Although any trip to get cannabis usually has me teeming with excitement, my first ever look at the selection of products in a dispensary was entirely overwhelming. There were flowers, candy, brownies, and a variety of dabbing concentrates of whose existence I was barely aware. Beyond the vast selection, I was introduced to a range of products that I had never heard of and knew absolutely nothing about. For a cannabis veteran, this can be a disarming feeling to say the least. So, I decided to spend some time getting to know these more unusual methods of consumption. Tinctures, mints, beverages, syrups – even a cannabis infused beef jerky. Some seemed like they didn’t bring a lot to the table that wasn’t already offered (no more syrups for me, thank you). Others – especially sublingual methods like tinctures and dissolving mints - opened up something of a whole new world.
However, one outlier remained, almost entirely a mystery to me until fairly recently. Topicals were a total question mark until I started looking into them a couple months ago. When I found out they don’t induce any kind of “high” or cerebral effect, I had to decide if I was still interested in investigating. Topicals are specifically for localized pain relief, skin conditions, and aching muscles. Recently, I decided my curiosity and my desire to explore every avenue of the cannabis world meant that I should give it a try – for my own edification, and to see if they work for occasional aches, pains, and sore muscles.
First the research. Reports from Egypt and other parts of Africa indicate that topical cannabis was historically used for its antiseptic properties. Some researchers suggest it served a similar purpose in European folk medicine, and as a minor analgesic. The dried leaves mixed with butter were used to treat burns. Topical cannabis found a similar set of uses in ancient India, and as a component of a topical herbal treatment by Tibetan shamans. In Thailand, it was combined with other herbs for an alcohol based, topical tincture used to treat hemorrhoids, polyps, and other conditions. In Malaysia, cannabis was used topically with alcohol for the treatment of leprosy. Relatively little research has been done on topical cannabis use within western world of science, but thousands of years of shared anecdotal experience all over the world seemingly send a strong message that cannabis can be effective when used topically for an array of skin conditions and localized pain.
Even if you’re primarily interested in cannabis for its psychotropic effects, you may want to give topicals a try as a healthy and holistic approach to treating a variety of everyday skin conditions, as well as muscle aches and pain. The Americans for Safe Access website lists a number of anecdotally effective uses for topical cannabis, including for dermatitis and psoriasis, as lip balm, for fever blisters or herpes, cuts or superficial wounds, acne, arthritic pains, muscular pains and cramps, menstruation pains, asthma, tension headaches and migraines, among many, many others.
Topicals are offered in a variety of forms. The Americans for Safe Access site describes salves as “cannabinoids heated into coconut oil combined with bees wax and cooled”, for use directly on skin. The site describes cannabis creams as “cannabinoids heated into shea butter, combined with other ingredients and cooled.” In practice, these ingredients may vary, but the texture is key to the differences between these forms of topicals. Balms on the other hand may be similar to creams, but designed with a more specific purpose in mind – such as pain relief after tattoo application. In any case, these specific properties will largely vary depending on the other ingredients, besides cannabis, used in a product. Some will use wax or oil as a base, some will use shea or cocoa butter. In other cases, different cannabis strains will be used in a topical product, depending on the desired results. Some pain oriented topicals focus on CBD over THC content to achieve the desired pain relieving effects.
For my first topical experience, I tried Cannabis Carrot Salve by Amazing Herbal Creations. You can order these too, to anywhere in California from The Goddess Delivers - with eucalyptus, clary sage, and lavender varieties available. These salves include cannabis, as well as a range of other herbal ingredients, such as calendula, rosemary, lavender, st. john’s wort, coconut oil, vitamin e, and a number of others. It is labeled as 8.4 percent THC, 1.2 percent CBD, and 1.0 percent CBN.
Opening the tiny jar, my first impression is the smell. A fresh, clean, almost piney sage scent overpowers any subtle cannabis scent. The salve is pale greenish, not too far from the color of canna-butter. It looks just like Burt’s Bees or any other moisturizing salve. The feeling when applied to the skin is also similar to other moisturizers – no warming, cooling or tingling sensation. Other topicals however, may pack such a punch, especially if they have ingredients such as peppermint or clove, but this one does not. The package recommends the use of the salve for psoriasis, rashes, bites, burns, and skin problems – something I was not aware of when I ordered it. I was looking for something more pain oriented for sunburn or sore muscles. However, despite feeling like any old moisturizer, the carrot salve had a relaxing effect on tired leg muscles after a long day of hiking and swimming. It also provided significant, much-needed pain relief to my 3 day old suburn. Once rubbed directly on the forehead, it seemed to provide fairly instant relief for a tension headache. And no question my skin seemed softer and better moisturized after use, if that is a concern.
As the old adage goes, all things are not created equal, and this is no different when it comes to topicals. Depending on the other herbal ingredients, application may feel very different and less subtle than the carrot salve. In the future, I’d like to try one with more of a numbing or warming sensation for tired muscles. Some topicals use specific strains in order to take advantage of the terpene content. Though not as exciting as when I first saw a cannabis cream on sale and thought you could get high using lotion, I think topicals could take their place in my arsenal of home remedies for occasional use alongside the likes of aloe, aspirin, and chamomile tea. Perhaps some more exploration is in order, however, before I settle on a specific product.