Your Common Topicals Questions, Answered

Increased scientific evidence is establishing the efficacy of topicals – that is, lotions or oils applied externally to your body – in treating medical conditions.

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Increased scientific evidence is establishing the efficacy of topicals – that is, lotions or oils applied externally to your body – in treating medical conditions (1), For symptoms like chronic pain, patients are finding that topicals can relieve their suffering and improve their quality of life, however many of us still have questions. To help you make informed healthcare decisions, we reached out to ZYUS, a Canadian life sciences company based in Saskatoon that is developing cannabinoid topical formulations for patients. The company’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Lionel Marks de Chabris, answered some common questions to guide us through a few fundamentals of topicals:

What is a topical?

Topicals are medications combined with a base substance, like a cream, that allows the medication to be absorbed through the skin. As stated in a study in the journal, Molecules, cannabinoids can be formulated as topicals for localized relief of pain, soreness and inflammation (2). Because little is absorbed into the bloodstream, topicals are non-intoxicating, and are often chosen by patients who want the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids, without the potential side effects.

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Will using cannabinoid topicals make me high?

THC is the active ingredient in some cannabinoid formulations that can cause intoxication (a feeling of being “high”) when it is absorbed and travels to the brain. While some topicals do contain THC, according to a study (3) in the Forensic Science International Journal, very little is absorbed into the bloodstream, so topicals are unlikely to produce the intoxicating effects that can occur with other delivery methods, such as smoking or ingestion.

What are the active ingredients in a topical?

Cannabinoids are the active ingredient in cannabis-based topicals. All topical products in Canada are required to list the total amount of THC and CBD on each container. Research demonstrates that cannabinoid-based topicals have the therapeutic potential to provide relief of inflammation and neuropathic pain without unwanted side effects. (4)

What is the difference between Oils and Topicals?

Your skin is tough. It’s meant to protect you and does a great job of preventing substances – like cannabinoid oils – from penetrating through. That’s why you have to take cannabinoid oils by mouth so they can be easily absorbed and available to work all over your body.
Topicals, on the other hand, are designed to penetrate through your skin to work in a limited area and provide local targeted relief. This focused effect of topicals is what makes them so handy and useful. – Dr. Marks de Chabris

To learn more about ZYUS, visit


  1. Hammell, D C et al. “Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis.” European Journal of Pain. V 20,6 (2016): 936-48. doi:10.1002/ejp.818
  2. Bruni, Natascia et al. “Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment.”  Vol. 23,10 2478. 27 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3390/molecules23102478
  3. Hess, C. et al. “Topical application of THC containing products is not able to cause positive cannabinoid finding in blood or urine.Forensic Science International. 2017 Mar;272:68-71. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2017.01.008.
  4. Supra, reference

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