Cannabis Patches: Do They Really Work?

Randy Robinson October 9, 2018 1 comment

The cannabis patch promises fast and long-lasting relief from pain, minus the high.

In May, Apotheca Biosciences in Seattle unveiled its new cannabis patch for skin. The Pain Patch features a transdermal formula that delivers the patch’s cannabinoids directly through the skin and into the blood. According to a press release, the Pain Patch will be included in clinical studies looking at pain management and opioid addiction.

How can a Patch Send Cannabis Through the Skin?

When most patients take cannabis, they usually do it orally or through inhalation. The goal is to get the cannabinoids like THC and CBD into the blood, where they’ll travel to the nervous system’s CB receptors and start working their homeostatic magic.

The skin, like every other organ in the human body, contains CB receptors. The skin even possesses its own endocannabinoid system, which can regulate cell signaling in other parts of the body.

Apotheca Biosciences isn’t the first company to develop a transdermal cannabis patch. Mary’s Medicinals, based in Colorado, is one of the only companies offering a CBN patch. Pennsylvania’s Zynerba Pharmaceuticals is currently working on the world’s first synthetic CBD patch. Canada’s Pura Elements produces potent patches each packing a hefty 30-40 mg THC. Releaf, Present Naturals, and Pure Ratios have been churning out patches in California. Meanwhile, Manna Molecular has provided cannabis patches to New England’s medical states.

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Image credit: Mary’s Medicinals

Transdermal Delivery Systems

If you’ve ever rubbed cannabis oil on your skin, you’ll notice…nothing really happens. You won’t feel funny. You won’t get the giggles or get hungry. And you may notice your skin is livelier after you wash it off, but that’s about it.

The skin acts as a barrier between our fragile bodies and our environment. It evolved over millions of years to block toxins, microbes, and other nasties from getting inside of us. Lipophilic or hydrophobic compounds, like THC and CBD, cannot naturally enter the skin.

A transdermal cannabis patch gets around this by dissolving the cannabinoids in an organic gel, which scientists call polymers. These gels sometimes contain other solvents, like alcohols, that work as carriers.

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Basically, the patch is chemically designed so the cannabinoids will want to move away from the patch and into the skin. The gel facilitates this movement across the skin barrier and either dissolves, evaporates, or absorbs into the skin with the cannabinoids.

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Why go Transdermal Over Other Consumption Methods?

Transdermal delivery systems are unique because they bypass metabolic steps that happen through other routes. For example, when someone orally ingests cannabis, the cannabinoids must pass through the liver.

The liver will metabolize cannabinoids into other compounds, such as converting delta-9-THC into 11-hydroxy-THC. This is why people who overdo it with edibles have such powerful reactions: 11-hydroxy-THC is much more potent than delta-9.

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Although smoking or vaporizing cannabis may be the fastest routes of administration, they come with downsides. Some people just don’t like smoking or vaping. Some don’t want to deal with the smell. Others may have respiratory issues caused by COPD, lung cancer, or asthma, so inhaling anything would be out of the question.

Transdermal patches offer a discreet way to get cannabinoids into the body through exact, measured doses over a long period of time. Many of the patches listed above have a twelve-hour duration, which is much longer than either smoking or eating cannabis.

Okay, but Does the Cannabis Patch Work?

Like any medication, cannabis may work wonders for some patients while doing absolutely nothing for others. Transdermal patches aren’t new. Drug companies have designed other patches to deliver nicotine, painkillers, contraceptives, and other medications. Today’s pharmaceutical-grade patches have been around for decades, and ancient cultures used topical salves and wraps thousands of years ago.

Most cannabis patches are marketed for pain management. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, the two primary drug characteristics for controlling pain. Studies have shown THC has a knack for targeting nerve pain. CBD can reduce inflammation, which not only assuages pain but facilitates healing as well.

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Managing pain goes way beyond temporary relief. Pain triggers stress in the mind and body, and chronic stress over time can lead to a host of medical maladies like cardiac arrest, strokes, premature aging, depression, anxiety, and cancer.

And which medicine can naturally tackle stress, anxiety, depression, and pain? Our favorite flower, of course. The cannabis patch is a great way to deliver that medicine.

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Nice. So, Will the Cannabis Patch get Me High?

Cannabis patches, especially those with THC, can have psychoactive or intoxicating effects. Heady effects are usually minimized by the patches’ time-release formulations. Although you may get a joint’s worth of THC from a single patch, that dose will be stretched out over the course of hours.

You could slap multiple patches on like a kid who just discovered lick-on tattoos, but it’s not recommended. For the record, some people have died from overdosing on Fentanyl patches. Although the chances of someone dying from cannabis patches is about nil, let’s not test that theory, eh?

The point of a cannabis patch is to manage pain, not get wrecked.

Author avatar

Randy Robinson

As someone who wanted to know everything but couldn't decide on anything, Randy completed degrees in English, World History, and Molecular Biology. During their studies, they received an externship at the biotech firm Cannabis Science Inc., focusing on phytocannabinoids as anti-tumor and anti-cancer agents. Based in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, you can find Randy on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium @RanDieselJay