources, including pollution and UV radiation. These external factors contribute to the fine lines and wrinkles on the face. As powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidants, there is a growing number of beauty products and cosmetics that utilize the anti-aging potential of cannabinoids. They can be added to homemade night creams or infused into a daily moisturizer.
5. Acne control
Looking for a new acne solution?
Research suggests that at least one cannabis compound, non-psychotropic CBD may reduce excess oil in the skin. As mentioned above, CBD also has antiseptic properties, which makes it a compound of interest in acne skincare.
There is mounting evidence that cannabis may be a useful tool in combating cancer.
While significant human trials are lacking, a case study published in January of 2017 suggests that topical cannabis applications may be helpful for managing pain and perhaps even healing malignant wounds. In the case study, a 44-year-old man was able to reduce his doses of pharmaceutical painkillers by 25 percent and his wound saw a five percent reduction in size after applying a topical cannabis oil. Unfortunately, the man’s condition had progressed so severely that he passed away. This is an unfortunate reminder that we must never consider cannabis a cure-all or silver bullet. It’s a medicinal tool that you can learn how to use by itself or in conjunction with other therapies. Until there is more data, the only way to say for sure if canna-ointments will work for you is to test them out.