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Sensi Magazine

Highly Topical

Aug 17, 2017 02:57PM ● By Robyn Lawrence
Kim Frazier, a Louisville, Colorado-based health coach and medical marijuana patient, uses medical cannabis for ongoing pain from two herniated disks in her lumbar spine and pinched nerves and osteoporosis in her neck. A few years ago, she discovered that applying cannabis-infused topical ointments eased her pain without fogging her mind, so she began buying them at dispensaries and making her own at home. Last year, Frazier had her first massage with cannabis-infused oil and felt a “noticeable and profound benefit and relaxation response” that lasted four days. Weekly massages with CBD oil are now an important part of her health protocol.

“It’s just logical,” Frazier says. “The skin is our largest organ. Topicals are a great way to get cannabis into the system and still be functional. They’re also a great way to introduce ‘newbies’ to cannabis, and even longtime smokers find benefits.” After applying cannabis-infused oil for three days, Frazier says, her husband’s eczema cleared up, and he was able to stop using steroidal creams.

An up-and-coming segment of the medical cannabis industry, “topicals” include cannabis-infused balms, lotions, oils, alcohol solutions, and transdermal patches that penetrate the skin to deliver cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. Cannabinoids are specialized signaling chemicals in cannabis that bind with CB receptors in our bodies and skin, influencing and regulating appetite, pain sensation, inflammation, temperature regulation, muscle control, metabolism, stress response, mood, and memory. Because cannabinoids don’t reach the brain or central nervous system through topical delivery, most medical researchers don’t believe they can deliver psychoactive effects.

Denver-based Adam Stone, who developed and sells cannabis-infused SweetStone Candy Luscious Lemondrop Lotion, which took second place at the 2016 Michigan Medical Cannabis Cup, believes that’s the biggest benefit of using topicals. “They won’t get users high,” he says. “There definitely seems to be a body buzz, but they are a gentler way to medicate, which opens the door for many patients who would like to experiment using cannabis treatment but would prefer not to ingest it or experience any kind of mental high.”

Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham, a Massachusetts-based ethnobotanist and medical marijuana patient who writes extensively about cannabis and other medicinal plants, points out that “it’s entirely possible that some people taking transdermal THC-based lotion might get quite high.” His preferred method for a painful shoulder issue is a cannabis-based lotion from his local dispensary. Kilham learned of cannabis’s ability to relieve pain when he began smoking and eating it after a car crash many years ago, and he discovered topicals when he applied tamanu oil to areas of his skin where he had residual nerve damage from the accident. “It’s actually quite miraculous,” he says. “We’re in the very, very early stages of what’s likely to be a pretty exciting category in the cannabis industry.”

Graham Sorkin, director of business development for Mary’s Medicinals, which sells transdermal patches, gels and topical compounds to patients in Colorado, Washington, California, Oregon, Vermont, and Arizona, says more patients—particularly older ones—are willing to try topicals because they carry less stigma. “My grandma is never going to smoke a joint, but she likes the patch,” he says. Mary’s Medicinals’ customers range in age from 2 to 92, he says, and most use the products for localized and broad-spectrum pain such as arthritis. Patients also use them to help treat epilepsy, insomnia, and sleep disorders. 

At Holos Health, in Boulder, Colorado, Dr. Joe Cohen, DO, who integrates cannabis into his holistic functional medicine practice, often recommends sprays, creams, and lotions with a one-to-one THC-to-CBD ratio to patients with joint and neuropathic pain and muscle spasms. Cohen says topicals work locally to reduce pain, inflammation, and spasms and can be used as frequently as needed because of their limited psychoactive effects. When applied along with a heat source such as a neck warmer, they’re particularly effective for neck and lower back pain, Cohen says. The former obstetrician, who delivered 10,000 babies in Colorado and was named “Best Delivery Man” by Westword in 1993, uses Apothecanna Extra Strength Cream with arnica, juniper, peppermint, CBD, and THC for his own aches and pains.

CBD-only formulas, which are becoming very popular, appeal to people concerned about legality, psychoactive effects, or passing a drug test—even though that’s highly unlikely with creams and oils because topically applied cannabis doesn’t enter the bloodstream—but Cohen prefers a combination of THC and CBD. “The two generally work better together than one does alone,” he says. This is what’s known as the “entourage effect,” meaning the combination of cannabinoids found in cannabis is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s why Stone uses cannabis cultivars with a balance of both CBD and THC for SweetStone Candy Luscious Lemondrop Lotion. “Research has shown that this potentially has more therapeutic advantages than CBD alone,” he says.

Frazier has found this to be true in her own experiments with massage at Nature’s Root spa in Longmont, Colorado, where the same 90-minute massage is exponentially more relaxing and effective when she upgrades from hemp-based oil to cannabis oil with a high CBD content. “I can honestly tell you, the difference is night and day,” she says. “With the addition of CBD oil, I have to be able to go home and not do anything that requires a lot of energy and brain power. I’m arranging my schedule so that I can always go home and chill”.

Colorado-based health coach and medical marijuana patient Kim Frazier makes this edible topical oil by combining a one-to-one ratio of food-grade oil with some cannabis that has been decarboxylated and some that has not. Decarbed cannabis contains THC, CBD, and other beneficial cannabinoids, and non-decarbed cannabis contains THC-A (acid) and CBD-A. The oil is cooked at a temperature too low to decarb the cannabis.

Frazier’s favorite oils for this recipe are coconut, MCT, avocado, flax, hemp, and macadamia, which penetrate skin effectively and offer an array of beneficial nutrients, making the medicinal impact even stronger.

This kind of oil is not to be confused with full-extraction cannabis oil such as Phoenix Tears oil, which is made through a distilling process and involves a solvent such as alcohol. 

1 ounce cannabis, coarsely ground
1 cup food-grade oil
Mason jar
Cheesecloth or nut milk bag (both available from Amazon)
Fine mesh strainer

To decarb cannabis, place it in an oven-safe container, seal the container with a lid or aluminum foil and cook at 220 degrees for an hour. Remove from oven and let cool. Remove lid. Place oil and cannabis in a mason jar. Leave some room free at the top of the jar; don’t fill completely. Seal jar.
Preheat oven to lowest setting, typically 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a water bath in an oven-safe pot or Dutch oven by pouring enough water to cover the material in the jar. Place jar in water bath.

Place pot in oven and slow cook for at least 10 hours. The oil can cook for up to 24 hours. If you need to leave the house (or go to sleep), it’s fine to turn it off and restart the process when you return home (or wake up).

Note: You can use a crockpot or slow cooker if it has a setting around 170 degrees or less.

About every two hours, check container to ensure the water level remains higher than the material in the jar. Add water if necessary. Remove jar and shake it for a few seconds, then return it to the water bath. After 10–24 hours, remove jar and let cool.

Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth or nut milk bag. Place strainer over a bowl or jar and pour oil through until all plant material has been strained out. (You can keep the cannabis “sludge” in your fridge or freezer to use in the bathtub. Simply place some in a piece of mesh fabric along with some Epsom salts, tie up the mesh fabric and put it in the bathtub for a relaxing, therapeutic soak.)

Store in a labeled jar in the refrigerator for up to six months.