There is still much to discover about cannabis’ medicinal properties, and its topical uses may be one of the areas we know least about. Most of the information we do have comes from trial and error, digging through old herbal archives, observation, and intuition.

Most herbs have multiple uses, so it’s really no surprise that cannabis can be used as a topical application to help with the body’s aches and pains. Its analgesic qualities can ease muscle tension and it works as an anti-inflammatory agent. Massaged into sore muscles, it can be a truly transcendent experience.

However, not all topicals are equal and with a burgeoning variety to choose from, what do you need to know to make an informed choice?

What type of cannabis is used?

Some people are non-discriminating and toss shake from several different strains into their mix. Maybe this is okay, but generally the higher the quality of marijuana, the stronger the salve. If your topical supplier can talk knowledgeably about the ingredients used, you’re on the right track.

CBD or THC?

Anyone can buy products with CBD (cannabidiol), but if you want a topical with THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), you’ll have to buy it from a qualified store in a legal state. THC is the most well-known compound in cannabis and highly effective for pain relief. CBD is lesser known and is present in both marijuana and industrial hemp. CBD is excellent as a soothing anti-inflammatory.

How often do you apply it?

While cannabis can sometimes feel miraculous, it’s not a miracle cure. When used topically, the balm will wear off. The pain will come back and you’ll have to reapply it regularly.

What other ingredients are in your topicals?

Most people who make cannabis topicals lean toward natural, organic ingredients. This means they will act like natural ingredients. Put them in the sun or a hot car and they’ll separate and turn liquid. This is normal. Topicals generally keep best in a cool, dry cupboard, but they can be refrigerated if necessary.

Will it smell like cannabis?

If you don’t like the smell of marijuana, look for a brand that uses concentrates only, whether that’s oil, rosin or some combination. Some people like the earthy feel and smell of a topical that uses the whole cannabis plant cooked in oil. Some don’t. It’s a matter of taste.

Some studies show that the largest growing demographics for new cannabis users are women and baby boomers. Many of them do not want to smoke and are choosing to enter slowly, often with topicals. It’s a great introduction to the plant: your muscles get stoned while your mind stays clear.

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