THC Topicals: The Secret to Pain Relief Without the High

Guest post by Sweet Releaf, the leading brand of THC topicals

The opioid crisis is still gripping the nation, with over 130 Americans dying from drug overdoses each day, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Health officials are concerned, and citizens are searching for alternatives to traditional opioid painkillers. Statistics on pain in the United States are staggering, with over 50 million Americans report that they suffer from chronic pain, and of those, 19.6 million people report having high-impact chronic pain, according to a 2016 National Pain Strategy survey. The survey also reports that chronic pain is more prevalent in women, as compared to men, and is more common in the aging population. 

People are searching for the pain-relieving properties of cannabis without the associated high. Many think the answer is CBD. But research suggests that CBD in concert with THC may be the best approach. In the case of Sweet Releaf, their high-THC topicals are showing consumers that cannabis use can extend beyond the bong and provide a significant reduction on pain and inflammation without getting the user high. They call it Help Where It Hurts Without the High.™ When formulated with the right carriers and essential oils, cannabis topicals can both nourish the skin (the body’s largest organ) to significantly reduce chronic pain, relax sore muscles and soothe joint pain. This symbiotic relationship between the cannabinoids and terpenes is known as the Entourage Effect.


One of the key benefits of THC-rich topicals is that using them on the skin will not make the user high like it would when orally consuming a cannabis edible or drink. Although results can vary widely based on each person’s metabolism, the upside to using THC-infused topicals is that the therapy can be targeted to the exact location of pain or inflammation, which generally provides faster and more localized relief over other consumption methods. This may be beneficial, especially in the elder population, where pain relief is the desired outcome.

Sweet Releaf was intentionally formulated with high levels of THC specifically to help reduce pain. The CBD and THCa is included to help address inflammation and deep muscle relief, and works in concert with THC to bring a synergistic healing effect of the cannabinoids working together known as the Entourage Effect. The cannabinoids are complemented by carriers such as aloe, shea butter, coconut oil and a potent blend of terpene-rich essential oils such as Cinnamon, Sweet Orange, Camphor, Frankincense and Clove, which are also known to aid in the reduction of pain.

Topicals differ from other methods of cannabis use in that the cannabis does not enter the bloodstream when applied to the skin, and therefore does not have an intoxicating effect on the consumer. Rather, the cannabinoids are interacting with a user’s endocannabinoid system, sending ‘stop the pain’ signals to the brain. As the topical is being absorbed into the many layers of dermis and muscles, it delivers pain relief but is absorbed by receptor sites before reaching the bloodstream. 


Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) is inherently different from delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as it is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in high concentrations of raw cannabis.  THCa and THC are very similar compounds. As raw cannabis dries, THCa converts naturally to THC over time,  although decarboxylation dramatically speeds up this process. Decarboxylation is a process that involves applying heat to cannabis flowers to convert THCa to THC.  It is the THC which has the psychoactive and intoxicating effects that most people associate with cannabis use. 


With the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018 and the associated legalization of hemp, there are no shortages of claims being made about the benefits of CBD. Due to its non-intoxicating effects, many individuals have moved towards using CBD products, rather than THC products. However CBD products that are free of THC tend to fall short when it comes to pain relief. The bottom line is CBD alone is simply not as effective for serious pain relief as THC is.

In a previous Sweet Releaf blog titled THC or CBD: New Study Discovers Truth! we discussed a 2019 study performed at the University of New Mexico and published in Scientific Reports. The study evaluated different methods of THC and CBD consumption, as well as the medicinal benefits to both THC and CBD. The study concluded that THC was more effective than CBD at reducing pain and that as the percentage of THC increased, better pain relief was achieved. This suggests that the Entourage Effect is tangible, and that products infused with THC are more effective at providing pain relief compared to products which only contain CBD. 


Due to the federal illegality of THC and cannabis, there are very few studies available on the effects and benefits of THC. However, early anecdotal research shows the potential of THC to act as a pain reliever, reduce inflammation, and act as a neuroprotectant. 

A 1998 article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, titled “Cannabidiol and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol are neuroprotective antioxidants” concluded that “cannabidiol, THC and several synthetic cannabinoids all were demonstrated to be antioxidants.” The authors state that “cannabidiol and THC also were shown to prevent hydroperoxide-induced oxidative damage” and explained that CBD was more protective against neurotoxicity than other compounds, indicating it to be a “potent antioxidant.” Although this study was conducted on an animal population it demonstrates potential promise for application in a human model. 

A 2017 study, titled “Cannabis and Cannabinoids for Chronic Pain”, which was published in the Current Rheumatology Report found that “inhaled (smoked or vaporized) cannabis is consistently effective in reducing chronic, non-cancer pain. Oral cannabinoids seem to improve some aspects of chronic pain (sleep and general quality of life), or cancer chronic pain, but they do not seem effective in acute postoperative pain, abdominal chronic pain, or rheumatoid pain.” Although this study demonstrates good potential for the analgesic effects of cannabis, THC-infused topicals were not evaluated and further topical specific studies are warranted. 

There is one available study that evaluated the use of transdermals and topicals as an alternative delivery system, however the study only evaluated CBD, rather than THC- infused topicals. The study was published in Molecules in 2018 and is titled “Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment.” The biggest takeaway from this study is that transdermal or topical application of infused products increases the bioavailability of the products, as “transdermal administration avoids the first-pass metabolism effect that is associated with the oral route and thus improves drug bioavailability.” 


Anecdotal evidence and subjective reports, specifically customer testimonials, consistently demonstrate the benefits of topically-applied THC. However there is a growing need for more cannabis-based research to prove and support what many patients and physicians have already experienced firsthand: THC has analgesic properties and may provide significant pain relief. 


At Sweet Releaf, we believe in “intelligent medicine” and work hard to manufacture products that harness the power of whole-plant cannabis, phytonutrients, nourishing moisturizers for the skin and terpene-rich essential oils that also work to reduce pain and inflammation. All of our THC-dominant topical products are infused with sustainably-cultivated and extracted full-spectrum, sun-grown cannabis from small California farms. They include high THC to CBD ratios, as well as multiple cannabinoids and terpenes working together in concert for overall improved analgesic efficacy.

Our four signature products include Comfort Body Butter for everyday pain, Comfort+ Body Butter for deep chronic pain, and Comfort Cools Dry Oil and Comfort Warms Dry Oil rolls ons for on-the-go comfort. Each of our products is handcrafted and made with the finest ingredients nature can provide. Order your Sweet Releaf products today and experience the relief our THC-infused topicals have to offer.