Cannabis Topicals Consumer Guide: Types, Benefits, Uses, and Risks

cbd topical products
By Andrew Ward Updated October 20th, 2022

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

Both culturally and legally, cannabis has been experiencing an ongoing wave of acceptance. More than half of the country’s patients have access to state medical marijuana programs. Not only that, recreational marijuana is legal in many states as well. 

The increasing acceptance of cannabis by mainstream society has led to a slew of novel products. This includes cannabis topicals.

In this article, we discuss what cannabis topicals are, their possible effects, and how best to use them.

What are Cannabis Topicals?

Topicals are medical products designed to be applied directly to your skin. Topicals include products such as balms, lotions, oils, and transdermal patches.

Cannabis topicals, then, are topicals infused with cannabinoids, specifically THC and CBD. They can often be even more effective at providing relief than other cannabis products because they can be placed directly on the areas of concern.

People have long known that using cannabis can be beneficial for alleviating pain. However, not every cannabis patient is interested in getting high from THC. Cannabis topicals are perfect for these patients because they’re not intoxicating marijuana products like flower, edibles, or concentrates.

Beyond cannabinoids, the ingredients found in topicals can vary considerably. Many balms, for instance, are made using beeswax or coconut oil and can include other herbs or active ingredients such as lavender or tea tree oil.

For this reason, you should always be sure to understand what ingredients (cannabis or otherwise) are found in topicals before you start using them.

Nowadays, dozens of different cannabis topical brands and product types are available. Let’s take a closer look at the main ones to help you decide which cannabis topicals are best for you.

Cannabis Topical Types

Types of cannabis topical products

Cannabis Lotion

One of the most popular kinds of cannabis topicals comes in lotion forms. Like regular lotions, cannabis lotions are designed to provide targeted relief directly to the surface of your skin. 

Unlike other topical products such as balms or transdermal patches (which may be better for targeted pain relief), cannabis lotions are often used by consumers to address skin problems like dry skin, acne, etc. There is some evidence that CBD may provide medical benefits for skin conditions such as acne and eczema, though further research is required. 

Studies have also suggested that both CBD and THC have anti-inflammatory properties. So, while cannabis lotions are more commonly used to help with skin conditions, lotions containing these cannabinoids may still help relieve pain and soothe inflammation.

Empower CBD lotion

Empower Bodycare CBD-Infused Lotion

  • CBD potency: 175 mg of CBD 
  • Is there THC? No.
  • Price: $24.00
Vertly Relief Lotion

Vertly Relief Lotion

  • Potency: 500 mg of CBD
  • Is there THC? No.
  • Price: $48.00 – $86.00
Calm by Wellness Hemp CBD Lavender Lotion

Calm by Wellness Hemp CBD Lavender Lotion

  • Potency: 200 mg of CBD
  • Is there THC? No.
  • Price: $39.99

Cannabis Creams and Ointments

Many cannabis topical products also come as cannabis creams and ointments. Most are infused with CBD and designed for targeted pain and inflammation relief. 

As such, cannabis creams and ointments may be the most appropriate choice for those patients looking to relieve:

  • Arthritis: This study on rats found that CBD ointments helped relieve arthritis-related pain and swelling,
  • Nerve pain:  This study found that patients suffering from nerve damage experienced pain relief after using CBD ointments,
  • Jaw pain. One study found that patients suffering from jaw pain that applied CBD creams twice a day experience pain relief in targeted areas.

Besides CBD, you can find many creams with other functional ingredients that claim to bolster their pain-relieving properties. For example, many CBD creams and ointments also include menthol, caffeine, and eucalyptus, among other things. 

CBDistillery's 300mg Broad Spectrum CBD Warming Cream

CBDistillery’s 300mg Broad Spectrum CBD Warming Cream

  • Potency: 300 mg per bottle 
  • Does it contain THC?: Yes. Products contain less than .05% THC
  • Price: $25.00
Level Select's Level 3: 1200mg Sports Cream

Level Select’s Level 3: 1200mg Sports Cream

  • Potency: 1200mg per container 
  • Is there THC?: No THC included
  • Price: $89.99 per container 
Medterra’s CBD Pain Relief Cream 

Medterra’s CBD Pain Relief Cream 

  • Potency: 1000mg
  • Is there THC?: No
  • Price: $54.99

Cannabis Balms

Cannabis balms offer an alternative to creams and ointments for patients seeking localized pain relief. A cannabis balm is a topical cannabis product made from butter, waxes, and oils concentrated with active ingredients such as CBD. 

Like cannabis creams, most cannabis balms are made using CBD. However, there are some cannabis balms available infused with THC. 

You’ll find that many cannabis balms are very thick, especially compared to cannabis lotions and creams. They’re very similar to cannabis salves, although salves are typically on the softer side than balms.

Papa & Barkley 3:1 CBD: THC RELEAF Balm

Papa & Barkley 3:1 CBD: THC RELEAF Balm

  • Potency: 400 mg of CBD/120 mg of THC
  • Does It Contain THC? Yes, it contains 120mg of THC
  • Price: $25 – $30

Read our review here.

PlusCBD Full Spectrum Hemp Extract Balm

PlusCBD Full Spectrum Hemp Extract Balm

  • Potency: 100 mg of CBD
  • Does It Contain THC? No.
  • Price: $29.99
Lazarus Naturals Relief + Recovery Full Spectrum CBD Balm

Lazarus Naturals Relief + Recovery Full Spectrum CBD Balm

  • Potency: 1,000 – 3,000 mg of CBD
  • Does It Contain THC? No.
  • Price: $16 – $42

CBD Oil

Perhaps the simplest kind of topical cannabis product on our list, CBD oil, is simply CBD extract mixed into an oil such as coconut oil. 

There are many different ways you can use CBD oil. Many people use it as a dietary supplement or add it to food and drink. However, it can also be used as a topical, considering it can still be absorbed into the skin in this form. 

It’s important to note that CBD oil made with coconut oil or a similar product is not the same as cannabis oil meant for vaping, and should not be inhaled.

If you’re interested in trying cannabis topicals for pain or inflammation relief, you may be better served using one of the creams or balms highlighted earlier. But given the popularity and availability of CBD oil, this kind of topical may be easier to find for many consumers.

Charlotte's Web CBD Oil

Charlotte’s Web CBD Oil

  • Potency: 60 mg of CBD per mL (1800 mg of CBD per bottle).
  • Does It Contain THC? No.
  • Price: $119.99
cbdMD CBD Oil Tincture

cbdMD CBD Oil Tincture

  • Potency: 1,500 mg of CBD per bottle.
  • Does It Contain THC? No.
  • Price: $89.99
Joy Organics Tropical Sunrise: Organic Full Spectrum CBD Tincture with THC

Joy Organics Tropical Sunrise: Organic Full Spectrum CBD Tincture with THC

  • Potency: 900 mg of CBD per bottle.
  • Does It Contain THC? Yes, this CBD oil is infused with a small amount of THC.
  • Price: $69.95

Transdermal Patches

Transdermal patches are adhesive patches that contain some kind of medication or active ingredient that you attach to your skin. When left on the skin, the patch’s active ingredients will absorb through the skin over a long period. Because of the way cannabinoids from transdermal patches are absorbed, they have the potential to result in psychoactive effects (whereas THC found in other topicals won’t).

Typically, people seek out cannabis transdermal patches to alleviate chronic pain relief. Given that their design allows the medication to be absorbed over an extended period, they may be more appropriate for treating chronic or long-term pain or inflammation problems than a balm or cream that must be reapplied regularly.

Transdermal Patches by Mary's Medicinals

Transdermal Patches by Mary’s Medicinals

  • Potency: 20 mg of CBD and THC per patch.
  • Does It Contain THC? Yes.
  • Price: $7.00 per patch.

Read our review of Mary’s Medicinals Transdermal Patches here.

Fleur Marche Wellness Patches

Fleur Marche Wellness Patches

  • Potency: 20 mg of CBD per patch
  • Does It Contain THC? No.
  • Price: $42.00 for box of 8 patches

Releaf Patches by Papa & Barkley

  • Potency:  30 mg of cannabinoids per patch (1:1 CBD:THC ratio)
  • Does It Contain THC? Yes (also available in pure CBD).
  • Price: Price varies by dispensary.

Cannabis Topicals Compared

TopicalBenefitsPossible Side EffectsIdeal forPrice range
Cannabis lotionMoisturizing, healthy skinOther ingredients may cause irritation in some patients.Dry skin, acne, eczema$20 – $60
Cannabis creamPain/Inflammation ReliefSome active ingredients may cause drug interactions depending on the product.Light pain, joint swelling, inflammation$25 – $100
Cannabis ointmentPain/Inflammation ReliefSome active ingredients may cause drug interactions depending on the product.Light pain, joint swelling, inflammation$25 – $100
Cannabis balmPain/Inflammation ReliefSome active ingredients may cause drug interactions depending on the product.Greater concentrations of cannabinoids ideal for more severe or long-lasting pain/inflammation$20 – $60
CBD oilPain relief, healthy skin, relaxationSome products may not absorb in the skin very well or aren’t meant to be used as a topical.Relaxation of the muscles/skin$50 – $150
Transdermal patchChronic/Severe Pain ReliefSome active ingredients may cause drug interactions depending on the product. Some contain THC which may not be ideal for all patients.Chronic pain, nerve damage, moderate to severe injuries$5 – $50

Cannabis Topicals: Legality

Depending on your state of residence, cannabis topicals that contain THC may not be available. 

However, many cannabis topicals are infused with only CBD, and thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp-derived CBD is now legal in all 50 states. 

As of 2022, THC and THC-infused topicals remain illegal in the following states:

In these states, the only cannabis topicals that are available will be those made with only CBD. Even so, marijuana legalization is increasingly popular across the country, and these laws may soon change with time. 

Conclusion

Many medical marijuana patients seek out cannabis topicals to aid in the treatment of a wide array of conditions like eczema, inflammation, and chronic pain. And many studies seem to support user anecdotes about the effectiveness of lotions, creams, ointments, balms, oils and transdermal patches.

That said, adding any new product to your healthcare regimen is an important decision, and MMJ patients may wish to consult with their physician before making CBD or THC topicals a part of their treatment.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

You might also like: