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The Healing Properties of Medical Cannabis-Infused Topicals

Leslie kahn

As more and more states are embracing medical cannabis, there is an explosion of new products being developed to improve the quality of the lives and health of patients. In a very short span of time, dispensaries have gone from just selling flower to offering many different delivery methods, especially for those who prefer not to smoke or dislike its psychotropic effects. One such delivery method is cannabis-infused topicals. In this article I examine the different types of topicals, the conditions they treat, how topicals work, and how essential oils and terpenes add to the healing properties of topicals.

Cannabis-infused topicals provide fast-acting relief via direct application to targeted areas on the surface of the skin. They include tinctures, lubricants, lotions and balms, creams and salves, oils, sprays and even bath salts. They are the perfect vehicle in which to incorporate essential oils and terpenes, adding a pleasant scent as well as providing additional healing benefits. 

There are 3 functions of the skin, the largest organ in the body; protection, regulation and sensation. The skin also contains a very large number of cannabinoid receptors.  When applied to the skin, the cannabinoids are quickly absorbed so that they can be utilized most efficiently by the body without the need to metabolize them or to enter the bloodstream. That explains why consumers do not experience any psychotropic effects as the cannabinoids do not penetrate beyond the first 3 layers of skin.

Cannabis-infused topicals are used to treat following conditions:

  • Burns and wounds 
  • Sports injuries, minor muscle aches and spasms
  • Arthritis, especially in those areas close to the surface of the skin such as fingers and knees
  • Skin irritations, allergies and fungal infections
  • Insect bites and superficial scratches
  • Psoriasis
  • Migraines
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Acne, fever blisters and warts
  • Menstrual cramps

Here's why cannabis topicals work so well...
1. Provide Quick, Localized Pain Relief without the psychotropic effects. Cannabinoids have an affinity to binding with CB2 receptors in the skin, nerves and muscle tissue. As a result, topicals work quickly to relief pain as they are rapidly absorbed by the skin without entering the bloodstream. 

2. Relieve Mild Skin Irritations due to the antibacterial properties of cannabinoids and terpenes. They help to soothe and nourish irritated skin.

3. Heals Psoriasis which is a painful, often chronic condition where there is a buildup of excess skins cells due to an overactive immune system. Symptoms include flaking, inflammation and thick, white, silvery or red patches of skin. Cannabis-infused topicals reduce inflammation, slow cell growth, control pain, reduce itching and heal the wounds which result form the cracking/bleeding of skin patches.

4. Reduces Inflammation and Eases Arthritis Symptoms due to the anti-inflammatory properties of medical cannabis. Topicals ease swelling and pain in the joints, allowing for increased flexibility.

5. Speeds Up Wound Healing as a result of the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis. It reduces pain and inflammation while accelerating the process of  burn and wound healing.

6. Cures Bacterial Skin and Fungal Infections such as impetigo, athlete's foot and cellulitis which respond well to the antibacterial properties of cannabis.

7. Massages with cannabis-infused lotions can provide extra relief to loosen tight muscles and increase circulation. A post-workout massage eases overused muscles by removing the buildup of toxins. 

8. Keeps Skin Supple and Youthful due to its antioxidant properties which protect the tissue from free radical damage. 

Different Types of Cannabis Topicals

Lotions are recommended for less intense, more generalized pain relief and are less concentrated. As a result, they are much easier to spread over larger areas of the body. Many lotions contain terpenes and essential oils which provide additional medicinal benefits as well as a pleasant scent.

Oils are the best topical to use for massage as they are the easiest to apply and spread over the entire body. They are great for areas of skin that are subject to dryness such as elbows, knees, hands and feet.

Salves or Balms are the most effective in treating intense pain. However, because of their density, they are more difficult to spread. They are easy to apply to targeted areas, are absorbed rapidly, convenient to use and relatively mess free.
Lip Balms soothe and quickly heal chapped lips. The additional of different terpenes and essential oils not only adds scent and flavor to them, but accelerates the healing process.
Bath Salts added to your bath water will help remove a buildup of toxins from the body which relieves pain, provides relaxation and aids in a great night's sleep. 

Strain-Specific Topicals

Depending on the conditions you wish to treat, you can choose strain-specific topicals. An indica-dominant strain, which typically contains more CBD, is preferable for the reduction of pain and inflammation. It also soothes skin irritations. A sativa-dominant strain will help improve circulation.

Most Common Terpenes Found in Cannabis-Infused Topicals

  • Myrcene
  • Linalool
  • Limonene
  • Camphene
  • Pinene

Essential oils such as lavender, turmeric, wintergreen, spearmint, ginger, cayenne pepper, citrus and tea tree oil are commonly found in cannabis-infused topicals. The cannabinoids, terpenes and essential oils all work together to provide an "entourage effect" of healing elements.

As with all medical cannabis products, there will be trial and error involved in finding exactly the right products for your needs. Enjoy the journey!

Sources:, What Are Cannabis Topicals, Aug 22, 2015, Abby Hutmacher,Cannabis Topicals and Terpenes, Shasta Nelson, Can Cannabis Help Treat Psoriasis? Aug 7, 2018, Lana Burgess, 9 Surprising Benefits of Cannabis Topicals, Rachel Garland, May 1, 2018, Cannabis Topicals: Uses, Benefits and Surprising Facts, April 30, 2019, Anna Wilcox, Cannabis Topical Types