Cannabis Product Types

Topical Cannabis Products


Topical Cannabis Products in Australia

Topical cannabis products are a form of medicinal cannabis applied directly to the skin. As such, they differ from other formats insofar as they are applied directly to a specific area and are not absorbed into the bloodstream or digested. Topical cannabis comes in a wide variety of different forms and strengths, depending on the manufacturer's specifications. These products have been purported to be used across a variety of areas. 

What are topical cannabis products?

Cannabis topicals are medicinal products that contain cannabinoids and are applied directly to the skin. These products work by penetrating the skin’s surface layer, or epidermis, to allow the cannabinoids to bind with the body’s cannabinoid receptor. Cannabis topicals come in a vast range of cannabis lotions, gels, balms, creams, salves and oils. The broad range of choice, consistency and cannabinoid content are designed for a number of different use cases. 

How do topical cannabis products work?

Topical cannabis products work by interacting with the cannabis receptors in our endocannabinoid system. When you administer a topical gel, balm or cream to a certain area of your skin, the cannabinoids it contains may interact with elements of the endocannabinoid system via transfer from the main layer of the skin diffusing into further layers of the epidermis. 

How are topical cannabis products made?

Topical cannabis products are made by adding a form of cannabis extract to a variety of topical types, from lotions to salves, creams or gels. In general, cannabinoids will be the key ingredient of topical cannabis products on the market, however, the rest of its composition can vary widely. Cannabis will be an ingredient in every topical cannabis product on the market, but the rest of their make up will vary widely. Balms and salves will often involve beeswax, while cannabis oil for the skin might contain other essential oils, but the proportions will depend on the individual manufacturer. The most important thing to note is the type and amount of cannabinoid the topical contains.

The two main cannabinoids used in topicals are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Most  cannabis topicals contain CBD, rather than THC. Although both come from the cannabis plant, they act in different ways and have different effects. CBD, which can also be found in the hemp plant, is not psychoactive, so will not make you feel ‘high’, whereas THC is psychoactive. As a consequence, CBD is found in more topicals even though THC absorption via topical absorption is very low. 

Administration of topical cannabis products

As with all medicinal products, the instructions for administering topical cannabis products should be ready carefully. For a patient that is using a new topical cannabis product, their doctor should recommend applying the topical to a small patch of skin. This way, they can see if the product reacts negatively with their skin. Once it has been established that the medicine does not cause a reaction with the skin , the prescribed  amount can be applied. It’s important to note that topicals must only be applied externally and patients should be reminded never to ingest or eat topical cannabis products. 

Currently, patients in Australia can only access medical cannabis through a valid prescription. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has only approved a few cannabis medicines, but many unregistered cannabis products are still prescribable with special approval from the TGA.

What types of topical cannabis products are there?

There are a range of different topical cannabis products available. They have their own unique formulas and cannabinoid profiles that affect their suitability to different situations. The most common types of topical cannabis products are cannabis creams, cannabis lotions, cannabis oils for skin, cannabis salves, cannabis gels and transdermal cannabis patches.


In general, creams are smooth, versatile and easy to apply. Often, manufacturers add essential oils like tea-tree oil, to enhance the potential benefits to the skin. Creams may be applied several times a day, as per a patient’s prescription, dependent on their condition. They can be effective for elderly patients, who are not comfortable swallowing medication, and can also be effective at targeting specific areas directly. 


In general lotions have a lighter consistency and viscosity than creams. In the skincare industry, they are used for moisturisation, due to their faster absorption and greater hydrating qualities.  One of the advantages of using a lotion is that you can make repeated applications throughout the day. The lighter consistency is suitable for patients who dislike the feeling of heavier ointments, balms or creams on their skin. Lotions can be used on the entire body, including the face, but should never be used internally. 


Salves or balms offer a thicker, denser texture and consistency than lotions, creams or oils. Like creams, balms may also contain different ingredients to create their thicker texture. Common ingredients in salves are butters like shea or mango, oils like coconut or jojoba oil and other topicals that have potential skincare benefits, such as anti-inflammatory qualities. 


Gels tend to be more watery compared to other topicals,  meaning they may be  absorbed more quickly. They should also be applied slightly differently, with users rubbing them deeply into the skin, rather than slowly massaging them onto the surface. 

Transdermal patches

Transdermal patches penetrate deeper into the skin to reach the bloodstream. They are painless and non-invasive and can deliver a steady release into the bloodstream. The advantage of prescribing a transdermal patch is that it allows a patient to apply it for a predetermined period without needing to take further action. 

Keen to learn more?

Healthcare professionals can find out useful information about medicinal cannabis administration by accessing the healthcare professionals portal. If you have any questions about our products, contact us today.

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