Cannabis topicals are an incredibly useful way to get localised pain relief and reduce inflammation. With the market expanding rapidly, their use is becoming significantly more widespread, even extending outside of traditional cannabis users.
While a large number of these topicals feature very little THC, many users are worried about the potential risks that accompany them and whether they could trigger a positive result on a drug test. These are just a couple of the challenges faced by patients using marijuana to manage pain in a society still largely unreceptive to their needs.
WHAT ARE TOPICALS?
With a localised application, sufferers can target specific areas of trouble, supporting mild pain relief and reducing inflammation. It is the nature in which they are absorbed through the skin, however, that has raised questions about their safety. Will users get high as a result? And furthermore, would that cause a positive reading on a drug test?
With topicals unable to get users high, it would stand to reason that it’s not possible to fail a drug screening as a result of their use. In principle, this is true; but there are some caveats. This study from 2017  confirmed that topicals containing THC did not cause a positive test in both blood and urine.
Topicals are infused with a variety of cannabinoids. The most common is CBD, which does not contain any of the psychoactive properties that cannabis is renowned for. Instead, it is utilised for its medicinal benefits. However, some topicals do contain other cannabinoids like THC and CBN. Given that THC is the key psychoactive component in cannabis that enables users to get high, it is understandable that some remain sceptical about the use of topicals.
There are three main types of drug tests, urine, blood and hair tests, and saliva tests are becoming more common, especially for detecting marijuana smoking*. However, a urine test is the most commonly administered because of ease and cost.
Dr. Malik Burnett is a former surgeon and physician advocate. He also served as executive director of a medical marijuana nonprofit organization. Amanda Reiman, PhD, holds a doctorate in Social Welfare and teaches classes on drug policy at the University of California-Berkeley.
Note: Since we have gotten a lot of questions about marijuana use and drug testing in general, below is an overview of the different types of drug tests and their relationship to marijuana use.
Thank you for your question. Topical cannabis applications can be extremely helpful for localized pain and inflammation. Many people like them because they work on contact and are non-psychoactive.
In a blood tests, THC is usually eliminated from the blood within 48 hours, however, blood tests are costly and harder to administer so they are not used as often. Hair follicle tests work by detecting THC metabolites that have been passively diffused from the blood stream to the base of the hair follicle. Hair follicle tests can detect drug use within the past three months, including patterns of use. However, they often show false positives due to environmental pollution and other factors.