How do transdermals work?

Medical cannabis can be applied as a balm, lotion, ointment or rubbing alcohol solution. Historically, individuals needing pain relief would soak cannabis leaves in alcohol and apply them directly to the skin as a poultice to an arthritic or swollen joint. Ayurvedic medical practitioners used such methods more than 3000 years ago. Patients today report transdermals and topicals are tremendously effective for skin conditions like psoriasis, joint diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, restless leg syndrome, some spasms, and everyday muscle stress and soreness. Cannabis topicals work especially well for localized pain and inflammation. Skin cells have both CB1 and CB2 receptors that cannabinoids act on for therapeutic effect. With pain, the presence of phytocannabinoids directs the firing nerves to reduce their signaling, alleviating the discomfort. However, unlike smoking, vaporizing or eating the medical cannabis, topicals are completely non-psychoactive! The only downside with cannabis transdermals at present is their cost, although this is certain to get better with time. Green Buddha considers topicals to be a new and exciting modality for patients.

A transdermal patch is a medicated adhesive patch that is placed on the skin to deliver a specific dose of medication through the skin and into the bloodstream. Often, this promotes healing to an injured area of the body. Any talk about transdermal absorption requires at least a fundamental understanding of the nature of our skin. It is made up of several layers: the epidermis (the part we can touch), an outermost waterproof layer; the dermis (where blood vessels live); and subcutaneous tissue called the hypodermis. A medication patch adheres to the skin and delivers medication through the bloodstream.


There are both THC and CBD transdermal patches. THC patches and lotions generally do not get one high. There are even cannabis gels which faciliate absorption are available for rubbing into your skin. You want to prime your skin by wiping a swab of rubbing alcohol before applying the patch. This opens your skin pores. Be aware that lotion too has a transdermal effect. Patients can create their own transdermals by applying heavy cannabis lotions covered by a band-aid. Covering an area where cannabis lotion is applied will make the absorption ten times more effective. Consider making your own topicals as you then have complete control over the ingredients and you can minimize cost. Tincture can also be added to lotions and salves for a more medicated effect.

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