Medical Research

CBD: Topicals vs. Other Methods of Administration

Loren DeVito, PhD
Written by Loren DeVito, PhD

Considerations on what might be best for
different conditions

Note: While this article contains evidence-based information, it is not meant to serve as medical advice. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctors about their cannabinoid medicine.

Using cannabis as medicine is a long-held tradition practiced by cultures around the world. And the true beauty of the plant and all of its chemicals is the many ways in which humans have enjoyed them. While flower is still celebrated, newer methods of administration and different isolates provide patients with many options to suit both their lifestyle and health needs, with cannabidiol (CBD) leading the way.

Advanced technology has brought us single cannabinoid isolates that can be made or infused into many different products, such as oils, tinctures, food items, beverages, and more. Another way to use isolates like CBD is through topical administration.

Salves and lotions containing cannabinoids may be an attractive way for patients to take medical cannabis. Unlike other methods, topicals are absorbed directly into the skin, meaning that they avoid the first-pass digestion in the gastrointestinal system. [1] This can be very advantageous, since CBD absorption is affected by the amount and type of nutrients consumed like fat. In addition, some studies have suggested that topical use may increase the availability of CBD in the body. [1] It may also increase how long the dose is effective and could reduce the amount of CBD needed for its effects.

Let’s take a look at how the topical form of CBD, the in vogue cannabinoid, could help people with certain medical conditions and what benefits they may hold over other methods of administration:


Pre-clinical and patient reports have indicated that CBD is an effective painkiller. [2,3] For acute (or short-lived) pain where the source of the pain is localized (such as your back), topical CBD may be a good method to use since it can be applied right on the targeted area.

However, if the pain is diffuse, or affects multiple parts of your body, it may be better to use another method so that the effects of CBD are widespread. [1,4]

Additionally, for very severe acute pain, smoking CBD may produce a more immediate effect, as inhalation provides a quick onset of effects. [1,4]


Many patients use CBD for inflammatory conditions, and there is some evidence that it could be effective in reducing joint inflammation. [5] Topical administration could be very helpful, as it allows for focused treatment, as with pain. However, it’s important to note that smoking CBD could again be used if the inflammation you are treating is quite severe. [1,4]

Skin Conditions

Symptoms of psoriasis and atopic dermatitis can be very uncomfortable. But, with topical products, you can apply CBD directly to the areas that need relief. For skin conditions, topical CBD may be the best option. However, other methods of application can also be helpful, depending on preference.

Greater research is needed to better understand how the benefits of topical administration truly differ from other methods on efficacy across different conditions. As mentioned, remember to talk to your doctor about your cannabinoid medicine before trying something new.



  1. Huestis, M.A., “Human Cannabinoid Pharmacokinetics.” Chem Biodivers. vol.4, no.8, 2007, pp.1770-1804.
  2. Miller, R.J. & Miller, R.E., “Is Cannabis An Effective Treatment for Joint Pain?” Clin Exp Rheumatol. vol.107, no.5, 2017, pp. 59-67.
  3. Care By Design, “CBD Patient Survey.” Available at: Accessed September 25, 2019.
  4. 4. Millar, S.A., et al., “A Systematic Review on the Pharmacokinetics of Cannabidiol in Humans.” Front Pharmacol. vol.26, no.9, 2018,pp. 1-13.
  5. Hammell, D.C., et al., “Transdermal Cannabidiol Reduces Inflammation and Pain-related Behaviours In A Rat Model of Arthritis.” Eur J Pain. vol.20, no.6, 2016, pp. 936-948.

About the author

Loren DeVito, PhD

Loren DeVito, PhD

Leave a Comment