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The untapped potential of cannabis topicals

It has been six months since ‘cannabis 2.0’ brought a wave of new cannabis products to the Canadian market. New items like beverages, edibles, and concentrates were greenlit for production and sale last October, hitting shelves mid-to-late December pending a 60-day approval period by Health Canada. Topicals were ushered in with other ‘2.0’ products but were seemingly overshadowed by more popular items like edibles and vape pens. Only a sparse offering of topicals are currently available, and those options vary from province to province. 

Our skin and the associated connective tissues are rich in the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2.

Dr. Ahmed MD, medical director at Genuvis Health

The term ‘topicals’ refers to products like creams, salves, balms, serums and more, that are infused with cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, and applied directly to the skin. Simply walk into a drugstore and you will see the immense potential that cannabis skincare holds, the Canadian beauty industry alone is worth approximately 1.13 billion per year. Regardless, topicals remain largely underrepresented in the Canadian landscape.

Why topical cannabis

“Sometimes the area that you want to address is the skin!“ exclaims Andrea Dobbs, co-founder and operator of Village Bloomery, a cannabis retail store in British Columbia. Dobbs knows the value of using cannabis topically, sharing with StratCann that her customers are curious about how they can use cannabis in their skincare routines. 

Our skin and the associated connective tissues are rich in the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2,” explains Dr. Sana-Ana Ahmed MD, medical director at Genuvis Health in Alberta. These receptors allow the skin to utilize the compounds in cannabis, potentially addressing common concerns like premature aging, acne, or redness. 

I have prescribed topical application of a CBD/THC lipid emulsion for a patient in my practice. Remarkably she had a significant amount of healing of open sores and a reduction in the redness of her skin after just 3 months of use

DR. AHMED MD, MEDICAL DIRECTOR AT GENUVIS HEALTH

In her clinical practice, Dr. Ahmed has seen success using topical emulsions on a patient with a rare skin disease that was resistant to other treatments.

“I have prescribed topical application of a CBD/THC lipid emulsion for a patient in my practice. Remarkably she had a significant amount of healing of open sores and a reduction in the redness of her skin after just 3 months of use,” says Dr. Ahmed. 

She shares that humans have likely been using cannabis applied topically for centuries but the scientific rationale is still in its infancy. “As our knowledge evolves, the topical application of cannabinoids is being further studied for the medical treatment of wounds, burns and dermatologic pathologies such as dermatitis and rosacea.”

Current Market

Not to be confused with the weed branded products readily available on pharmacy shelves, topicals are only available through licensed retailers. “Cannabis topicals are regulated by Health Canada, meaning you won’t see them in drugstores. Those products contain hemp seed oil, which is rich in omega 3, 6 and 9; it makes for a lovely fatty cosmetic base,” explains Dobb. Hemp oil, also commonly labeled as hemp seed oil and cannabis sativa oil, is extracted from the seeds and has little to no cannabinoid content. 

I want to see a CBD cooling bar and a good 1:1 high potency body butter. I’m also looking forward to the bath bombs too

Andrea Dobbs, co-founder and operator of Village Bloomery

The Cannabis Act currently has 408 authorized licensed cultivators, processors and sellers, 74 of which have approval to make or sell topicals. Despite these numbers there are only a handful of products available for consumers to purchase. Products vary in availability by province and retailers, with current offerings made up predominantly of creams and oils. 

Liv Relief has a topical cream with 225mg of CBD and a transdermal cream with 125mg each of CBD and THC. Apothecanna also has a 1:1 formula cream, with 25mg each CBD and THC. Compliance Brands appears to have the most variety, offering a THC infused face serum, a multi-use balm, and a dissolvable bath oil. Some brands, like medical retailer CanniMed, have begun to offer kits with everything required to make your own topical infusion at home. 

Untapped Potential 

The sky’s the limit for cannabis topicals, both in terms of formulations and revenue. As regulations evolve, cannabis topicals could find a place in the medical, retail, and esthetic based industries. The consumer demand for topicals is pre-existing and will only grow as research and education persists. The US market has explored this potential more liberally, offering a wide variety of cannabis topicals for sale and used in professional services. 

Dobbs shares that there may not be a lot of variety right now but there is consumer demand and lots of room for innovation. “I used a beautiful face oil back in the unregulated days, I’m looking forward to seeing those products come back. I want to see a CBD cooling bar and a good 1:1 high potency body butter. I’m also looking forward to the bath bombs too – they are everything.”

~Ashley Keenan


About Author

Ashley Keenan is a writer and medical cannabis advocate who uses reporting and storytelling to destigmatize the plant. Ashley loves to educate and entertain with her work; covering all things cannabis from industry news to health and beauty.