Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know I have been experimenting with cannabis to treat my chronic pain. If you are new to my blog and would like to read more about my experiences with cannabis so far, please read: What Happened When I Tried Cannabis to Treat My Chronic Pain? And My Cannabis Diary Part Two: Cannabis & Hormones
To recap: I discovered I am extremely sensitive to THC (the main psychoactive compound in cannabis), and I experienced a few unwanted side effects, even at low doses.
But I’m not ready to give up, and I decided to look at other cannabis choices. Cannabis topicals seemed like a good option, because theoretically the THC should not enter the bloodstream, or cause unwanted side effects. Let me explain why.
When THC is applied topically, it is absorbed directly into the skin. Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the skin, the body’s largest organ, making cannabis a potential therapy for a range of pain conditions.
Research suggests that these cannabinoid receptors regulate inflammation in the skin, which is part of the body’s immune response. Because it is applied right on trouble areas, the cannabis works directly where it is needed the most.
But, the THC is not absorbed into the bloodstream the way it is when taken orally or vaped. We have numerous layers of skin which blocks the majority of the applied cannabis topical from entering the bloodstream, but still allows for pain relief in the area where it is applied. So, theoretically, without THC entering the bloodstream, unwanted side effects should not occur.
I have Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS so I experience a lot of pain, particularly in my neck, shoulders and back, and my legs. I also suffer frequent migraines and I was particularly interested to see if rubbing a THC cream into my temples, forehead and the back of my neck would help. Cannabis can also act as a muscle relaxant, and as I experience stiffness throughout my body, I was intrigued to see if it would help.
What are cannabis topicals?
Let me take a moment to explain what cannabis topicals are, and the health benefits of using them.
Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions, balms, and oils that are absorbed through the skin for localised relief of pain, soreness, and inflammation. Because they’re non-intoxicating (as they do not enter the bloodstream), topicals are often chosen by patients who want the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without the high, or unwanted side effects, associated with other delivery methods.
Even if a topical contains active THC, it still won’t induce that intense “high” you’d get from smoking or ingesting cannabis. With most topicals, cannabinoids can’t breach the bloodstream; they only penetrate to the system of CB2 receptors. Transdermal patches, however, do deliver cannabinoids to the bloodstream and could have psychoactive effects with a high enough THC content.
Benefits of cannabis topicals
Cannabis topicals are most often chosen for localised pain relief, muscle soreness, tension, and inflammation, but anecdotal evidence is beginning to show a widening spectrum of potential benefits, from psoriasis, dermatitis, and itching to headaches and cramping. Here are a few of the benefits of cannabis topicals:
1. Reduces inflammation
Reducing inflammation is at the core of topicals benefits, and the reason it helps relieve so many medical symptoms. Cannabis helps by fighting inflammation through activating the CB2 receptors. Because cannabis topicals can be localised, specific bodily inflammation can be targeted more aggressively.
A study in the journal Rheumatology revealed how cannabis helps fight inflammation. The study found that in patients suffering from arthritis, CB2 receptors in the joint tissues were present at an abnormally high rate. Cannabis helps to fight inflammation by activating these receptors.
2. Fights bacterial skin infections
Cannabinoids contain antibacterial properties. Cannabis topicals have been used by patients to help treat boils, cellulitis, folliculitis, impetigo, and more. A major benefit of cannabis topicals is that you will not experience any kind of bodily resistance to the treatment, like you may with antibiotics.
3. Localised pain relief
Numerous studies suggest that cannabis can help with pain management. Not only is cannabis a potent anti-inflammatory, but it is a well-known analgesic. In fact, surveys suggest that many medical cannabis patients prefer cannabis over prescription painkillers.
4. Reduces skin irritation & itching
Skin irritation is one of the most dramatic reliefs topicals can provide. Patients who experience rashes, eczema, psoriasis and other skin complaints report feeling extremely quick relief through cannabis topicals.
5. Heals burns and cuts faster
Because of cannabis’ pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, topicals have shown to help patients healing from burns and cuts dramatically. Patients are reporting healing faster, as well as experiencing a decrease in pain.
6. Reduces the signs of aging
Interestingly, cannabis topicals can also potentially reduce the signs of aging, due to the high level of antioxidants. Antioxidants are shown to speed up the healing process and prevent tissue damage caused by the environment. One study found that Cannabidiol (CBD) is a more potent antioxidant than Vitamins C or E.
How I made my cannabis cream
I frequently make myself CBD creams so I just followed the same procedure. Deciding how strong to make the cream was a bit tricky, but knowing how sensitive I am to THC, I started with a low concentration and worked my way up.
I added 20 drops (one full pipette from a 10ml bottle) of a 6% THC oil to a small amount of an everyday moisturiser. Sorry I can’t be more precise about the dosing, I had no way of measuring the amount of moisturiser used.
I decided not to add CBD too at this stage because I was intrigued to see how effective the THC on its own would be, and also whether I would experience any side effects. I already take CBD oil orally three times a day anyway, so I am already receiving the benefits from this particular cannabinoid.
I then just applied the cream to the areas I felt pain, 2-3 times a day. But there is no set amount, or set way of using cannabis topicals – just experiment and see what works for you.
The Results – Did it work?
So, the big question is; Did it work?
I was actually pleasantly surprised with how effective the THC oil cream was for my localised pain. And I can confirm I have not experienced any unwanted side effects. Not only did it reduce my neck, shoulder, back and leg pain but it also appeared to relax the muscles in these areas, although the process of applying any moisturiser would be relaxing in itself.
With regards to my migraines, unfortunately I didn’t notice any improvement after massaging the cream into my temples and forehead. The cream, however, did improve the symptoms of my restless leg syndrome (RLS) when I massaged it into my calves.
I haven’t completely given up on taking cannabis oil orally, but I have to say topical application is a great alternative for me. I had absolutely no side effects but I was really impressed with the pain relief I experienced. This is definitely my most effective cannabis experiment yet.
I may experiment further by adding terpenes or essential oils to increase the benefits of cannabis topicals. As terpenes offer their own therapeutic properties I may be able to tailor the cream to my specific health needs.
Have you tried cannabis or CBD topicals? Have they helped ease your pain or other symptoms? I would love to hear your experiences.
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