Topical and Transdermal Cannabis Products

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Our skin is the largest organ of them all, and it can absorb cannabinoids into your body, which is what transdermal, or transdermal means, through the skin.   Transdermal administration requires a patch or topical solution containing special compounds that actively carry the cannabis product through the skin and into the bloodstream. Transdermal administration differs from topical salves, creams, and balms, which do not penetrate past the upper layer of epidermis and only provide only localized surface level effects. 

One thing that makes transdermals stand out from other forms of administration is that they deliver the cannabinoids continuously over an extended period of time.  Gels are shorter acting than patches and only last 2-4 hours, while patches can last between 8-12 hours.


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Transdermal patches are very sophisticated delivery systems because they contain cannabis oils, and various agents mixed with a porous and non-toxic glue.  Transdermals are a great option for people who cannot dose throughout the day or night, or have continuous pain. They are also the only long-acting treatment available for people who do not respond positively to edibles.  Patches are also useful for people that are unable to swallow or are on feeding tubes, and for children and the elderly that need alternative delivery methods. 

Some of the advantages of transdermal products are:

  • No interference with GI issues or digestion.
  • Maintain stable, constant and controlled blood levels of the cannabinoids for a longer period of time
  • Improved comfort due to the non-invasive, painless, and simple application.

When considering a transdermal patch,  be sure to tell them to check with the patch manufacturer to find out if the patch is able to be cut or not. Some patches use a chemical reservoir for time release that cannot be cut.  Reservoir patches that are cut, end up releasing the medicine in the patch all at once instead of in a time released manner. However, some patches are designed so they can be cut into smaller pieces and doses. 





Despite their similarities, topical cannabis products differ greatly from transdermal products. Topicals don’t penetrate beyond the epidermis and therefore are not absorbed into the bloodstream. So remember, Topicals go on top!

Cannabis-infused topical lotions and creams are easily spread over large areas of skin and successfully treat a variety of ailments.  Topicals are used for their anti-fungal, antiseptic, analgesic (pain relief), and anti-inflammatory properties, and are great for skin issues like burns, rashes, bruises, acne, scars, eczema, athletes foot, arthritis, and more.  It’s also not uncommon to see cannabis topicals for tattoos, sunscreen, moisturizing lotions, massage oils and other exterior uses on the human body. 

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In theory, they do not show up on drug tests because they do not get into your bloodstream like a transdermal patch or topical solution with a transdermal compound, therefore they will not make you feel high. However, this isn’t always the case, because what if someone is using an olive oil-based topical that has a permeation agent like oleic acid…that “topical” is actually a “transdermal” and could show up on a drug test.

The time to effect for topicals is around 10-20 minutes, even though you won’t feel a “high”, you might feel some relief!


What’s your favorite transdermal or topical and what do you use it for? 


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