I know what you're thinking: Did it get you high?
That's all anyone asked me after I got a massage with cannabis cream in Denver, where marijuana is legal.
Since it doesn't penetrate the bloodstream, topical cannabis has no psychogenic effects (meaning you won't get stoned), but it relaxes muscles so the therapist can go deeper without causing pain. And as I discovered, the power of suggestion can make you feel high. Cannabis oil is also used at the spa to reduce the redness and sting of waxing and to calm stressed-out skin during facials. ("Put cannabis oil on a zit overnight," says Martel. "You'll look like a witch with a green wart, but it'll clear up.") Even getting lash extensions includes a depuffing cannabis mini massage around your eyes.
So did it get me high? That depends on your definition. I didn't get baked, but I felt something between a runner's high and post-coital bliss, along with the certainty that massage and marijuana go together like peanut butter and chocolate. And I could definitely go for a Reese's right now.
Topical cannabinoids are, according to doctors, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories with, according to The Dude Lebowski, pain-killing properties. I'm going to be honest here—I'm suspicious of the never-ending health claims that position cannabis as a panacea: You can cook with it; it will cure a headache or help you sleep like a baby. It seems too good to be true.
Cannabis topicals have been shown to deliver very effective relief for common skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and rosacea, and can also be helpful in relieving pain from bug bites, scratches, and wounds. Topicals are ideal for treating skin conditions because, as mentioned, the cannabinoids linger in the skin.
Both transdermal products and topicals can be infused with CBD and THC – two of the cannabinoids that help to relieve pain and inflammation by slowing down pain signals from the brain. The way that these interact with the body’s endocannabinoid can be very different depending on the preparation.
But transdermal cannabis products are a different story. With a transdermal patch, the medication in the preparation is designed to penetrate through the skin or mucosal membranes, and does its work into the bloodstream, away from the application site and throughout the body. Meant to release medicine over time and at a controlled rate, the effects generally kick in after a couple of hours but endure longer than a topical, with some people reporting relief for as many as two days or more.
The Benefits of Cannabis Topicals vs. Transdermals
Transdermal cannabis topicals have a very high bioavailability, meaning that the product has a very active effect and will send a consistent dose through the bloodstream. However, transdermal topicals may lose some of the aromatic terpenes and rarer cannabinoids in the manufacturing process. When terpenes are removed, some of their beneficial properties are removed as well. Those that medicate with strains of specific terpene profiles should be aware when medicating with transdermal topicals that the effect might differ.
Topicals that you apply to your skin like creams, balms, and patches are very effective tools in your healing arsenal. A cream, oil, or balm, even if it contains THC, will not get you high, however a transdermal patch that contains THC will, although not all transdermal patches contain THC. Be sure to find the preparation that suits your needs.
A topical is a preparation “designed for or involving local application and action (as on the body),” according to the folks at Merriam-Webster. In the cannabis world, topicals are often found as lotions, creams, bath salts and oils infused with cannabinoids.
A transdermal marijuana patch is an excellent option for those who have trouble swallowing, chronic pain, muscle spasms, and nausea. Generally, transdermals are not as widely available as topicals, but there are a few options available on the market offering different ratios of THC and CBD.