The Topical Theory

Topicals are somewhat of a controversial subject in the Cannabis community.

We have documented anecdotal evidence that infused Cannabis balms, oils and salves provide targeted pain, and inflammatory relief without any cognitive impairment.

However, we don’t know why this phenomenon occurs. There is very little relevant research on Cannabis and almost none of the studies apply to the topical application of Cannabis infusions. Until more research is done, we only have theories to go by. In this article we explore one such theory from a leader in the Oregon topical market.

Meet Trista Okel, the founder of Empower BodyCare, a line of Cannabis-infused body products in Portland, Oregon. Trista, a long time Cannabis activist and creator of the Empower brand, is full of fiery passion. She has a mission to empower people to redefine their relationship with health and wellness through exploration with topicals.

In 2005, Trista made the transition from growing to infusing, so that her mom could get the pain and inflammatory relief she needed without getting high. The topicals were such a success that in 2008 Trista decided that she needed more test subjects to try her product. She recruited a family friend, an 80 year old woman with arthritis, to begin using the topicals for pain and inflammation. The word quickly got around the community as to the efficacy of Trista’s topicals and soon a whole bunch of women were slathering them on.

The results were remarkable. Most of the ladies experienced noticeable pain relief and were able to dramatically decrease their steroid intake. Trista was onto something with her infusions and decided to pursue this path of Cannabis medicine full time. After many years of research and product development, the Empower brand was born.

Under Empower’s brand there are a variety of products, including bath salts, and oils formulated for pain or pleasure. Unlike many topical companies, Trista chooses to infuse her pain relief oils and bath salts with a large amount of CBD, the compound responsible for many of the more medicinal properties of Cannabis. Infusing topicals with high concentrations of CBD is uncommon. Most people in the community believe that a high amount of activated THC will deliver maximum relief through the skin.

But not Trista. She is convinced that THC actually has very little to do with the relief provided by topicals.

She insists, “If you ever want to test it, try the 4PLAY oil [Empower’s Cannabis lubricant that has a high concentration of activated THC] and the Topical Relief Oil [Empower’s oil with the higher CBD concentration]. Put each kind of oil where it hurts. The 4PLAY oil with that high THC concentration won’t do anything.”

This anecdotal evidence has helped Trista to substantiate the theory that there are only CB2 receptors and no CB1 receptors in the skin.

Thanks to existing research, we know that THC binds to the CB1 receptors and CBD binds to the CB2 receptors most effectively. Both binding sites trigger a variety of medicinal pathways. However, only the CB1 receptor triggers a psychoactive response. If there are no CB1 receptors in the skin, then that would explain why Cannabis infusions applied to the skin do not cause any cognitive impairment. And if this is true, then that would eliminate the need for THC in topicals.

This theory is a plausible one and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support it. But the lack of scientific, peer-reviewed data on Cannabis makes it impossible to determine whether it is true. We need clinical trials to further understand the potential of this healing plant, so that we can best help patients. Unfortunately, it may take a while before Cannabis research is freely accepted and allowed.

Until the legal obstacles to Cannabis research are removed, I encourage you to do your own experiments. Pick up some of Empower’s Topical Relief Oil, put it where it hurts, and see how it makes you feel.