Topical Cannabinoids: Pros & Cons to Know

When it comes to using cannabis products, most people think of smoking, vaping, or consuming edibles. Inhaling and eating cannabis aren’t the only ways to enjoy the plant’s benefits though. With topical cannabinoids, you can find relief for many conditions commonly treated with cannabis, as well as skin conditions and chronic pain.

Topical cannabis products are different than other forms of cannabis. Rather than inhaling or eating your cannabinoids, you apply them externally to your skin in the form of a cannabis-infused lotion, balm, cream, or gel.

How Do Topical Cannabinoids Work?

Before we can dive into how topical cannabinoids work, we first need to go over the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS is a complex cell signaling network that regulates numerous systems and functions throughout the body, including appetite, sleep, mood, pain perception, stress, the immune system, and more. It consists of three components:

  • CB receptors. CB1 receptors live mainly in the brain and central nervous system. CB2 receptors exist throughout the organs and immune system.
  • Endocannabinoids. When the ECS signals a problem, the body produces endocannabinoids. These neurotransmitters bind with the appropriate CB receptors to restore balance.
  • Enzymes. The body then produces enzymes to break down the endocannabinoids once they complete their jobs.

THC and other cannabinoids function similarly to your naturally occurring endocannabinoids, binding with CB receptors throughout your body. When you inhale or ingest cannabis, those cannabinoids travel through your bloodstream and interact with receptors in your brain.

But how do topical cannabinoids affect the skin? As an organ, your skin also has CB receptors. When you apply a cannabis-infused topical, the cannabinoids penetrate the surface layer of the skin and bind with the CB receptors there. The result is localized relief from pain, inflammation, or other ailments.

Use Cases for Topical Cannabinoids

Cannabis-infused topicals may prove beneficial for a variety of situations.

Pain and Inflammation

Like ingested cannabinoids, topical cannabinoids may help alleviate chronic pain and inflammation. Where other forms of cannabis affect your whole body, however, topicals provide relief right at the source of your discomfort.

Skin Conditions

Studies have found that topical cannabis could help treat a range of skin conditions. So, what do cannabinoids do to your skin? Certain cannabinoids may help with uncomfortable side effects like itching and scaling associated with eczema. Topicals may ease acne by reducing inflammation and controlling oil production. Other skin conditions that may benefit from topical cannabinoids include psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and chronic pruritus.

Migraine Headaches

While limited, some research shows that cannabis may offer an effective treatment for reducing the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines. Topicals may also help alleviate other problems that accompany migraines, such as neck pain and joint stiffness.

Pros and Cons of Topical Cannabinoids

Are you interested in trying topical cannabis products but aren’t sure if they’re right for you? Consider the following pros and cons to help you decide.


  • Targeted relief. Inhaled and ingested cannabis products travel throughout your body, interacting with your brain and other parts of your body. Topicals, on the other hand, allow you to target a specific area of concern, such as sore muscles, achy joints, or inflamed skin.
  • No risk of getting high. Topically applied cannabinoids don’t usually reach your bloodstream. Or, if they do, they enter it so slowly, that you don’t experience the same high that you would if you were to smoke a joint or eat an edible. As such, you can use them at any time without having to worry about any psychoactive effects.
  • No dose limitations. Because there’s no risk of getting high, there’s less worry about how much THC you’re using. There are also very few topical cannabinoid side effects to worry about.
  • You can make your own. You can find a variety of high-quality topicals from reputable brands at most dispensaries. However, if you prefer the DIY approach, you can use a few simple ingredients to make your own.


  • Possible skin reactions. Ingredients vary between topicals, which can affect how topical cannabinoids interact with the skin. Those with sensitive skin or allergies may experience adverse reactions to certain products. 
  • Potential eye irritation. Many topicals have additional ingredients, such as menthol or capsaicin. These ingredients can irritate the eyes, nose, or mouth if you touch your face without washing your hands after application. 
  • May need to avoid certain activities after applying. Bathing or steaming could result in the topical coming off of your skin before the cannabinoids have a chance to work.  
  • Effects are only local. If you enjoy the psychoactive effects of a particular strain or want more of a full-body experience, topical cannabinoids may not be the best choice for you.

How to Choose the Right Cannabis Topical

Are you ready to give topical cannabinoids a try? We’ve got a few tips to help you find solid products:

Research Brands

If you’re new to cannabis, you may be surprised to learn just how many different cannabis brands there are today, and not all of them are the same. When it comes to choosing any product, topicals included, you want to be sure you’re buying from a high-quality, reputable brand. Take a look at your available options. Browse websites and check third-party testing results. Reach out to the company if you have any questions. Customer reviews can provide beneficial insight too.   

Read the Label

Look closely at the cannabis topical label. Check the ingredients for potential allergens and irritants. Pay attention to the strain information, as well as the cannabinoid and terpene profiles. You may also want to check the lab result details to ensure product quality. 

Ask the Experts

Budtenders are an incredible resource. The best ones are incredibly knowledgeable about cannabis and the products they sell. They can answer all your questions, help you navigate your product options, and offer personalized recommendations.  

Find Topicals and More at VidaCann Dispensaries

No matter what types of cannabis products you prefer, you’ll find what you’re looking for at VidaCann. From fresh flowers and vapes to edibles, tablets, and topical cannabinoids, we’re proud to offer a wide range of the highest-quality cannabis from well-known and respected brands. Not sure what to choose? That’s okay. Our expert budtenders are more than happy to help you find the best products for your unique needs.

Ready to get started? Visit VidaCann online or stop by your nearest dispensary today!

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