The Many Uses of Topical Cannabis Balms, Creams and Lotions
May 22, 2018
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You probably haven’t really thought about it before, but our skin is our largest organ. The average adult has around 8 pounds and 22 square feet of skin that is responsible for acting as an insulating shield guarding our body against extreme temperatures, sunlight and harmful chemicals. Our skin also produces antibacterial substances that prevent infection and creates vitamin D, which is crucial to the conversion of calcium to healthy bones. Perhaps most importantly, our skin is filled with nerves that allow our brain to remain connected to the world outside our body. Basically, our skin is always hard at work. That’s why topical cannabis products can be an extremely effective way to use cannabis medicinally—because our skin is designed to accept and connect to cannabinoid molecules. Just like the other organs in our body, our skin contains CB1 and CB2 receptors which allow for the absorption of and interaction with cannabinoids. You’re likely already aware of the fact that topical cannabis products are effective in reducing muscle pain, but today we’re going to examine several other conditions that you may find topical cannabis useful for.
If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know exactly how painful and debilitating they can be. Aside from the intense pain that occurs in your head, many migraine sufferers experience extreme nausea, light and sound sensitivity and dizziness. Many migraine sufferers can identify when they’re about to have a migraine, but if you’re new to them they can sometimes feel like they’re coming out of nowhere. In my experience, the pills prescribed for migraines do help reduce the pain—but they also tend to knock you out, which means that getting a migraine essentially ends any productivity you might have that day. Most of us don’t have the luxury (or desire) to have our lives put on pause by a migraine, which is why topical cannabis products are a great alternative to try. Topicals don’t get you high when you use them, but they are extremely effective at reducing pain. When looking for a topical for migraine relief, a high CBD content is what you want. The CBD will interact with the CB2 receptors in your skin to reduce the pain. Try applying the topical to your temples and even rubbing it into your scalp when you begin to feel a migraine coming on. (The other benefit of using a topical is that even if you don’t notice any symptoms before the migraine begins and have to apply the topical once the migraine has already started, you’ll feel relief fairly quickly.) While most high CBD topical products will do the trick, Cannariginals Emu 420 Essentials is one of my personal favorites for migraines (and really any kind of headache) because of how well it absorbs into the skin and the consistent pain relief I receive from it. Something to keep in mind about topicals is that you don’t get high because in most cases the carrying agent in the topical doesn’t get absorbed all the way into our hypodermis—the layer of our skin where blood vessels that would allow the cannabinoids to enter our bloodstream are located. Our skin is considered to be phospholipid deficient, which means that anything that contains a phosphorous molecule isn’t able to penetrate through it. Emu oil doesn’t contain any phosphorous, which is why it is actually able to be absorbed deeper than other topical products. When you’re dealing with pain, increased absorption is beneficial because it allows the cannabinoids to enter the bloodstream and interact with CB1 receptors that tend to be located deeper than the CB2 receptors that most topicals can interact with.
2. Menstrual Cramps
During a menstrual period, the uterus contracts to expel its lining with the help of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are involved in pain and inflammation and they are what trigger uterine muscle contractions—women who have higher levels of prostaglandins experience more painful cramps. While Midol, Motrin and Tylenol have been the go-to for decades I’d highly recommend considering a cannabis topical instead! Like I mentioned with migraines, you’re likely to experience some level of relief with any topical cannabis product you can get your hands on, but I definitely have a personal favorite for menstrual cramps—the Whoopi & Maya Rub. It may look like any other topical, but it’s truly been designed with the relief of menstrual cramp pain in mind. The Whoopi & Maya Rub contains white willow bark (the active ingredient in aspirin), ginger (increases blood flow and circulation to the abdominal area) and St. John’s Wort (to uplift your mood). For me, it’s the ginger that’s the real game changer—by increasing blood flow and circulation to the abdominal area, the Whoopi & Maya Rub is directly combatting the uterine muscle contractions caused by the prostaglandins. Again, you’re not going to feel high when you use this product—arguably one of the best things about it, since menstrual cramps can happen anytime throughout the day and it’s great to know that you can go to the bathroom, apply the rub and get back to work without having to worry about feeling impaired. Fun Fact: The Whoopi & Maya Rub is now available in a roll-on form for even easier application! Ask your local dispensary if they have it in stock!
There are over 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions, but they all refer to some form of joint pain or joint disease. According to theArthritis Foundation, there are over 50 million adults living with arthritis. Common symptoms of arthritis include joint swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. These symptoms can vary in their severity from person to person and may get worse over time. Those that suffer from arthritis can experience difficulty in completing daily activities and may even have trouble walking. Oftentimes over the counter pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications are recommended by doctors to help with pain, but for those looking to avoid pills cannabis topicals could be a viable alternative. At its core, arthritis is caused by increased inflammation in the joints—this is why topicals high in CBD or THCA tend to work best for arthritis pain. These particular cannabinoids work to reduce inflammation in the joints, which should in turn reduce the pain and hopefully in time increase range of motion. The Apothecanna Extra Strength products are an excellent choice for individuals looking to relieve arthritis pain because not only are they chock-full of CBD, they also contain arnica (relieves pain and inflammation), peppermint (cooling and anti-inflammatory) and juniper (antiseptic and anti-rheumatic). Apothecanna offers the Extra Strength formula in a body creme, body spray and body oil so you can choose which one works best for your needs!
As defined by the Mayo Clinic, psoriasis is “a common skin condition that speeds up the life cycle of skin cells. It causes cells to build up rapidly on the surface of the skin. The extra skin cells form scales and red patches that are itchy and sometimes painful.” Everyone’s symptoms differ slightly, but individuals with psoriasis may experience red patches of skin covered with thick silvery scales, small scaling spots, itching, burning, soreness, thickened/pitted/ridged nails and swollen or stiff joints. Psoriasis goes through cycles, with flares often induced by stress or other triggers. These flares can last for weeks or months. There are many different types of psoriasis that can occur on different areas of the body. How can cannabis topicals specifically help with psoriasis? A couple of ways. The most obvious benefit of using a cannabis topical for psoriasis is the anti-inflammatory properties—something high in CBD or THCA is the way to go to help reduce the inflammation in both the skin and the joints, which can help with the itchiness and the redness. Psoriasis can also be painful, which we all happen to know is another thing cannabis can help with—look for topicals made from whole plant cannabis that are likely to contain both CBD and THC, as THC is a stronger analgesic than CBD is. Most interestingly, a 2013 study suggests that cannabis might be able to slow skin cell growth. Essentially, the study found that activating CB1 receptors with cannabis “limited the production of epidermal keratinocytes, the most common type of skin cell.” With psoriasis being a condition caused by the excess production of skin cells, finding a way to limit the production of skin cells via the endocannabinoid system could be a huge development for the treatment of psoriasis. In terms of products to try, if you’re looking to have the best shot at the cannabinoids interacting with the CB1 receptors you’re more likely to have success with something like Cannariginals Emu 420 Essentials because of how our bodies absorb emu oil deeper than other oils. Another product that I’ve heard a lot of success stories about is Loki Lotion (pictured above)—it contains shea butter, MCT (coconut) oil, whole plant cannabis and essential oils like lavender, thyme, tea tree oil and geranium. The whole plant cannabis utilized by Loki Lotion means that your skin will reap the benefits of both CBD and THC, the dream team of anti-inflammatory and pain relief.
Acne isn’t just something teenagers struggle with, as more and more adults are reporting experiencing acne at all ages. There are numerous kinds of acne, but essentially acne is caused by “increased lipid production in human sebocytes of sebaceous glands at low concentrations”. Interestingly enough, CBD has been found to interact with our endocannabinoid system to regulate the production of sebum, which reduces acne production over time. Cannabis topicals made with whole plant cannabis are what you’ll want to look for to help with acne, because terpenes also play a role in reducing acne. Both limonene and linalool have been shown to inhibit propionibacterium acnes (the "key pathogen in acne”) and they also both have anti-inflammatory properties. The anti-inflammatory effects reduce the size (and often the pain) of surface acne. Once the surface acne has been addressed, cannabis topicals can also be helpful at reducing the appearance of acne scars by encouraging skin cell repair. Awakened Topicals Raw Cannabis Balm has been my go-to for acne for years—it incorporates whole plant cannabis as well as extra virgin olive oil (great for sensitive skin), whole leaf aloe vera (anti-inflammatory), calendula flowers (antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and speeds up the healing process of acne scars), vitamin E oil (smooths and repairs acne scars), lavender oil (high in linalool) and lots of other great ingredients. The same great formula is also available in their Awakened Topicals Raw Cannabis Pain Stick which is perfect for easy application! The main thing to keep in mind when looking for a cannabis topical for your acne is to make sure all of the ingredients won’t irritate the sensitive skin on your face—not everything designed for the skin on your body will be good to put on your face. If you’re unsure if a product can be used on your face, ask your budtender or contact the company directly to find out!
As you can see, cannabis topicals can be used for a wide variety of ailments—all without causing you to experience a psychoactive high. Interested in trying one of the products mentioned above? Find a licensed dispensary near you using the Hopegrown search bar at the top of any page and give them a call to inquire about the specific product that you’re looking for! Even if they don’t have that particular brand in stock, they may be able to recommend a similar product made by a different company that will work just as well for you.
(6) Emu Oil FAQs
(7) Whoopi & Maya
(13) Awakened Topicals