Guide To Medical Marijuana Topicals and Making Your Own CannaBalm

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Marijuana topicals are cannabis-infused medicants, usually in the form of a penetrating cream, oil or salve, that are applied directly to the skin to relieve pain and inflammation. While there remains some debate as to whether topical cannabis applications reach the central nervous system, it is generally agreed that most do not produce psychoactive effects, rendering them safe to use in circumstances that require mental acuity. 

(Note: Some lip balms, because they may be ingested, may produce psychoactive effects. There is not enough information about new transdermal patch technology to determine if THC is absorbed beyond the epidermis with a psychoactive result.)

Topical cannabinoids, believed to have antibacterial qualities, help cells regenerate and allow wound healing and pain relief for chronic conditions like eczema and psoriasis.  And, there is preliminary evidence that cannabis topicals may be effective against hair loss.

Some manufacturers use strain-specific cannabis based on the type of ailment being treated, and combine them with ingredients like cayenne, wintergreen and clove to promote additional relief.

How Do Topicals Work?

Cannabis-infused lotions, sprays, balms and oils contain extracts made with decarboxylated marijuana.  When applied to the skin, these extracts activate the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and bind to CB2 receptors (See Endocannabinoid System Guide) and relieve pain, itchiness and soothe contusions. 

A 2005 study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15927811) noted that both CB1 and CB2 reactivity were found in nerve fiber bundles, immune system cells, white blood cells, skin cells, hair cells and sweat glands. The abundance of these receptors indicates the therapeutic potential of cannabis topicals for anti-inflammatory and sensitivity-reducing action to painful stimuli.

In 2006, a German study found that nearly two thirds of participants had reduction in severe pruritis (itching) with application of a cream containing endocannabinoid N-palmitoyl ethanolamine (PEA). 

Common Uses

Some of the common uses for topical cannabis include:

  • Arthritis
  • Burns
  • Pain Management
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Insect Bites
  • Bacterial and Fungal Skin Infections
  • Skin Elasticity
  • Sexual Lubricant 

Research is currently underway to determine if topical cannabis is valuable in the treatment of migraine headaches and menstrual cramps. 

Making CannaBalm

Similar to making CannaButter, CannaBalm requires a fatty base – but this time it should be a base that can be stored at room temperature for several weeks. Coconut oil and shea butter are the most common choices for creams and ointments, but some people prefer the extra body offered by the harder beeswax, which can be used as the sole base or added in varying proportions depending on the desired result.  Lip balm, for example, would use a larger proportion of edible-grade beeswax.

Almond and grapeseed oil are sometimes added (as a percentage of the overall base material) to enhance penetration of the balm, and aloe vera is an additive believed to add antibacterial activities.  Make sure that if you add these ingredients, you subtract the same amount from the total volume of your base.  In other words, if you are adding 2 TBL of almond oil, subtract 2 TBL from the recipe’s cup of coconut oil.

Equipment

  • Grinder 
  • CookieSheet
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Heavy, medium-size double boiler (Two pans, one slightly smaller than the other, that can function as a double boiler)
  • Water (for bottom of double boiler)
  • Candy Thermometer
  • Spoon or Spatula
  • Fine mesh strainer/sieve
  • Heatproof Glass Bowl (for strained balm)
  • Storage Container

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup of Coconut Oil, Beeswax or Shea Butter (or a combination)
  • 1 Ounce Ground Cannabis Bud

Directions

Finely grind the cannabis bud and decarboxylate (See Decarboxylate) it for maximum potency. To do this, spread your ground cannabis on a cookie sheet, cover with tinfoil and bake at 230°F for 45 minutes.

Place the water-filled bottom of the double boiler over medium heat. Add your base to the top pan. Use a candy thermometer to make sure your base temperature doesn’t exceed 240 degrees.  Add your decarboxylated marijuana. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes.

Fit the strainer over the glass bowl. Strain the marijuana mixture into the bowl, allowing it to drain completely through the strainer.  Cool for about an hour, then transfer the cannabalm to a clean container and store for about two weeks.  

If you use a mixture of oils, they may separate over time. Gently reheat to reincorporate.