Walking into a dispensary for the first time can lead to wonderful discoveries of rare and new products. Blunts rolled with kief and hash oil, sodas and beef jerky infused with weed, all available by the dozen. But not all of these infused products are there for fun; some of them are designed for relief.
Cannabis-infused topicals — creams, lotions and salves with THC, CBD or both — have maintained a steady presence in dispensaries since the medical-only days of a decade ago. Used to treat various pain and skin ailments, topicals' non-intoxicating effects often appeal to a demographic that otherwise wouldn't consider trying the devil's lettuce.
As the weather gets colder and our joints get stiffer, we caught up with Dahlia Mertens, founder of Mary Jane's Medicinals, to learn more about cannabis topicals and their uses.
Westword: Topicals are fairly new to mainstream cannabis use. When did they become popular and accepted among cannabis users?
Dahlia Mertens: People were definitely skeptical about cannabis topicals in the early days of legalization, so our main focus had to be education. We would go into dispensaries, and the staff there had never even heard of them — or if they had, they didn’t believe they were effective. A lot of people thought that cannabis topicals wouldn’t be successful because they don’t get you high. Needless to say, we had to give away a lot of free samples, because we knew people had to try topicals and experience the relief for themselves. We still find ourselves educating people about the benefits and effects of topicals, but they are becoming popular alternatives to smoking cannabis for aging Americans and medical patients.
How does one "feel" the effects of topicals, since they don't enter the blood? Or is it about what you don't feel anymore after using them?
The consumer doesn’t typically experience psychoactive effects from topicals, but they do experience relief from aches and pains. Instead of entering the bloodstream, the cannabinoids react with receptors in the layers of your skin to provide targeted pain relief. They also promote healthy skin, whether you have a skin condition or you’re just preparing for a harsh winter. Topicals are for pain relief, relaxation and recovery rather than for recreational purposes or getting high. This is one of the reasons that they’re perfect for first-time cannabis consumers.
What are topicals most commonly used for?
Topicals are most commonly used for pain relief. Cannabis is a known anti-inflammatory, so we get a lot of feedback from older people who use our products to relieve arthritis pain. We also get a lot of testimonials from people who use topicals to recover from physical exertion, or to aid in the healing of injuries.
Do they work for everyone, or does it depend on the user?
I would say that topicals have efficacy for a wide range of health and pain issues. They don’t work for every condition for every person, because everyone’s body and endocannabinoid system functions differently. However, topicals have the ability to treat a wide range of issues, so pretty much everyone can benefit in some way from them.
What's the difference between CBD and THC topicals and their uses?
Both CBD and THC have pain-relieving and healing effects when used topically. When these two compounds can work together, it is known as the entourage effect, and topicals that include a full spectrum of cannabinoids, as opposed to just isolating one compound, tend to be more effective. CBD topicals are now completely legal, so a wide range of options are readily available to consumers, while THC topicals are still severely restricted. This makes it easier for consumers to purchase CBD products, but I am a firm believer that products that contain both compounds have more medicinal effects. Therefore, if you live in a state in which you can access products that contain THC, too, I would recommend them over CBD-only products.
What can combining cannabinoids in topicals do for the user?
Topicals are most effective when they contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids. All of the components of the plant come together to produce greater benefits than isolated THC or CBD on their own. CBD, THC and all of the other cannabinoids have their own unique properties and benefits, such as inflammation reduction, stiffness and pain relief, acne and more. When you get a topical that combines cannabinoids instead of isolating them, you will see improved efficacy.