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Cannabis Topicals for Pain: Do They Really Work

Utah’s Medical Cannabis law allows for several different delivery methods, including cannabis topical products. A topical product is a lotion or cream applied directly to the skin. As a pain medication, topically applied THC and CBD can actually work quite well for some patients.

We are still learning exactly how cannabinoids interact with the human cannabinoid system to offer pain relief. That being said, medical science does have a working theory about how topical cannabis medications might help alleviate certain kinds of pain. The important thing to note is that topicals really do work for untold numbers of Medical Cannabis patients who swear by them.

Easy and Safe to Apply

Medical Cannabis topicals are very similar to other creams and lotions in terms of practical application. They are easy and safe to apply, and they rarely create those feelings of euphoria normally associated with other delivery methods because THC doesn’t make it to the bloodstream.

Applying a cannabis topical is as easy as applying any other cream or lotion. You put a dab on your finger and rub it into the skin. If a product contains additional ingredients like menthol or camphor, a patient might feel the hot/cold sensations typically associated with pain lotions.

Interacting with Receptors in the Skin

The most likely explanation for how topical cannabis medications relieve pain lies in two different types of receptors in the skin. The first are cannabinoid receptors. Believe it or not, these receptors are found throughout the body. They are not limited exclusively to the brain.

Limited evidence seems to suggest that topically applied Medical Cannabis stimulates CB1 and CB2 receptors located in the outer layers of the skin, primarily the epidermis. The proper amount of stimulation can reduce pain, inflammation, and even itching.

The other type of receptor is the transient receptor, frequently known as the TRP. Although TRPs are considered part of the endocannabinoid system, their functions are more limited compared to cannabinoid receptors. TRPs help the body make sense of changes in temperature, salinity, and other environmental properties.

If you want more information about how Medical Cannabis works as a topical product, check out this great article from The Cannigma. It offers a lot more detail than we can provide here in this post.

Talk with Your Medical Provider or Pharmacist

Despite the fact that many Utah Medical Cannabis patients utilize topical medications for pain, topicals are not guaranteed to work for everyone. That’s just the nature of Medical Cannabis itself; state law allows for multiple delivery methods for that very reason. So, what works for someone else might not work for you.

We routinely advise patients to talk with their medical providers or pharmacists about the pros and cons of topical products. The Pharmacy Medical Provider (PMP) at your favorite Utah Medical Cannabis pharmacy could probably offer a ton of helpful advice about delivery methods. Pharmacists are trained in both pharmacology and the human endocannabinoid system.

An Option for Easing into Medical Cannabis

It is interesting to note the demographics relating to topical Medical Cannabis. According to The Cannigma post, studies demonstrate that topicals are most popular among new Medical Cannabis patients and those aged 60 and older. The data seems to suggest that topicals are an option for gradually easing into the Medical Cannabis journey.

If you use Medical Cannabis for pain, what is your preferred delivery method? Topical products may be an option for things like joint and muscle pain. They are definitely an option that could provide pain relief without the euphoric side effects of other delivery methods. Consider giving them a try.

Yes, Professional Cannabis Certification Is a Thing

Have you ever wondered what it takes to get a job in the Medical Cannabis industry? Here in Utah, we have four basic categories of jobs: cultivation, processing, testing, and retail sales. Some jobs require extensive education, training, and even cannabis certification, such as to be a Pharmacy Medical Provider (PMP). However, most do not have such stringent requirements.

Certification? Yes, indeed. Believe it or not, professional cannabis certification is a thing. Schools and training programs are popping up all over the country in an effort to help more people launch their careers in cannabis. The Cannabis Training University is just one example. They offer a 12-week online training course they refer to as the Master of Cannabis Certification Program.

When Patients Become Professionals

Here at, one of the many resources we offer Medical Cannabis patients is our Utah in the Weeds podcast. It is not uncommon for us to interview cannabis professionals who were patients before getting into the industry. We have heard from plenty of patients who were so overwhelmed by the difference Medical Cannabis made that they decided they wanted to get involved in helping others.

There weren’t many recognized training and certification programs when the push for legal Medical Cannabis began more than 25 years ago. Even today, the number of certification programs is scant compared to other industries, like healthcare and IT. But as the cannabis industry grows, the demand for certification and training seems to be growing along with it.

Training Programs Will Vary

It goes without saying that training programs will vary from one organization to the next. The things a student might learn will depend on the type of career they want to pursue. For instance, a career in cultivation would dictate training with a heavy emphasis on agriculture, botanical science, and so forth.

In the processing sector, training could include everything from proper extraction methods to creating cannabinoid and terpene profiles. These days, cannabis processing is a more scientific endeavor thanks to the ongoing pursuit of better and more effective products.

Training As a Pharmacy Technician

Even pharmacy technicians can now be certified. A pharmacy tech is someone who works in a Medical Cannabis pharmacy to dispense medications and answer product questions. Pharmacy techs work in concert with PMPs to ensure that patients get the right medicines for their particular needs.

Certification isn’t necessarily required to get a job at a Utah Medical Cannabis pharmacy. Obviously, hiring requirements vary. But the one thing we do know is that the industry continues to grow with each passing quarter. There are jobs out there in nearly every sector of Medical Cannabis.

Nowhere to Go But Up

The way we see it, the Medical Cannabis industry has nowhere to go but up. Things continue to happen here in Utah and the rest of the country, things that paint a very bright future for Medical Cannabis. With that being the case, we expect that even more jobs will be created as time goes by.

If Medical Cannabis is something you are passionate about, and you’re looking to embark on a new career, think about getting into the industry. Cannabis is still considered an emerging industry, so there are bound to be plenty of opportunities from the time you get in until the day you’re ready to retire.

Professional training and certification programs are there to help you get started. And even after you land that first job, you cannot go wrong by earning additional certifications. The more training you have under your belt, the further you can go in an industry that seems to have few limits right now.

How Effective Are Transdermal Cannabis Products for Pain?

Medical Cannabis is available in multiple forms here in Utah. Though patients cannot smoke cannabis, they can vape or dry heat it. Patients also have access to tablets, capsules, waxes and resins, aerosols, tinctures, and transdermal products. That leads us to the subject of this post: whether transdermal cannabis products for pain are effective or not.

This post was partially motivated by a Q&A piece on the Cannigma website. Codi Peterson, a Doctor of Pharmacy, answered a question from a reader who was interested in transdermal patches. The reader had respiratory health concerns and needed to find an alternative to smoking cannabis.

Transdermal products are similar to topical products in that they are both applied to the skin. But, unlike topicals, transdermal products use specialized chemicals to deliver the active ingredients through the skin and blood vessels, into the bloodstream.

Transdermal Products in Utah

According to Peterson, “most doctors around the world still do not have access to cannabis patches.” However, Utah’s Medical Cannabis patients do have the option to buy transdermal patches with THC and other cannabinoids. 

“It is a discreet way to experience full-body relief all day and night. This type of topical can also provide users with psychoactive effects,” a posting on the WholesomeCo website says.

Several of the local cannabis pharmacies carry transdermal patches. If your nearest pharmacy doesn’t have them, you may want to check the inventory of another pharmacy that can deliver products to your home.

Transdermal Preparations for Pain

Moving on to the main question, how well transdermal preparations work to relieve pain is an individual matter. Why? Because pain is an individual matter as well. We don’t all experience pain the same way. Some of us have higher pain thresholds than others. And most importantly, the drivers behind the pain experience are many and varied.

The pain caused by a shower that is too hot is actually a warning sign. It is telling you that you are in danger of burning yourself. You need to turn down the temperature or get out of the shower. On the other hand, pain caused by injuries sustained in a car accident could be the result of tissue damage.

Talk to Your Medical Provider

We tend to offer the same advice when these types of questions are asked: talk to your medical provider. The same QMP or LMP who helped you get your Medical Cannabis card should be able to advise you about transdermal products. And if not, your Pharmacy Medical Provider (PMP) can definitely help.

Medical providers and cannabis pharmacists are the most qualified to recommend different Medical Cannabis products. An open and honest discussion between you and your provider or pharmacist will get you both on the same page. Hopefully, you will feel better in no time.

You Have Other Options

You might discover that using transdermal cannabis products for pain does wonders. If not, don’t get discouraged. You have other options. Talk with your provider about vaporizing, using edibles, or even trying a tincture. You may have to experiment with different delivery methods and dosages to find what works best for you.

Transdermal products are definitely an alternative to smoking. Since smoking cannabis is not allowed in Utah, it’s good that we have the option. Transdermals are one of his many options patients can choose in the search for a medicine that helps them find the pain relief they are looking for. Transdermals might be the way to go for you, too.

Whether you call the medicines found at Utah pharmacies Medical Cannabis or Medical Marijuana, a recently published study out of Israel supports using it to help treat chronic lower back pain. The study is just the latest in a steady stream of research showing that cannabis can be used effectively as a medicine.

Whether you call the medicines found at Utah pharmacies Medical Cannabis or Medical Marijuana, a recently published study out of Israel supports using medical marijuana for back pain treatment, specifically chronic lower back pain. The study is just the latest in a steady stream of research showing that cannabis can be used effectively as a medicine.

Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints heard by doctors around the world. According to a Jerusalem Post story discussing the Israeli study, 80% of people worldwide experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. For many patients, the pain is chronic.

That matters to us because chronic and acute pain are both on Utah’s qualifying conditions list for Medical Cannabis. Chronic lower back pain would certainly fit the bill. If you live in Utah and have been frustrated in your efforts to find relief from chronic lower back pain, perhaps it’s time to see a Qualified Medical Provider (QMP) and have a Medical Cannabis discussion.

Two Delivery Methods Studied

The study in question was definitely a small-scale study. It enrolled just 24 participants – 17 men and seven women. All participants suffered from either disc herniation or spinal stenosis. Researchers decided to test two delivery methods to learn whether they influence efficacy.

Patients were first given a Medical Cannabis tincture. If you are not familiar with tinctures, they are concentrated oils that are placed under the tongue for sublingual delivery. The second delivery method was smoking cannabis flower.

The sublingual treatment was provided to patients for 10 months. Patients then took a month off before beginning the inhalation treatment for 12 months. Interestingly enough, patients didn’t report any significant relief with the tincture. But after 10 months of smoking cannabis, 80% reported significant pain relief.

Similar Relief Elsewhere

The extremely small-scale nature of the Israeli study makes it difficult to draw concrete conclusions from it. But we do have relevant data from other sources, showing similar relief.

For example, the Jerusalem Post also mentioned a North American survey involving 1,000 adults who used cannabis. Some 58% reported consuming marijuana for back pain relief and treatment. Among them:

The most important statistic from the North American survey is the 58% of respondents who said they use cannabis do so to relieve back pain. They would not be using it if it didn’t work.

Talk to Your Provider

We encourage anyone suffering from chronic pain to talk with a medical provider about the possibility of using Medical Cannabis. Here in Utah, there are two different types of providers capable of helping patients obtain their Medical Cannabis cards.

We have already mentioned QMPs. These are providers who have undergone the necessary training to be certified by the state. They can recommend Medical Cannabis to hundreds of patients. The other provider is the Limited Medical Provider (LMP).

An LMP can be any doctor, advanced practice nurse, or orthopedist with prescribing authority in the state. LMPs can recommend Medical Cannabis to up to 15 patients. Your doctor can act as your LMP as long as they are willing and has not already reached the 15-patient limit.

As always, remember that Utah’s Medical Cannabis law is very strict. You must have a Medical Cannabis card to consume in the state, and all cannabis you do consume must be bought from a Utah Medical Cannabis Pharmacy. Note that smoking is prohibited here. You will have to try other delivery methods.

One of the things we most appreciate about being in the cannabis industry is the research now being done. As Medical Cannabis has spread across the country, a lot of people in our industry are putting a ton of time and effort into really getting to know the plant in ways that were previously unknown. That insatiable desire has led to the discovery of additional cannabinoids, including THCP.

If you follow cannabis research, you might already be familiar with THCP. If not, the first thing you should know is that it is one of more than a hundred cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. What makes this cannabinoid so interesting is that, as far as we can tell, it was completely unknown until 2019.

Similar But Distinct

Some of its distinct properties could make THCP an ideal candidate for Medical Cannabis. In fact, it was first discovered in a Medical Cannabis strain out of Italy, a strain known as FM2. We think it might have considerable potential for pain relief. More research would be necessary to know for sure though.

So, what makes THCP unique? Its carbon side chain. Without getting too technical, Delta-9 THC is the cannabinoid we commonly refer to as ‘THC‘. Part of its molecular structure is a carbon side chain. THC’s carbon side chain consists of five molecules. THCP’s chain is seven molecules.

Why does this make a difference? Because the molecular structure of a particular cannabinoid partly determines how it affects the endocannabinoid system. We could look at another example like THCV. Its carbon side chain is only three molecules long. It has the ability to block the CB1 receptor, whereas THC activates the receptor.

As a Pain Medication

At the current time, we don’t have definitive proof that THCP would be an ideal pain medication. But there is reason to suspect that this might be the case. We just need research to verify one way or the other. If it turns out the THCP is effective, the industry will have to decide how to move forward with producing it.

THCP occurs naturally in cannabis plants. But right now, we do not know of a single strain that produces enough of it to make extracting it from plant material worthwhile. The good news is that THCP can be synthesized in the lab, just like Delta-8.

All From the Same Precursor

By now you are probably wondering how THCP can be synthesized. For that, we turn to a compound known as CBGA, a.k.a. the “mother of all cannabinoids.” All 100+ cannabinoids extracted from plant material begin as CBGA. They are converted into cannabinoid acids through the plant’s normal growth processes. Manufacturers produce things like CBD and THC by decarboxylating their acid precursors.

All this is to say that the industry has figured out how to take CBD and convert it to other cannabinoids in the lab. It is easier and more cost-effective to produce cannabinoids like THCP and Delta-8 from CBD rather than trying to come up with strains that naturally produce high volumes on their own.

A Lot to Learn

We have a lot to learn about THCP and most of the other cannabinoids in the beloved plant. THCP could eventually turn out to be an incredibly good pain medication. Right now, we are still in the learning stages. We encourage you to join us and keep an eye on industry research. We should know more about THCP soon enough.

White House drugs czar Rahul Gupta gave an interesting interview in late May 2022, an interview in which he reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to cannabis reform. According to Gupta, the president is fully behind developing the medical benefits of cannabis while taking an integral approach to reform. But the most interesting aspect of the interview was this: it amplified the conundrum of cannabis research.

Gupta acknowledged that Medical Cannabis does demonstrate recognizable benefits for patients. He mentioned its ability to help manage chronic pain. He even discussed Medical Cannabis as being better for pain management than opioids. But then he reminded the audience that marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance because the federal government does not acknowledge that it has any known medical benefits.

Here is the conundrum: researchers have an exceedingly challenging time doing comprehensive studies due to marijuana’s status under federal law. But without cannabis research, there is no way to definitively prove medical benefit. Researchers have been struggling with this issue for decades.

The Need for Congress to Act

Although the drug czar did not come out and say it directly, his comments implied that the White House doesn’t want to get directly involved with marijuana reform. Rather, it would be better for Congress to step in and do what needs to be done. If you believe in small government and limiting executive branch overreach, it is hard to argue that point.

What has so many cannabis proponents frustrated is the fact that promises of reform have been offered for years. Our best chances came when Biden took the White House in January 2021. With both the Executive and Legislative branches under Democrat control, we were supposed to have a marijuana reform bill signed into law by now. But some 18 months after Biden’s inauguration, we still aren’t any closer. Even more frustrating is the realization that time appears to be running out.

Time to Encourage Cannabis Research

Even if a comprehensive reform bill doesn’t make it to the president’s desk by the end of 2022, Congress should at least do something to loosen the reins on cannabis research. This is assuming that the incremental approach to reform is the best way to go. An incremental approach would see marijuana rescheduled from Schedule I to Schedule II. That would at least create a more open environment for researching its medical benefits.

Anecdotally, we know that chronic pain patients routinely report pain relief as a result of using Medical Cannabis. We even have some small-scale studies confirming those reports. In fact, one of the most recently published studies comes out of Israel. It shows that low-dose THC can offer long term pain relief through aerosolized inhalation.

The bottom line is that we need more research. And to get it, we need to take steps to encourage it. The current conundrum only prevents cannabis research through a closed regulatory loop that seems impossible to break without Congressional action. While lawmakers try to figure it out at the federal level, patients need to jump through hoops at the state level to get their hands on Medical Cannabis.

We Are Here for You

We are reasonably confident that reform will eventually come. In the meantime, cannabis research may continue to be thwarted by federal policy. We will be here for you, nonetheless.

If you are interested in getting your Utah Medical Cannabis Card, feel free to visit any one of our clinics throughout the state. We can help guide you through the application process and provide the medical evaluation you need to get your card.

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