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Cannabis Topicals and the Endocannabinoid System - How does it all work?

No matter how long you’ve been using cannabis products, you probably have some questions about the science behind how this plant works. In particular, you may be curious about how something like a topical cannabis product actually works. Although research is still developing, there is evidence that topical products that include CBD oil and/or THC oil may offer relief from different types of pain, including pain from arthritis. In addition, research is also showing that cannabinoids may help treat inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis.  


We all have one, but what exactly is the Endocannabinoid System? Human beings have a longstanding and very unique relationship with the cannabis plant. Having some basic knowledge about the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a good place to start in understanding why humans have had this love affair with cannabis for thousands of years.


At its most basic, the ECS is a unique network of chemical messengers (cannabinoids), enzymes, and receptors within the human body, and the bodies of all vertebrate species (yep, that’s right! even your cat or goldfish have an ECS!).  This system of receptors works to help regulate a huge variety of functions within the body, primarily through the nervous and immune systems, including digestion, pain, motor function, bone growth, and immune response. The ECS is critical in helping us respond to internal and external stress. 


One of the coolest things that was learned when the ECS was discovered in the early 1990s is that our own bodies actually produce cannabinoids that are known as endogenous cannabinoids.  Cannabinoids that occur in plants are known as phytocannabinoids.  The two best known phytocannabinoids are THC and CBD.  


Simply said, when we use cannabis products, whether through smoking, ingesting, or applying topically, the phytocannabinoids from the cannabis are locking into these specific receptors throughout our body to produce the effects that we love to experience from cannabis.  


What are topicals and how do they work? Topicals include cannabis and CBD-infused lotions, salves, oils and sprays that work by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the outermost layers of the skin. 


Will I feel high if I use a cannabis topical? There is some chance that a THC-infused topical product could have a psychoactive effect if it comes into contact with the mucous membranes, like in your mouth. But even if a topical contains active THC, it still won’t induce that intense “high” you’d get from smoking or ingesting cannabis. With most topicals, cannabinoids only provide localized relief and do not reach the bloodstream.


What are topicals chosen for? Topicals are most popularly chosen for localized pain relief, muscle soreness, tension, and inflammation.  There is emerging science on the potential benefits that cannabinoids may have for a variety of inflammatory skin conditions as well.


Luckily, you don’t have to know all of the science behind cannabis to experience its potential benefits, but having a basic awareness of the ECS can help us appreciate how perfectly aligned this plant is with our bodies. Topicals are a wonderful way to experience some of the soothing properties of the cannabis plant without the intoxicating effects.


- Nurse Jenn

 

Medical Disclaimer The information contained on this website is presented for the purpose of education only. Nothing contained on this website should be construed nor is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider. Should you have any health care related questions, please call or see your physician or other qualified healthcare provider promptly. Always consult with your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet, or fitness program. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this, or any website.





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