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Will THC Skin Cream Get You High?

Cannabis is proliferating in beauty products, but people feat that they will make them high! Image Credit: By Eskymaks on Shutterstock

CBD may be revolutionizing skin care, but this non-psychoactive compound isn’t the only cannabis derivative that has beauty brands excited. A growing body of research shows that THC could also be a boon for your skin — the question is, will it get you high in the process?

It won’t, but that hasn’t stopped some people from worrying about it. Lots of myths about THC have been circulating for decades, in large part due to its psychoactive effects. And despite the newfound acceptance of CBD among Baby Boomers, and the ever-broadening definition of what a typical cannabis user looks like, much of the media coverage around cannabis is still based on the false dichotomy of “CBD good, THC bad.” The general idea seems to be that CBD is what you take for acne breakouts or muscle relief, while THC is what you take when you just want to zone out.

This is both oversimplified and incorrect. Studies show that the therapeutic effects of THC are far greater than once thought, with significant antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, all of which make it a perfect fit for many skin care products.

Even still, misconceptions remain rife and many people are fearful that using cannabis topicals that contain THC will instantly induce the psychoactive properties for which it’s known.

Here’s Why THC Cream (Probably) Won’t Get You High

The fact of the matter is that it’s extremely unlikely that the presence of THC in your face cream is going to cause any kind of noticeable high. There are two main reasons for this.

There Simply Isn’t Enough THC

Skin care products contain so little THC that any single use of the product isn’t going to be enough to cause psychoactive effects. THC oil is often used experimentally to reduce pain or nausea, and in cases like this it’s common for patients to report feelings of euphoria, lowered inhibitions, and so on. However, dosage-wise there’s no comparison: a tiny drop of THC in your cannabis-infused skin cream is a far cry from the powerful tinctures given to cancer patients for pain relief.

High quality skin creams tend to be based heavily on products like shea butter and coconut oil. These carrier ingredients form the stable base of the product, and active ingredients are then added in much smaller amounts. Depending on what the specific aim of the product is, this can include retinols, hyaluronic acid, vitamins C and A, or any of a dozen others. In the case of THC creams, cannabis oil is also added.

The amount of cannabis oil in a specific product depends on many factors, but no matter what, it’s highly unlikely to be significant enough to cause any effect other than happier, healthier skin.

CBD Counteracts THC

Despite the growing research that shows THC to be a great skin care ingredient, the vast majority of THC products also contain CBD. Researchers think that CBD can counteract the effects of THC (i.e. it “cancels out” the psychoactive effects) due to its interaction with something called the endocannabinoid system, or the ECS.

The ECS is a vast network of receptors that controls many important bodily functions like mood, appetite, and skin health. These receptors are activated by chemicals produced in the body called endocannabinoids, which are nearly identical to chemicals produced by the cannabis plant called endocannabinoids (of which CBD and THC are the most prominent).

THC activates the receptors known as CB1, which produces the psychoactive effects associated with it. However, CBD blocks the activity of these receptors, essentially “jamming the signal” that THC is trying to send.

Since THC face creams contain so little of the cannabinoid to start with, this means that there’s little risk of feeling funny if you apply a quick dab before running into work — or even if you slather up your face with the whole bottle.

It's the first question almost everyone asks when they pick up a skin cream with THC. The short answer? No.

Do Cannabis Topicals Get You High?

Friday September 13, 2019

M any people new to cannabis – and even those in the know – are often confused about cannabis topicals and frequently ask one particular question: “Do topicals get you high?” While it may seem pretty simple, the answer is actually not so straightforward. Thankfully, we’re here to help you understand the ins and outs of cannabis topicals and how they can be used to their full potential!

What is a Cannabis Topical?

A topical is a preparation “designed for or involving local application and action (as on the body),” according to the folks at Merriam-Webster. In the cannabis world, topicals are often found as lotions, creams, bath salts and oils infused with cannabinoids.

Topicals are often confused with transdermal applications of cannabis, which are found as patches like those used for smoking cessation, birth control, or delivery of some pain relievers. They are only “topicals” in the sense that they are applied to the skin, but that is where the commonalities end.

The Difference Between Topical and Transdermal Cannabis Products

Both transdermal products and topicals can be infused with CBD and THC – two of the cannabinoids that help to relieve pain and inflammation by slowing down pain signals from the brain. The way that these interact with the body’s endocannabinoid can be very different depending on the preparation.

A topical is intended to have an effect at the actual application site, which makes it a soothing salve for skin irritations, muscle soreness, and arthritis. When absorbed through topicals, cannabis molecules linger in fat cells. Thus, when the topical is absorbed into in the body, THC molecules – the ones that get you high – are not absorbed into the bloodstream and remain at the site where they were applied.

The takeaway here is that a cannabis topical is not designed to get you high.

But transdermal cannabis products are a different story. With a transdermal patch, the medication in the preparation is designed to penetrate through the skin or mucosal membranes, and does its work into the bloodstream, away from the application site and throughout the body. Meant to release medicine over time and at a controlled rate, the effects generally kick in after a couple of hours but endure longer than a topical, with some people reporting relief for as many as two days or more.

Transdermal cannabis topicals have a very high bioavailability, meaning that the product has a very active effect and will send a consistent dose through the bloodstream. However, transdermal topicals may lose some of the aromatic terpenes and rarer cannabinoids in the manufacturing process. When terpenes are removed, some of their beneficial properties are removed as well. Those that medicate with strains of specific terpene profiles should be aware when medicating with transdermal topicals that the effect might differ.

The Benefits of Cannabis Topicals vs. Transdermals

Cannabis topicals have been shown to deliver very effective relief for common skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and rosacea, and can also be helpful in relieving pain from bug bites, scratches, and wounds. Topicals are ideal for treating skin conditions because, as mentioned, the cannabinoids linger in the skin.

Topicals are also an excellent solution for those who prefer to be discreet with their cannabis use, require site-specific relief, need to use the topical throughout the day, and cannot, or do not, want to get high. Typically, drug onset will be felt within a few minutes and remain for one to two hours. Frequent reapplication of a topical may be needed to deliver the best results.

A transdermal marijuana patch is an excellent option for those who have trouble swallowing, chronic pain, muscle spasms, and nausea. Generally, transdermals are not as widely available as topicals, but there are a few options available on the market offering different ratios of THC and CBD.

It’s important to remember, a transdermal cannabis product that contains THC will get you high.

Many people prefer transdermals because, like topicals, they are discreet and convenient. Additionally, by using a transdermal, some of the side effects that come with inhaled cannabis like dry mouth, dry and red eyes, and bronchial irritation can be avoided. However, transdermals may not deliver relief as quickly as inhaled cannabis (which is considered one of the quickest uptake methods).

The Takeaway

Topicals that you apply to your skin like creams, balms, and patches are very effective tools in your healing arsenal. A cream, oil, or balm, even if it contains THC, will not get you high, however a transdermal patch that contains THC will, although not all transdermal patches contain THC. Be sure to find the preparation that suits your needs.

What do you use cannabis topicals for? Chime in with your favorite applications!

Many people new to cannabis – and even those in the know – are often confused about cannabis topicals and frequently ask one particular question: “Do topicals get you high?” Click here to understand the ins and outs of cannabis topicals and how they can be used to their full potential.