Between the stresses of 2020, winter weather, and New Years’ resolutions to work out, January 2021 may be the ideal time to begin exploring the world of cannabis topicals. Whether you’ve been clenching your jaw in your sleep, are suffering from dry irritated skin, or just returned to the gym for the first time in a year, topicals can help soothe aches and pains, improve your skin, and help you wind down and relax.
What Are Topicals?
Your skin is your largest organ and is rich in CB1 and CB2 receptors, so applying cannabis products directly to the skin is a great way to reap some of the medical benefits of the plant. This category of products is called topicals, and features a wide array of balms, creams, lotions and potions designed to deliver cannabinoid goodness directly where you need it.
First, the science of topicals: Unlike cannabinoids ingested orally, cannabinoids applied to the skin do not break the blood-brain barrier, because the epidermis is waterproof and great at keeping out contaminants and foreign objects – even cannabinoids. Because cannabinoids applied to the skin cannot enter the bloodstream, no matter how much THC is in your topical, you won’t experience its psychoactive effects. However, because the skin is populated with CB1 and CB2 receptors, cannabinoids do take hold here to work their therapeutic magic directly on and in the skin cells and systems.
Your skin is populated with cannabinoid receptors because endocannabinoids (cannabinoids naturally produced by the body, as opposed to phytocannabinoids, which are derived from plants like cannabis) play a key role in regulating the functionality of skin, hair follicles and sebaceous glands that produce moisturizing oils in the skin. When the skin’s endocannabinoid system is disregulated, a variety of skin diseases and issues may ensue, including dry, itchy skin, inflammation and eczema. Products rich in cannabinoids can help restore balance to skin, improve moisture, spot-treat problem areas, and maintain homeostasis.
Soothe, Heal and Stimulate Your Skin
While your favorite dispensary may carry a selection of balms and oils for you to choose from, many topical products and brands are available nationwide, online, and even in major retailers. Because cannabinoids can interact so seamlessly with the skin, we’ve also seen a variety of topicals making their way into the mainstream beauty space. These lotions, potions and oils are all designed to maximize cannabinoids’ healing effects on beautiful, healthy skin, and cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, and, of course, CBD, are being touted as the next big thing in beauty.
No matter the type of topical product, research has shown that CBD has both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant qualities, which can help soothe irritated skin and fight free radicals; some studies have even shown that CBD can help reduce acne by suppressing sebum production in the skin, which is the oil responsible for certain types of acne. CBG and CBN are also anti-inflammatories and offer other benefits such as anti-bacterial and increased cellular-turnover rates, which can encourage younger looking, healthier skin. Growing out of the beauty skincare space, we are also seeing cannabinoid hair care products come to market, with the goal of soothing irritated scalps, and even stimulating hair growth.
What To Look for in a Topical
If you’re interested in trying cannabinoid skincare products, look for full-spectrum products to take advantage of the entourage effect and reap the benefits of all of the plant’s compounds (including small amounts of THC). Broad spectrum, or isolate products featuring CBD, CBN or CBG may work to target specific trouble spots. Always remember: From lavender to ylang ylang, argan or jojoba, many of these products contain “classic” beauty ingredients that work in synergy with the cannabinoids; be sure to check the ingredient list to avoid allergic reactions.
Another reason topicals make for ideal treatment is that they allow for precision application to soothe specific aches and pains. Because cannabinoids like CBD act as an anti-inflammatory, rubbing an infused balm directly on aching joints or on sore, tired muscles can help reduce pain and inflammation right where it hurts. Look for products that come in stick format to roll just where you want it, and to get to hard-to-reach areas! To double down on your pain relief, look for products that also contain classic muscle-relieving ingredients like magnesium.
Another great way to reap the pain-relieving benefits of cannabinoids is through the ever-popular (and Instagrammable) bath bomb, which kicks the already-relaxing concept of the bath into high gear thanks to a little plant medicine goodness. CBD-rich bath bombs and soaking salts are also the perfect way to introduce cannabis wellness to your mom, so plan ahead for Mother’s Day.
The Future of Infused Skin Products
Although not technically a topical, transdermal patches are applied directly to the skin and use permeation enhancers that help cannabinoids bypass the epidermis and absorb directly into the bloodstream using time-release technology. Because these products enter the bloodstream directly, they are potent and effective, and products containing THC can produce a high. These products are long-lasting and fast-acting, and offer a great entry point for consumers looking to explore cannabis.
It’s also worth noting that there are some new topicals like these Kush Queen water-based nano-topicals coming to the recreational marketplace in places like California. They utilize nanoemulsion technology to create topicals that can actually get you high, as the cannabinoids are small enough to pass the blood-brain barrier in the skin. Watch this space for more on how new infusion technologies are changing the topicals game.
Follow author Rachel Burkons on Instagram: @smokesipsavor