Cannabis has been used for centuries to provide relief to a variety of ailments, whether consumed by smoking or formed into a topical preparation. Cannabis topicals such as balms, lotions, ointments, gels, and creams have become commonplace to help treat a number of conditions, from skin irritations to internal pain and injuries.

How Cannabis Topicals Compare to Smoking

Even with widespread legalization across several states, there are many reasons why people may be subjected to drug testing. Employers may choose to drug test current and potential employees in states with or without legalization, depending on the job duties, and many people may be subjected to drug testing for legal reasons.

Smoking marijuana will definitely show up on a drug test, but the amount of cannabis consumed and the amount accumulated in your body affects how long it lasts in your system before you can pass a drug test. Everyone metabolizes cannabis differently so someone who smokes once in a while will not have to wait as long to pass a drug screen as a heavy smoker would. Daily smokers with a high tolerance can show positive on a drug test up to 30 days after they put down the pipe.

People who don’t smoke and just use topical cannabis ointments may be wondering if they can still pass a drug test, and there may also be confusion about topicals that are supposed to contain only CBD.

If you are considering using cannabis topicals, it is important to understand how they work, how they compare to other products such as transdermal patches and to feel confident that you will pass any necessary drug screen.


How Do Cannabis Topicals Work?

Cannabis topicals are applied directly to the skin and have been shown to provide relief for a number of ailments, such as dermatitis conditions, and painful conditions, such as arthritis and neuropathy. Cannabis topicals have been used historically by various cultures for holistic healing measures dating as far back as 1500 BCE, as mentioned in this article published by the National Library of Medicine referring to the Ebers papyrus using topical cannabis for inflammation. It has also been noted in another publication that Leonhart Fuchs, a German botanist and physician, wrote about the topical application of cannabis roots in 1542 to combat gout.

We know that many cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, act on the human endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is also present in the skin. The ECS regulates physiological symptoms by signaling molecules throughout a network of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. The ECS plays a present and important role in the skin through cell proliferation, differentiation, hormone production, and growth.

Do Cannabis Topicals Show up on a Drug Screen?

Cannabis topical products provide local effects on the skin, which consists of three main layers; the epidermis, which is the outermost layer, the dermis, and the hypodermis. The epidermis protects our bodies from the outside world and is composed of five layers in itself. Topical cannabis products applied to the skin do not penetrate deep enough to enter the bloodstream and cause any systematic effects.

This means that cannabis topicals do NOT show up on a drug screen. Cannabis lotions, ointments, creams, and balms deliver cannabinoids to superficial skin cells and the molecules are not able to penetrate through the layers of skin and enter the bloodstream. According to a study published in 2017, the application of topical THC-containing products will not cause positive drug screen findings in the blood or urine.

Cannabinoids applied topically do not reach the bloodstream, nor do they reach the liver, and they will not show up in saliva, urine, hair, or blood. If you are currently using cannabis topicals for any therapeutic effect, there is no reason to worry about even the most stringent drug testing procedures.

The same cannot be said for transdermal patches.

The Difference Between Cannabis Topicals and Transdermal Patches

Cannabis transdermal patches are another product commonly used by many people for therapeutic effects such as pain relief and relief for those enduring cancer treatments. There is a difference between cannabis topicals and transdermal patches as the patches are designed differently to deliver cannabinoids deeper into the skin, where they do enter the bloodstream and the circulatory system. If you are subjected to drug testing, be aware that transdermal patches will most likely show up on a drug test. If you are using CBD patches, talk to your budtender to make sure there is no THC or other psychoactive cannabinoid present.

As with all cannabis products, use caution when starting out and start low to determine the right amount of topical product that works the best for you.

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