Soaking in the cannabis: What topical THC products can do for you |

Soaking in the cannabis: What topical THC products can do for you

Rosanna Turner
Daily Correspondent
Cannabis-infused products run the gamut from vaporizers to transdermal cannabis patches, but most topical skin care products like lotions, salves, and bath salts mainly use cannabis oil and are not intended to get you high.
Anthony Thornton | Special to the Weekly |

The latest trend in skin care products can’t be found at Bath & Body Works or touted by a C-list celebrity in a late-night segment for QVC. Cannabis-infused topicals such as lotions, bath salts, salves and tinctures are now some of the hottest markets in the marijuana industry, with Colorado being one of the few states where you can buy and sell them.


Not everyone in the topical cannabis business got their start learning how to grow the good stuff in a medical marijuana dispensary. James Kennedy, founder and owner of Apothecanna in Denver, worked for high-profile cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies like Aveda and Johnson & Johnson before transitioning to the world of cannabis-infused skin care products around 2009.

“I was sick of the corporate thing,” Kennedy said. “Who needed another stupid body wash? They’re all the same.”

In the case of topical cannabis, however, a little THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) combined with a little CBD (cannabidiol) has a relaxing effect on the skin, making it more than just another body wash. Kennedy said cannabis oil, which is extracted from the cannabis plant, has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes, but it has taken some time for people to see it this way.

“Early on (with Apothecanna), people were like, ‘well, if it doesn’t get you high, what’s the point?’” Kennedy said. “(People) didn’t get the complete idea of cannabis as medicine, back in 2010-11.”

Unlike ingesting an edible or smoking marijuana, most topical cannabis products are not designed to make you giggle or give you the munchies. When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, bind to receptors in the brain. When used topically, these same cannabinoids bind to receptors on the body and stay local to the region where they were applied.

“The (cannabinoids) tell those receptors to calm down, to chill out, that everything is going to be cool,” Kennedy said.


The whole process is a bit more complicated than this, but this soothing sensation is why many use cannabis-infused topicals for pain relief. Vail resident Zoe Klapperich, 23, started using both a salve made from cannabis oil and a CBD tincture on her wrist five months ago. Klapperich has broken her wrist four times, the first at age 17, and started experiencing pain six years ago after having surgery to repair it.

“I tried pain killers and other medications, but I don’t like pills and it didn’t really fix that much,” Klapperich said. “I don’t know if the (topical cannabis) keeps the pain away in a sense, but it feels very loosened up and I don’t have to use it as much, (compared to) when they had me on arthritis medication.”

Klapperich said using the salve gives her wrist “a renewed feeling and it’s able to have its full rotation.”

In addition to pain relief, cannabis oil has become popular with massage therapists, who say that it helps alleviate tension in the muscles. Jose Morales, local licensed massage therapist who works part-time at Simply Massage in Avon, said legally in Colorado one can only get a cannabis oil massage at a licensed marijuana dispensary. Morales also cannot provide cannabis oil to his private clients, but they can bring it themselves to a massage if they want. Morales thinks cannabis oil works better than other oils for a massage and uses it on himself to relieve tightness in his neck and shoulders.

“(Cannabis) is a controlled substance, but it’s fairly harmless as far as I can see,” Morales said. “I don’t know anyone that’s had any kind of negative effect from it … I like to tell people about it because it works really well.”


While some might fear an allergic reaction or adverse effect from using a cannabis-infused topical, Kennedy said cannabis oil, because it’s plant-based, is one of the most hypoallergenic oils he’s come across.

“In five years, I’ve had one person say they’ve had a nasty reaction to the product,” Kennedy said. “The reason people are irritated by (skin care) products is the artificial fragrances and chemical compounds, which are not the same as these plant oils. People respond better to these natural products.”

As many companies are now looking to cash in on the cannabis business, Kennedy thinks that many topical products popping up at recreational marijuana shops are all “smoke and mirrors,” made solely to “make someone in a board room in New York (City) rich,” he said.

For Kennedy, cannabis-infused topicals are an opportunity to make skin care products in an ethical way that’s “good for the planet and better than what we have already,” he said.

Maddy Green, an employee at Roots Rx in Eagle-Vail, said topical products have been growing in popularity since the store opened in August.

“People like them because they don’t get you high,” Green said. “We definitely have a couple of customers a day asking about topicals — what they do, what the effects are. (Many) buy it and love it. They always want to come back.”

With so much focus on the sticky-green stuff, the news about cannabis-infused skin care products is mainly being spread by those who buy it, try it and then tell their friends. The word cannabis may conjure up an image of a stoner in a tie-dyed T-shirt, but the topical trend extends to even the baby boomers.

“I’ve turned a lot of senior citizens onto cannabis,” Kennedy said.

Support Local Journalism