A Hands-On Guide to Cannabis Topicals

March 29, 2023

Topical cannabis products have recently gained popularity with the widespread availability of federally-legal hemp products. But what are the benefits of topical cannabis products? What do they do, and how effective are they?

What Are Cannabis Topicals Good For?

Usually, topical cannabis products — such as infused lotions, balms, ointments, salves, and the like —  are lightweight, gentle, and even non-psychoactive. Topical cannabis products are usually infused with cannabinoids that have been emulsified into moisturizing oils like coconut oil or fatty bases such as cacao butter. Applied properly, topicals provide the pharmacological effects of cannabis without intoxication or impairment.  Cannabinoids —  like Delta-9 or Delta-8 THC, CBD, and CBG — are all fat-soluble. A dense, fatty product (topical or ingestible) helps these cannabinoids do their job more efficiently.

Topical vs Transdermal

The topical application of cannabinoids is a unique method of consumption. Smoking, vaping, or traditionally ingesting cannabis usually provides a whole-body and psychoactive effect from THC traveling through the bloodstream. Topically-applied products, however, are localized, and the relief is focused only in the area where applied. Most topical products are non-psychoactive because the THC and oil carriers used typically do not penetrate the skin’s protective layer or get absorbed into the bloodstream. There are some exceptions to this, with skin-penetrating oils or patches being used in some products, so always be sure that your product is labeled for topical use to ensure localized, non-impairing relief. Some notable transdermal products, especially medicated patches with extended-release THC, have long-lasting effects that may be more desirable over a topical product; it is purely what works best for the individual and their needs.

Topicals and Drug Testing

A common question asked is: 

“Are cannabis-infused topical products safe from THC drug testing?”

When it comes to cannabis consumption and drug testing, there will be some risks, no matter how it is consumed, but there is some very interesting research regarding topical products that’s worth delving into. When it comes to THC drug testing, a number of factors — like individual body chemistry, products taken, and the different types of drug tests — also impact this risk. While they don’t absorb fully into the body, THC and THC-isomers infused into topicals may still register for very sensitive tests (such as hair follicle tests). Still, evidence suggests they may not show up in standard blood or urine tests at all. The lowest possible risk for being actively drug tested for THC (and this applies to most forms of standard drug tests) would be a pure, 99% CBD or CBG-isolated topical. In short, topicals (even THC-infused) are actually considered safe and a great option for standard drug testing; however, these products are still not recommended for hair follicle testing or even more sensitive tests. 

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