What Is The Difference Between Cannabis Topicals And Transdermals?

April 14, 2023
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Can cannabis topicals and transdermals relieve localized pain?

While topicals and transdermal products are not the most common ingestion method for the majority of cannabis users, topical or transdermal cannabis and CBD products hold significant benefits for users seeking local pain relief without the intoxicating effects or health risks associated with other forms of cannabis consumption. To buy cannabis-infused topicals or transdermals, check out Jointly to buy legal cannabis products such as CBD, CBN, and more and have them shipped discreetly to your door.

This article will examine the potential benefits of using cannabis-based topicals and transdermal delivery for localized pain relief, including the ways these products have been shown to reduce pain.

(Interested in making your own CBD-infused topical lotion? Check out Jointly’s cannabis lotion recipe!)

What are cannabis topicals and transdermals?

The terms “cannabis topicals” and “cannabis transdermals” cover a wide range of cannabis-infused products that can be applied directly to the skin, such as lotions, gels, creams, or salves. 

The main difference between topicals and transdermals lies in what the product does after it is applied to the skin. Topicals are intended to target one or more layers of the skin, skin “appendages” such as hair follicles and sweat glands, and tissues or systems located just below the skin, such as nerves. Most standard daily-use moisturizers, for example, would fall into the category of topical products.

For users looking for local pain relief, topicals are the way to go. According to one 2019 survey of Canadian medical cannabis patients, about a quarter of respondents used cannabis topically. The survey respondents reported that topicals were effective for addressing joint stiffness, tendonitis, and muscular soreness.

How are cannabis transdermals different from cannabis topicals?

In contrast to cannabis topicals, cannabis transdermals are designed to be applied to the skin before being absorbed into and circulated throughout the body. A number of common medications use transdermal delivery for treating everything from hypertension and motion sickness to nicotine cravings and ADHD.

While transdermals might be applied similarly to topicals and impact the area of application first, these products are also designed to be absorbed through the skin and circulated throughout the body. This makes transdermals a better option for anyone who wants generalized effects in addition to localized pain relief.

The vast majority of cannabis-infused topicals and transdermals contain the non-intoxicating cannabinoid CBD, which is frequently used in cannabis products intended to help users ease everyday pain. While some topical and transdermal products contain the intoxicating cannabinoid THC, users don’t need to worry about getting high off of THC-infused lotion because of an aqueous layer in the skin that makes hydrophobic molecules like THC barely enter the bloodstream through the skin.

Do cannabis topicals and transdermals help with localized pain?

Unlike some common consumption methods, such as smoking or taking an edible, topicals and transdermals can be directly applied to points on the body where users are experiencing pain.

Cannabis has a long history of use for treating general and localized pain, with the first reports of this application of the plant dating back to around 1500 B.C.E. Contemporary Ayurvedic medicine continues to utilize cannabis for a variety of ailments, including relief from aches and pains.

Western researchers continue to explore, test, and validate use cases for topical and transdermal applications of cannabis and cannabis-derived products as well. So far, their findings about topical and transdermal cannabis products for pain relief have been somewhat mixed, but overall showing promise with the right dose and product.

For example, according to one study examining the efficacy of a CBD-infused cream for treating acute and chronic pain caused by a range of conditions, participant ratings of pain levels decreased 2 points on average when using a VAS pain scale of 1-10. That lower pain rating stuck around as long as six hours after the cream was applied. 

The same study found that patients experiencing more mild or moderate pain tended to experience the most relief as a result of applying the cream. Increasing the concentration of CBD in the cream resulted in improved relief for study participants experiencing more severe pain.

Another study, this time focused more specifically on back pain and administering CBD via a transdermal cream, concluded that “Hemp-derived CBD in a topical cream provided significant symptom and pain relief for the patients described in this case series.” While this study has the notable limitation of following just two case studies, it still serves to indicate what future researchers with access to larger trials might discover.

It’s also worth noting that the researchers involved in this study went through the extra effort to ensure that the CBD products used in the study actually contained the amount of CBD listed on the label. As long as regulation and oversight over the CBD industry remains limited, users should follow the researchers’ example and be sure to get their CBD from reputable sources.

Where can you buy cannabis topicals and transdermals?

Keep in mind that CBD products, which are the most commonly used topicals/transdermals for pain relief, remain largely unregulated and can vary in quality, as well as the fact that responses to cannabis products will vary between individuals. If you want to buy high quality CBD topicals or transdermals, just shop for CBD topicals using Jointly Matches

When you buy a cannabis or CBD product through Jointly Matches, you can rest assured that it comes from a pre-vetted company. Not only can you see the COA for your CBD products, but you can also see how other Jointly users rated products for goals like managing aches and pains and improving sleep. Basically, Jointly matches you with the best performing products for your goals, calculated from the product ratings of real users. Best of all, the products are shipped discreetly and legally to your front door.

Are cannabis topicals good for your skin?

Cannabis-infused topicals may also provide relief from potentially painful skin conditions, according to a recent review of relevant scientific literature. 

According to the review authors, the discovery of an endocannabinoid system in human skin led researchers to investigate the potential of cannabis for use in dermatology. Studies included in the review found evidence to support the utilization of cannabinoids in the treatment of acne, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis.

“Cannabis and cannabinoid-based products seem to have promising applications in skincare, both in the cosmetics industry and for the topical treatment of skin diseases such as pruritus, inflammatory diseases, and even skin cancers,” the review authors conclude.

Other benefits to using cannabis topicals and transdermals for pain relief

While the main benefit of using cannabis-infused topicals or transdermal products for pain relief is the ability to target localized pain, there are several other benefits associated with choosing these products.

For example, users who turn to cannabis for health and wellness reasons might prioritize protecting their lungs from the risks associated with smoking or vaping as much as addressing the pain they’re seeking to relieve with cannabis. By using topicals and transdermals as an alternative consumption method, these users can take a safer approach to using cannabis.

Their doctors are also likely to support this approach. As Director of Research and Development for the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute Ethan B. Russo put it in a 2019 editorial article for the journal Pain Medicine: “Recreational cannabis use is far and away linked to inhalation, usually by smoking, a technique that will never garner support in the medical or regulatory communities.”

Additionally, for users seeking pain relief but wary of consuming opioid-based pain medication, cannabis-infused topicals and transdermals offer a way to relieve pain without cause for concern about misuse, addiction, or overdose — all risks frequently associated with opioid use.

As Russo puts it in the same editorial, “Certain basic truths must be advanced,” including the fact that “we are facing an opioid crisis with attendant unacceptable iatrogenic [i.e., an ailment resulting from medical treatment] mortality.”

Cannabis and cannabis-infused products offer an alternative to opioids that is growing in popularity, with multiple studies revealing “a population-level association between decreased opioid mortality and the passage of [medical cannabis] legislation,” according to the record of a 2016 professional symposium on controlled substances and pain relief.

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