Cannabis-infused lotions, creams, salves and balms won’t get you high, but research is ongoing into their efficacy to treat localized pain and skin issues.
There’s cannabis in pretty much everything these days. You can smoke it, vape it, eat it, drink it, or turn it into an extract (like rosin for dabbing.
You can also rub it on your skin. Cannabis Topicals — an umbrella term encompassing many types of balms, creams, skin care products, deodorants, and so on — are becoming more popular. They may be useful to help treat localized swelling, soreness, headaches, cramping, and skin issues like psoriasis, keratosis, and eczema, according to preliminary research.
Cannabis topicals won’t get you high, nor will they provide the same kind of relief for inflammation and pain you might feel if you ingest or inhale. What you’re looking at is something a bit more subtle.
How cannabis topicals work
With topicals, the quantity of anecdotal evidence far outweighs the empirical. While many users tout the benefits of all manner of cannabis creams and ointments, there hasn’t actually been much research into the effect of cannabis topicals or how they’re best used.
“It’s really in its infancy right now,” Chase Kantor, director of research at Rao Dermatology in Edmonton, Alta., tells Lift & Co. “We would like to gear up for a full-blown placebo-controlled study.” But that’s probably a few years away.
“It’s kind of the Wild West out there right now in terms of what, exactly, is that therapeutic potential,” he says. Early optimism is focused on “anywhere that has inflammation,” with diseases such as psoriasis or keratosis.
Topicals are generally used as mild symptom relief. Since the use of a topical can’t penetrate much below the first few layers of skin, it’s limited to a “mild to moderate indication,” says Kantor. “If you were to look at taking oral cannabis, CBD oil or capsules, that can provide a more comprehensive systemic approach to inflammation.”
The science and research behind cannabis topicals
Researchers know cannabis topicals are popular and appealing to consumers. In a 2017 literature review published in the journal Cutis, researchers found it’s not uncommon in dermatology offices for patients to express their intention to use topical products after a treatment or procedure.
The study’s authors found, however, that studies on humans are “far more limited” than studies conducted on mice and other animals. “The present evidence does not support the use of topical cannabinoids in dermatology practice,” they wrote, adding that dermatologists should ask patients about the use of any cannabinoid products as part of a treatment program, “especially given the unsubstantiated claims often made by unscrupulous advertisers.”
Early research, however, has shown some promising results. In a limited study, researchers at Universitätsklinikum Münster in Germany found five out of eight patients suffering from postherpetic neuralgia (a painful complication of shingles) reported an average pain reduction of 87.8% after using a cannabis cream. The study’s authors noted “no unpleasant sensations or adverse events occurred.”
Studies in animals have been similarly encouraging. A group of researchers from the University of Kentucky found in a 2016 rat based study that “transdermal CBD gel significantly reduced joint swelling,” and concluded “topical CBD application has therapeutic potential for relief of arthritis pain-related behaviours and inflammation without evident side effects.” The study suggested further human trials would be warranted and that it’s “a good candidate for developing improved therapies.”
But don’t expect to see too many cannabis-infused topical products on the market just yet.
Information provided in the article is based on user reported information and does not represent recommendations of healthcare professionals. The content is for general use and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always speak with a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health, new medical treatments or products you would like to try. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.