Do Topical Products Work?

Topical products (such as lotions and gels) are a growing part of the cannabis market. Topical products are exactly what they sound like. They sit on the skin! Generally speaking, cannabis lotions and gels only affect the peripheral nervous system, as opposed to being absorbed into the bloodstream. This means that a topical product can’t get you high. There are some special transdermal patches, where cannabinoids such as THC and CBD can penetrate all the layers of the skin and enter the bloodstream. But for this post, we are focused on topical lotions and gels. Since cannabinoids can’t be absorbed fully into the body through the skin, we’ve wondered along with many others if topical products actually work.

Muscle Gel from the brand “Try the CBD”

The limited research that exists does, in fact, show that topical cannabis products can be an effective pain relief option, but only for the local area that they’re administered to. If you deal with widespread pain, an edible product is probably a better option for you. Topical products, however, are worth trying for pain relief in specific spots. If you’re looking to treat occasional body aches, topical cannabis are worth a shot.


The few clinical studies on topical cannabis have found that topical products are effective for local pain and inflammation relief when applied in low doses, specifically less than 10 mg per day. One study found that a CBD gel significantly decreased pain and inflammation in rats at a 6 mg per day dose, and actually was less effective when a much higher concentrated gel (60 mg) was used. Exact dosing may look differently for every person, but these studies support the same rule of thumb to start low and slow.

If you’ve tried a topical product and haven’t gotten the results you were hoping for, slowly increase the dosage with each application to find the amount that works best for you. Of course, we recommend finding products made with high quality ingredients and that clearly label the cannabinoid content. It’s advised that the best time to administer topical products is right after showering, when skin is the most absorbent.