Six years ago, Dahlia Mertens was a massage therapist with a yen to see what would happen if she mixed traditional massage oils with cannabis, the active ingredient in marijuana.
“I thought it would make for a more relaxing massage,” she recalls.
It did, and then some.
Clients reported that the massage after-effects were more than a warm glow. Patients with chronic pain reported an easing of their discomfort for days. Some with chronic skin conditions, such as psoriasis, found the cannabis oil healing their skin. And one client, who suffered from both nerve damage and unhealed radiation burns from a double mastectomy, felt better and saw her wounds improve.
Mertens realized she was on to something. She founded Mary Jane’s Medicinals, a Telluride, Colo. company that mixes and sells cannabis-based salves, oils and topical creams.
Cannabis-infused creams, lotions, salves and cosmetics are such a tiny slice of the $3.6 billion retail market for cannabis products that they don’t even register, according to research firm IBISWorld Edible cannabis products account for about 54% of the market, and smokable products for the remainder.
Due to a patchwork of state regulations, cannabis-based topicals can only be sold in states with liberal cannabis laws. Currently, the largest markets are California, Nevada, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Illinois.
Merten notes that topicals, like all cannabis products, cannot be sold through the mail. That makes distribution problematic, and that, in turn, has undermined efforts to build national brands and limited the size of the market – for now.
Recent scientific research appears to validate the experiences of Merten’s massage clients.
Humans produce their own cannabinoids – chemically similar to the active ingredients in cannabis. That’s why cannabis works: it mimics substances that our bodies already use to fight inflammation and chronic pain. A landmark study released in 2007 by Dr. Meliha Karsak, a molecular neurobiologist at the University of Bonn in Germany, reported that experiments on mice found that they healed more quickly with a regime of topical THC (the chemical name for the active ingredient in cannabis products). Karsak’s findings reinforced earlier, less extensive, studies that THC seemed to calm the peripheral nervous system, and some human immune cells contain THC.
While science sorts it all out, here’s a thumbnail guide to sourcing cannabis-based topicals.
- Cannabis should be the first, second or third ingredient, says Mertens. “Look for the THC percentage,” she says
- The cannabis can be blended with some kind of vegetable oil or another smoothable natural substance that is easily absorbed by your skin
- Some products mix cannabis with other herbals for different topical effects and scents. Mertens says that peppermint, also an anti-inflammatory, seems to catalyze the healing effects of cannabis
- Cannabis itself is an antimicrobial, so topical products shouldn’t need any preservatives, Mertens explains. That means that there’s no reason why cannabis-infused topicals can’t be composed of all-natural products
- Those pesky state laws also mean that topical cannabis products are highly regulated. Look for products that bear a state seal of approval
- Leading brands besides Mary Jane’s Medicinals include Apothocanna and Doc Green’s
- You can mix up topical cannabis products at home. Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group, offers instructions that involve blending various types of cannabis concentrates or extracts with coconut oil, beeswax, or shea butter
Experiment with cannabis topicals for potential skin health – not to get high through moisturizer. Because the THC doesn’t seem to be absorbed into the central nervous system through skin products, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll feel an overall buzz. “It’s not going to feel like you smoked a joint,” says Mertens. “People maintain a clear head.”
Via The Cannabist