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Question: Are cannabis transdermal patches useful for my chronic pain?

Answer: Chronic pain is a major health issue in the U.S., and, in general, transdermal patches can be a great product for prolonged pain relief. 

Transdermal patches are not unique to cannabis. In fact, you’ve probably seen transdermal patches used to deliver other medications. Transdermal routes of administration are commonly used for certain birth control products, smoking cessation, and motion sickness. They’re also used to deliver opioids like fentanyl that are prescribed for persistent chronic pain. 

In 2019, more 20% of U.S. adults had chronic pain, and that percentage is increasing among all age groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Chronic pain encompasses a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Cancer pain
  • Arthritic pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Migraine headaches
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Psychogenic pain (associated with psychological factors)
  • Post-traumatic pain

Many people try to tough it out, but the documented long-term effects of chronic or persistent pain can be serious, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic fatigue.

The product people are most surprised to hear about, and the one Leaf411 nurses suggest to consider for prolonged pain relief, is a cannabis transdermal patch.

Cannabis transdermal patches use the same technology as other types. The middle of the patch contains different cannabinoids like THC, CBD, or CBN. In some cases, terpenes and other therapeutic compounds like menthol or eucalyptus are also added. Manufacturers also add carrier agents, so that the compounds will be more readily absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. When the compounds are absorbed into the bloodstream, you will likely feel the effects from the cannabinoids.

Transdermal patches containing cannabis plant compounds—either cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or both CBD and THC, are a good option for people who want cannabis’s therapeutic benefits but have health conditions or other restrictions that prevent them from either inhaling (smoking/vaping) or ingesting edibles or pill-based forms. Transdermal products can feature other cannabinoids like CBN, CBG, or THCa (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid- a raw, non-psychoactive form of THC) and can even contain other cannabinoids, terpenes, and compounds that have therapeutic benefits.

Transdermal products contain specially formulated carrier agents to help medicines, including cannabinoids, to fully penetrate the skin barrier and be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. This route of administration eliminates the need for medicines to first pass through the digestive system or respiratory system (if inhaled). It also allows for more consistent dosing over longer periods of time.


Transdermal patches containing cannabis plant compounds—either cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or both CBD and THC, are a good option for people who want cannabis’s therapeutic benefits but have health conditions or other restrictions that prevent them from either inhaling (smoking/vaping) or ingesting edibles or pill-based forms.

Dosing Cannabis Transdermal Patches

Cannabis transdermal patches are typically applied on a part of your body that has veins near the skin’s surface, like the inside of your wrist or on your ankle. The time of onset is rapid, sometimes within 20 minutes, and lasts for up to 12 hours. We always suggest starting with one-fourth of the suggested dose or serving size. Transdermal patches can be cut into smaller dosed amounts. 

Chronic pain can be very difficult to treat, so multiple routes of administration throughout the day may be ideal. Applying a cannabis transdermal patch as part of a layering of products should keep a consistent dose of cannabinoid medicine in your system while you use faster acting products like inhalation, a fast-acting edible, or rapid onset tincture for break-through pain. 

 

Photograph by Matt Ferro

Nurses from Leaf411
Leaf 411
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Leaf411 is the first cannabis nurse hotline and guidance service. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Leaf411 was founded in 2019 with a mission to provide education and directional support to the general public about the safe and effective use of cannabis (marijuana and CBD hemp). With a combined total of over 45 years experience in nursing and 14 years in cannabis nursing, Leaf411's leadership team has assembled the knowledge and data to move the mission of tackling healthcare inequality forward. Together both Katherine Golden, RN/CEO/Executive Director and Founder of Leaf411 and Eloise Theisen, AGPCNP-BC, and Chief Nursing Officer of Leaf411, successfully guides the team of cannabis nurses who passionate about helping the community access balanced education about their cannabis use while also improving public perception of the cannabis industry. For more information visit leaf411.org or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.