Cannabis topicals are having a moment. From
A-list celebrities using Lord Jones balms to soothe aching feet at the Golden
Globes to professional athletes debuting their own line of muscle rub,
transdermal products infused with cannabinoids seem to be everywhere.
But it isn’t just millennials and the Hollywood elite jumping on the bandwagon. An increasing number of senior citizens are also turning to topicals, often desperate to alleviate a painful and often debilitating condition that affects nearly 54 million American adults: arthritis.
The disease, which causes aches, swelling and stiffness in the joints and muscles, is typically treated with a combination of medications including steroids and opiates, which may have dramatic side effects. However, cannabis is becoming a popular and viable alternative. Infused creams and lotions work when the products’ cannabinoids bind to the network of cannabinoid receptors called CB2 receptors on the skin, without needing to enter the bloodstream. This means people using topicals infused with psychoactive cannabinoids such as THC will not feel a cerebral effect — only localized relief. Transdermal patches, however, do allow the cannabinoids to enter the bloodstream and travel to receptors in the brain, but because the release is so slow, it’s also unlikely to impart a high feeling.
While research on the efficacy of topicals is limited, there have been some promising results. A 2015 study published in the European Journal of Pain found that, when applied transdermally to rats with arthritic joints, the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) offered relief. Another study conducted in 2017 on rats with osteoarthritis (the most common type of arthritis, wherein bone cartilage breaks down over time) concluded CBD prevents pain and nerve damage. In fact, scientists are also exploring evidence that concludes CB2 receptors themselves may be responsible for regulating inflammation — one of the main issues arthritis causes.
The science is still early, but according to Radicle Health founder and nurse Eloise Theisen, CBD topicals appear to help with inflammation and itchiness, but people should try a THC topical — or a combination of THC and CBD — if they’re not finding relief from a CBD-only product.
Since the average senior citizen in the United
States takes around five prescription medications daily, concerns about
interactions between drugs, side effects and potentials for abuse have many
seeking another way.
And since those who might be averse to getting high from smoking or eating cannabis are often not intimidated by using a non-psychoactive cannabis balm, topicals offer a way to discover the healing properties of cannabis while eliminating the fear of Grandma and Grandpa getting too buzzed.
‘Once He Went Off the Pharmaceuticals….’
Karen Rumics Averill is a 63-year-old business
owner from Oregon who began making her own cannabis-infused topicals a few
years ago to help her husband. He was suffering from a severe type of arthritis
called ankylosing spondylitis, also known as “curved back syndrome.”
“He was initially put on Enbrel, which is an
injection, and he was actually receiving twice the dose that is normally
required,” Averill said. “Then, [the doctors] put him on Oxycontin and Vicodin
and then all of a sudden one day, at two in the morning, we’re rushing him to
the emergency room for a bleeding ulcer and they had to remove him from all of
She believes the drugs her husband had been
prescribed were actually making his condition worse.
“Once he went off of [pharmaceuticals], he became
more mobile, more active. He wasn’t comatose on the couch because he was
Averill began experimenting, utilizing byproducts
from top-shelf indica strains to infuse in coconut oil, creating a THC-infused topical.
“Actually, my 94-year-old aunt is now using it
for her arthritis. She called me
yesterday and said it works great!” Averill said.
Bringing Seniors to Cannabis
For many within the cannabis industry, one of the biggest challenges is getting accurate information to the general public — without being overwhelming or unconvincing. After getting phone call after phone call from seniors asking about their transdermal product, the team at NanoSphere Health Sciences decided they needed to focus not on getting their products to seniors, but on bringing the seniors to them.
“A lot of times, the way that a senior gets our
product is because a niece or nephew, granddaughter, son or daughter has gone
in, bought them the product and then told them that they need to use it, versus
them actually going into the dispensary and purchasing the product themselves,”
said Crystal Colwell, marketing director for NanoSphere.
So the company decided to partner with several dispensaries in their home state of Colorado, offering residents of nearby assisted living facilities and 55-plus communities round-trip bus rides to their locations in order to educate them on the many useful applications of cannabis. They also work with the non-profit group Realm of Caring in order to further their outreach towards the senior citizen demographic. Colwell says the feedback has been remarkable.
“We had one woman who had such severe arthritis
in her hands that she was unable to open her hands all the way,” Colwell said.
“One of her most favorite things to do is to write letters and handwritten
notes. She started using NanoSerum on her hands and she was using it once a day
for a month and after the first month she was able to open her hand and hold a
pen or a pencil in her hand again. Within a two-month time span, she was
actually able to write handwritten notes again.”
Colwell adds that while it will take time to
dismantle all the misinformation about marijuana and the ways it can be
consumed, topicals offer a non-threatening introduction to a medicine that
could make all the difference.
“A lot of misconceptions that senior citizens
have is that the only time you can get relief from cannabis is if you smoke it
or you ingest as an edible,” she said. “Once they learn that there are
alternative applications, that’s when they become intrigued and it gets their
TELL US, have you used cannabis topicals?
Originally published in Issue 37 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
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