Ask a Nurse: How to Use Cannabis for Healthy Skin

Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and it’s also one of the hardest-working. Every day it protects you from dangers large and small, and it faces an enormous amount of stress from UV rays, bacteria, viruses, pollution, and literally thousands of man-made chemicals. Yet the skin is also remarkably supple and resilient, and it can heal itself from incredible traumas. There are many ways you can help keep your skin healthy and strong, and one of the most effective — and surprising — could be cannabis.

Specifically, it could be cannabis’ phytocannabinoids, which are chemical compounds like CBD and THC. These are remarkably similar to a group of chemicals produced inside the human body called endocannabinoids. Both types of compounds — which we can refer to collectively as ‘cannabinoids’ for simplicity’s sake — help regulate the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a network of receptors responsible for maintaining homeostasis, or cellular balance, in the skin (along with many other functions).

The ECS accomplishes this by activating — or deactivating — cells in your body’s integumentary system, or IS. This is your body’s first line of defense, composed of all the layers of the skin, hair, nails, and exocrine glands. Nearly all the cells of the IS have receptors that respond to cannabinoids, including those in epidermal keratinocytes, melanocytes, mast cells, fibroblasts, sebocytes, sweat gland cells, as well as certain cell populations of hair follicles. The abilities of these cells to communicate disorder or disease (and potentially counteract such issues) is promising for many inflammatory skin conditions, as well as hair loss.

When the ECS (and, by extension, the IS) is working correctly, your skin will show it. Just as it becomes discolored or swollen when injured, when it’s healthy there are telltale signs you will see. For example, healthy skin is smooth, with no breaks in the surface. It will also be warm (not hot or red) and neither dry and flaky nor moist and wrinkled. In short, it will be balanced — healthy skin is a mirror of a healthy body.

What Your Skin Needs to Be Healthy (and How Cannabis Can Help)

Keeping the skin healthy isn’t just about protecting it from physical injury or the sun’s damaging UV light. It also pertains to things like diet and stress management. Things like drinking plenty of water or eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein are all important to maintaining healthy tissue — and so is taking the time to relax. 

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Cannabis Terpenes in Topicals: Which Are Best?

Terpenes might be the latest buzzword in the world of cannabis, but there’s nothing new about these tiny — yet important — organic compounds. In fact, they’ve been around for as long as plants have been on earth, though we still have much to learn about them. For the makers of cannabis topicals (like me), terpenes represent one of the most exciting developments in recent memory, and while nobody’s quite sure of what the future may hold for them, it’s certain to be an interesting ride.

In case you’re unfamiliar with terpenes, here’s a quick background. Found in everything from the tiniest blade of grass to the mightiest redwood tree, these naturally-occurring chemicals give plants their aromas and flavors. They also help repel predators and, in some cases, attract pollinators as well. Scientists have identified around 150 different terpenes in cannabis, though most strains tend to have a dominant “terpene profile” of just a few varieties. 

The terpene profile of a cannabis strain will affect how the strain smells and tastes to you, but it could also have a wide range of other effects — though scientists aren’t exactly sure how yet. As a 2019 review in the journal Plant Science put it, “Arguably, the only effect of cannabis terpenes on humans that is unquestionable are the fragrance attributes.” However, some scientists believe that terpenes could have untapped therapeutic properties, and as governments begin to loosen their restrictions on cannabis research, it’s finally becoming possible to get a clearer look at what terpenes have to offer.

Dr. Ethan Russo, one of the world’s most prominent cannabis researchers, suggests that a phenomenon known as “the entourage effect” may be behind terpenes’ medical potential. In a 2011 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, he theorized that the chemical interactions between terpenes and cannabinoids “could produce synergy with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.” 

Other researchers have begun to test this theory in recent years, and they’ve found some promising results. For example, a 2018 paper in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research found that terpenes could be useful for relieving acute inflammation (i.e. the kind caused when you bang your knee against the coffee table). That same year, a study in Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids showed that terpenes could play an integral role in stimulating the placebo effect — which might help explain why medical cannabis users credit the plant with relieving such a wide range of ailments. 

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Could Cannabis Massage Help With Sports Injuries? Experts Say “Yes”

As a cannabis massage therapist, I deal with patients who have a wide variety of needs. Sports- and exercise-related injuries are some of the most common — my practice, Primal Therapeutics, is based in Colorado, and people here are serious about their physical fitness. And while this is a great thing in my opinion, it also means that I see a lot of patients with pains, sprains, and other sports-related injuries. 

I’ve noticed a common thread among many of my fitness-enthusiast patients — they don’t want to sacrifice their mental clarity for pain relief. In fact, many of them are initially skeptical about cannabis massage, since they’re nervous about the potential intoxicating effects of the topicals we use. However, after seeing thousands of patients, I can tell you that not one of them has ever reported feeling high after a session.

Some patients are harder to convince than others, though. In particular, I remember one man in his mid-fifties — the first time he called, he asked me no fewer than ten questions about what the session would be like and what kind of results he could expect. He’d seen a countless number of physical therapists, massage practitioners, and chiropractors, none of whom had been able to help much with his pain, which came from a hiking injury several months ago. He was hesitant to believe that cannabis massage would be any different. I’m pleased to tell you he was incorrect.

During our first session together, I discovered that the source of his pain was a tight muscle in his groin, which he’d aggravated during a particularly strenuous hike in the mountains. Months had passed since he first started treatment, and still he was unable to move around comfortably. All he wanted was to be able to hike again. 

I explained that, apart from the massage techniques themselves, the cannabis topicals we were using could help relieve his pain by activating the body’s endocannabinoid receptors, which would help him return to homeostasis, the body’s natural state of cellular balance. And again, he was skeptical. But after only a few sessions, he was back on the mountain. I think he became a believer after that. 

Click here to continue reading the science behind the theory at CannabisMD.

Ask an Expert: Can Cannabis Topicals Treat Burns?

Your skin is your body’s most important line of defense against the outside world. When its integrity becomes compromised by a burn, proper treatment is essential to prevent permanent skin damage, infections, and other problems. Cannabis is not a magic bullet for treating all these issues, but in certain cases there’s reason to believe it could be useful.

Before we continue, it may be helpful to understand the different types of burns. These can be caused by exposure to heat, radiation, or electricity, along with chemicals, friction, or even (somewhat counterintuitively) extreme cold. Regardless of their cause, they’re commonly grouped into four categories, based on the layer of skin that has been affected:

First-Degree Burns
These are considered mild, and only affect the top layer of skin (known as the epidermis). It’s common for the affected area to be red and painful. 

Second-Degree Burns
Also known as a “partial thickness burn,” this type of burn affects both the epidermis and the layer of skin beneath it, which is known as the dermis. Typical symptoms for second degree burns include blisters and swelling, along with redness and pain.

Third-Degree Burns
These are sometimes called “full thickness burns,” because they penetrate through the dermis into deeper layers of tissue. With third degree burns, the skin becomes charred (often turning either white or black in color), and the affected area may feel numb.

Fourth-Degree Burns
This is the worst-case scenario type of burn. These burns can reach past the epidermis, dermis, and deeper layers of tissue all the way to muscles and bones. Since this tends to cause nerve damage, the patient will often have no feeling in the affected area.

The final two categories of burns are extremely serious, and treating them is beyond the scope of cannabis in any form. They require urgent, professional medical attention (more on that later). For first- and second-degree burns, cannabis — particularly topicals — may have more to offer, though the existing research is limited.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Burn Care and Research, found that cannabis use was increasingly common among patients with burns (who tended to be younger and less likely to have medical insurance), though it didn’t specify if — or how — those patients were using cannabis to treat their injuries. In 2018, a different paper in the same journal found that, “[Marijuana] use appears to be protective in acute burn admissions, despite classic teaching that illicit drug use leads to poorer outcomes.”

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Cannabis Massage for Parkinson’s Patients: Is It Safe?

While there’s not yet a cure for Parkinson’s disease, modern medicine has yielded a number of promising treatments that can reduce the severity of its symptoms and improve the quality of life for people living with it. One of the most intriguing (or at least unexpected) options is cannabis, and although research is still in its early stages, the plant does seem to offer some significant benefits — and adding massage to the mix could help, as well. 

By the year 2020, 1 million people in the U.S. will be living with Parkinson’s disease, according to estimates from the Parkinson’s Foundation. The condition, which currently affects around 10 million people worldwide, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that’s caused by the brain’s inability to produce enough of a chemical called dopamine, a deficiency that grows more severe over time. It’s more likely to affect men than women, and older people are more likely to be diagnosed than younger ones — over 95 percent of people with Parkinson’s are over the age of 50.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of Parkinson’s can vary widely from patient to patient. Tremors are one of the most common symptoms, with some patients noticing these movements even when their limbs are at rest. Many people also experience stiffness or rigid muscles, resulting in painful contractions that can limit mobility. These issues can make it difficult for people with Parkinson’s to write and speak. It’s common for patients to have problems with balancing and walking as well, and their movements are often slower than before. 

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3 Types of Chemicals to Avoid When Buying Cannabis Topicals

Ten years ago, it was hard to find cannabis topicals of any kind. Today, we have more choice than ever before — which means we can be more discerning, as well. It’s become easier than ever to find high-quality products that are made with natural ingredients instead of harsh chemicals, and when it comes to cannabis topicals, it’s worth being choosy.

Many of us have become accustomed to reading labels on the food we eat. This shift in awareness is now moving into body care products. In the past, if a bottle of lotion or face cream had an informative, visually appealing label, then chances were good that you, the customer, would have no intention of checking the ingredients list. That’s starting to change, and since our skin is our largest organ (and capable of absorbing whatever we apply to it) it’s important that ingredients be pure, chemical- and cruelty-free, and as organic as they can possibly be.

It is important to remember that there are varying stages of “organic.” Items can be anywhere from 70-95 percent organic when they are certified. The certification is costly and small batch manufacturers often choose not to receive certification. You will note when purchasing organic products the price is generally higher. This is because organic ingredients cost more to produce, whether in terms of human labor, raw materials, or otherwise. On the bright side, you are supporting organic farmers and the environment with every purchase you make.

Organic Alternatives to Artificial Chemicals in Cannabis Topicals

When shopping for cannabis topicals and skin care products there are a few ingredients you should do your best to avoid. Whether you’re looking to treat arthritis symptoms, reduce neuropathic pain, or just to relax and indulge your skin a bit, it’s better to seek more natural options. Check out this list below for the top three ingredients to avoid, along with their organic alternatives.

See the full list of ingredients to avoid on CannabisMD

Neuropathy Is Chronic and Painful — But Cannabis Topicals May Help

Neuropathy is a condition that affects over three million people a year in the United States alone. Also known as peripheral neuropathy, its symptoms include numbness, weakness, lack of coordination or frequent falls, extreme sensitivity to touch, muscle weakness or paralysis, and stabbing or burning pain in the hands and feet. All of these can have a severe impact on a person’s quality of life, and finding an effective, side effect-free way to manage them can be a challenge. However, recent scientific studies have found that cannabis topicals might be well-suited for the job.

Neuropathy is a result of trauma to the peripheral nerves, which are located outside of the brain and spinal cord. These nerves connect the central nervous system (CNS) to our sensory organs. If one or more of them become damaged, peripheral neuropathy ensues.

Nerves can be damaged by various conditions including alcoholism and diabetes, cancer (and the chemotherapy used to treat it), vitamin B deficiency, autoimmune diseases, toxicity, drug interactions, and even occupational hazards such as strenuous physical exertion over a long period of time. When the peripheral nerves are damaged, they begin to send faulty signals to the brain.

Unlike nociceptive pain (the kind caused by pricking your finger or hitting your knee on the table), neuropathic pain does not start abruptly or dissipate quickly — nor is it as responsive to typical pain medications. It’s a chronic condition, and people diagnosed with it live in a constant state of pain. The severity can increase or decrease throughout the day, depending on various factors.

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Before your cannabis massage

We are often asked the question, “what should I do to prepare for my massage?” Before your cannabis massage session with Primal Therapeutics we highly recommend two things: a nice soak using our Primal Healing Soak to open up your pores and relax your muscles and a hot cup of Stillwater Tea to entice your relaxation.  Performing these two rituals can amplify your cannabis infused massage therapy experience.

First lets talk about the power of a nice hot bath. Hydrotherapy has been used for centuries to provide relief from aches, pains and stress. A good soak calms the nervous system and open your pores allowing for total absorption of the organic infused oils and salves we use for cannabis massage therapy sessions.  Our bodies are mostly water so this makes soaking in it incredibly beneficial.  A warm bath makes the blood flow easier, it also makes the body more oxygenated by allowing you to breathe deeper and slower. As you may have had your massage therapist tell you in the past, “remember to breathe.” Deep breathing is so important to keep your muscles relaxed during your treatment session.

It is not just about taking a bath though. It is about enhancing that bath. By adding essential oils, minerals or salts you amplify the effect of the bath itself.  We recommend Primal Healing Soak. Every ingredient is organic and sustainable. The entire product line is made in small craft batches. In addition to CBD the herbal content is designed to provide the most therapeutic effects possible and it happens to smell like a lavender field of heaven. The aromatherapy alone will send you onto a cloud of relaxation. The protein in milk helps to breakdown dead skin cells and the magnesium flake assists in the muscles relaxation.

Now let’s talk tea. It has been said that green tea is the healthiest drink on the planet. It is full of anti-oxidants, improves brain function, and has been shown to improve over-all health. Tea composed of mint leaves  has been known to reduce pain, eliminate inflammation, and relax the body and mind. As you see tea is highly beneficial all on its own, then add water soluble THC or CBD, mind blown. Stillwater Beverages combine the highest-quality organic teas with a healthy dose of Ripple CBD 20:1. The light touch of fast-acting, water-soluble CBD is designed to relax, not intoxicate.

Stillwater keeps the dosing low and we like that. Micro-dosing is true plant medicine. The goal of Endocannabinoid therapy is to activate the system and provide balance at a cellular level. It is possible consume too much, especially for those patients we have coming from outside of Colorado. We also recommend to patients and consumers to start low and slow. You can always consume more later.  Ingredients are key and Stillwater uses all organic high quality ingredients.

Stillwater comes in Mellow Mint and Gentle Green. For patients and consumers wanting to add a few more milligrams of THC or CBD to their tea, guacamole, smoothie, queso or truly anything your heart desires you can use their Ripple. These tiny packets of water soluble THC and CBD allow you to infuse anything you eat or drink discreetly.

Cannabis massage is incredible. You will feel the difference the infusion of cannabinoids makes. Now you have the knowledge you need to take your experience to a higher level of healing and feeling. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Purchase Stillwater Teas or Ripple products at any of these fine retail locations:  Find Stillwater Brands

Purchase Primal Healing Soak: HERE

*No compensation was received from either brand for the writing of this blog.

Ask an Expert: Treating Arthritis With Cannabis Topicals

Cannabis topicals might not sound like the most intuitive treatment for arthritis. However, recent research — and years of my own work as a nurse and massage therapist — show that the plant has much to offer people who are living with this condition.

Arthritis is a disorder of the joints in the body that causes painful inflammation. The neck, shoulders, hands, spinal column, hips, knees, and ankles are some of our most notable joints — and they’re all common sources of pain. Arthritis is neither age nor gender specific. The inflammation caused by arthritis results in joint stiffness, swelling, redness, and the area can often be warm to the touch. 100 types of arthritis have now been identified and over 300 million people worldwide are plagued daily by this type of pain.

Clinical research studies regarding cannabis topicals and arthritis are still in their infancy. Recent findings show cannabinoids exhibit anti-inflammatory effects by activating cannabinoid type 2 receptors (CB2.) These receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system. Our endocannabinoid systems’ primary goal is cellular homeostasis, or balance. Our bodies naturally produce chemicals called endocannabinoids (which are nearly identical to chemicals produced in the cannabis plant, called cannabinoids) in an effort to activate these receptors. When a cannabis topical is applied to an inflamed area where CB2 receptors are present, the cannabinoids stimulate an anti-inflammatory response.

This is the science behind using cannabis topicals to treat arthritis, but the anecdotal evidence can be just as compelling. Throughout my career, I’ve seen firsthand the ways in which they can transform people’s lives. I’ve also had to answer a lot of questions about how and why they work — here are some of the most common ones.

Frequently Asked Questions About Using Cannabis Topicals for Arthritis

What’s the first question most arthritis patients have about medicinal cannabis topicals?

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How Cannabis Helped Me Quit Prescription Drugs

I have been a nurse for almost 20 years, and this is the story of how cannabis saved my life.

In 2010, I fell seriously ill — for reasons that doctors were unable to understand, I began to experience excruciating pain, which hampered my mobility and caused intense mental distress. Their response was to prescribe a pill for every symptom I exhibited, and it didn’t take long for me to tire of the toll they were taking on me. Soon, I was barely surviving. I became so desperate that I was willing to move 2,000 miles from where I was born in hopes of finding something that would save my life. Today, I’m sharing this journey because I want people who are experiencing similar mental and physical pain to believe a better, healthier future is possible.

My Introduction to Prescription Drugs

I’d been in pain for a long, long time before I had my first surgery. This one was to remove my gallbladder. During the procedure, they found a large tumor on my liver that they deemed inoperable. It was an estrogen- and blood-filled mass, most likely caused by years of taking the birth control pill, which I’d used to regulate my intense menstrual cycle. Needless to say, this was an unexpected side effect.

A few weeks after the operation, I woke up and my entire body was puffy. The pain in my right side had only worsened, and the nausea was more unbearable than ever.

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