Topicals vs Transdermals

Many Keystone Shops patients are very familiar with the Extra Strength THC Topical Lotion by Cresco. Now, we are excited to offer another kind of lotion: Dr. Solomon’s Transdermal Lotion by GTI. Yes, they’re both lotions, but there are MAJOR differences between topicals and transdermals (I would not make a point of writing a blog about lotion if there wasn’t). It is very important for patients to consider the two when it comes to what form of these treatments will better help them.


Unlike topicals, transdermals use compounds that penetrate the skin, crossing the skin barrier and are actually able to enter the bloodstream. Because of this, cannabinoids and terpenes are able to better spread throughout the body and exert effects in areas other than the application site. Transdermals have the potential to provide more systematic pain relief, as well as causing psychoactivity (in high THC varieties) since the cannabinoids can enter the bloodstream.  However, in varieties with a 1:1 CBD:THC balance, or are higher in CBD, there would be little to no psychoactivity (as with other CBD products).

Because transdermals spread throughout the bloodstream, they work best when applied to more veiny areas of the body such as the inside of the wrist or the tops of hands and feet, rather than directly at the source of physical pain. Also, it is important to let the lotion dry before making physical contact with others, as it can rub off before it is fully dry.

Transdermals are also the second fastest-acting cannabis consumption method (after inhalation), and they tend to take about 15 minutes to cause effects, and these effects can last up to 6 hours. This can make for a great option for patients who would prefer not to or are unable to vaporize their products, or have trouble keeping other forms of consumption methods (capsules, tinctures, ingestible oils) down. 


It may appear as though transdermals can go beyond what topicals do, but that’s not really the case. Topicals allow for passive diffusion across the cell membrane to help specifically target pain in localized areas. Using a transdermal lotion to target a specific area of pain would often mean using it on a non-ideal application site (back, neck, temples, etc…), making the transdermal overall less effective and directly less effective in targeting the area of pain. Topicals generally outperform transdermals in relief of a localized area. Not to mention, topicals are a great way for patients to use high amounts of THC for pain relief without having to feel the psychoactive effects. 

Both transdermals and topicals are great options for cannabis consumption, but patients will likely find a dramatic difference in the potential these two have to help them, based on what they are trying to treat. Like with all cannabis products, it is extremely important to consider your own personal lifestyle and what you are aiming to treat when choosing between a topical and a transdermal lotion. 

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