How to Make Cannabis Lotions — Cannabis Topicals 101
Revolutionary is a pretty big word but can definitely be used in the context of cannabis-infused lotions and balms. They provide medicinal benefits without the psychoactive effect of THC.
Cannabis has been with us for centuries, but innovation and curiosity have made a huge impact on how we enjoy this age-old plant. While more traditional methods of cannabis consumption like smoking a joint or using a bong are still popular, edibles, vaporizing, and topicals are gaining more traction.
Let’s take a closer look at cannabis topicals and discuss what they are, how they work, and how you can make your own cannabis-infused lotions at home.
What Are Cannabis Topicals and How Do They Work?
Cannabis topicals come in a variety of forms, including creams, balms, lotions, oils and lubricants. These products work by delivering cannabinoids and terpenes found in the cannabis plant directly to receptors in the epidermis and dermis.
What Are the Benefits of Cannabis Topicals?
Cannabis topicals have a unique range of benefits. Topicals containing THC, for example, can deliver the powerful effects of this cannabinoid without the head high, which for some people can be undesirable or unpleasant. Unlike smoking or vaporizing, which deliver cannabinoids and terpenes into the bloodstream and to a variety of receptors all around the body, topicals have the benefit of acting on a very localized area.
Check out other benefits of cannabis topicals:
- They’re easy to use. Dabbing or smoking can be tricky, especially for people new to cannabis. Using a topical, however, is as simple as smearing cream or lotion on your body.
- They’re simple to dose. It can be easy to overstep the line when smoking, vaping, or eating weed. With topicals, however, dosing is super simple, and taking a larger dose won’t cause any unwanted side effects.
- They offer a slow, steady, and controlled release. The effects of smoking or vaping cannabis can set in very quickly, while edibles can take up to 1 hour to take effect. Both edibles and smoked/vaped cannabis can seem overwhelming for some users. Topicals draw a nice middle ground between the two, offering a fast onset with a steady release and the ability to re-apply when necessary.
- They omit the lungs. While cannabis connoisseurs are quick to defend smoking weed, research has shown that cannabis smoke contains many of the same harmful compounds found in tobacco smoke.
- They avoid first-pass metabolism. When you swallow cannabis, be it in the form of a brownie, capsule or oil tincture, it usually loses concentration (and potency) by the time it reaches the bloodstream. Cannabis topicals bypass this problem because they don’t pass through the digestive tract.
- They avoid drug fluctuation levels. When you smoke or vaporize cannabis, the number of cannabinoids and terpenes delivered to your system can fluctuate dramatically depending on your smoking pattern. Topicals, on the other hand, offer a steady flow of cannabinoids and terpenes to your system, which is great for anyone using cannabis medicinally and those in need of lasting relief.
What Can Cannabis Topicals and Lotions Do for You?
Thanks to their mechanism of action, cannabis topicals can offer relief to people dealing with a wide variety of issues, affecting mainly muscles and skin. Best of all, as we mentioned earlier, topicals offer this relief without the psychedelic effects of THC-rich cannabis.
Potential anti-inflammatory  properties of both THC and CBD have been widely researched. When using topicals, you’re able to deliver these cannabinoids directly to the areas needing them most. This localized mechanism of action could help soothe muscles when injured or strained by exercise.
But the powerful effects of cannabis can do much more. If you are dealing with skin imperfections, like blemishes or redness, or you are looking for creams to help with rough or sensitive skin, you can also consider trying cannabis-infused creams. Rather than smoking, vaping, or eating your bud, using a cannabis lotion can offer faster and more targeted relief, by working directly on the affected regions of the skin.
You can also use cannabis topicals, like lotions and creams, as part of your daily moisturizing or skincare routine to promote general health of the skin. Studies have shown  , for example, that the endocannabinoid system may play an important role in promoting skin homeostasis, which suggests that using cannabis-derived topicals may be an excellent holistic approach to the overall health of your skin.
What Are Transdermal Cannabis Patches?
Unlike topicals, which only reach receptors in the epidermis and dermis, transdermal cannabis patches penetrate through the skin, delivering cannabinoids and terpenes to blood vessels in the hypodermis (also known as the subcutaneous layer).
Once applied to the skin, the compounds contained in a transdermal patch travel down through the skin until they reach the capillary vessels in the hypodermis. From there, they enter the bloodstream and are capable of reaching other receptors in the area. Transdermal patches can offer wider-reaching and longer-lasting relief.
How to Apply Cannabis Topicals
- Wash your skin with mild soap and warm water, then dry it completely.
- If you’re trying a new brand or type of lotion for the first time, consider spot testing it on a small area of skin first, just to check how your skin reacts.
- Apply a thin layer of cannabis lotion and rub it into the skin gently. If you’re using the lotion to treat sore muscles, try massaging the area gently for extra relief. Reapply if needed.
- Wash your hands to remove any excess lotion.
Quick Guide to Making a Cannabis- Infused Balm
Now that you know about cannabis topicals, it’s time to get hands-on. Although at home you don’t have the possibilities of multi-national companies when it comes to accurate production processes, you can still create your very own natural cannabis balm. From a technical point of view, the production of cannabis lotions and creams is very similar to making cannabis-infused butter. If you know how to make cannabutter, you pretty much know how to make lotions.
INGREDIENTS AND EQUIPMENT:
- 250–500ml of coconut oil
- 15–30g of dried cannabis flower
- Cooking pot
- Cheesecloth (or any kind of fine mesh material)
- Beeswax, shea butter, almond oil or other ingredients designed to boost skin health (feel free to customize these based on your skin’s needs)
- Storage containers
- Grind your flower and decarboxylate for 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 110°C.
- Pour your coconut oil into the cooking pot. Heat gently on low heat.
- Add your decarboxylated ground flower to your oil and gently simmer for at least 3–4 hours.
- Add any additional ingredients you wish to use to enrich your topical with, then remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool a bit.
- Strain through the cheesecloth into your storage containers. Remember to squeeze the mass of flowers through the cheesecloth to avoid wasting any of the product.
When making your own cannabis topicals, we highly recommend to experiment with different ingredients to create a final product tailored to your skin needs. Remember, any ingredient you find in a store-bought cream or lotion (from almond milk to shea butter and anything in between) can be a great addition to your homemade cannabis lotion. Get experimenting and get ready to experience cannabis like never before.
Are you interested in trying cannabis-infused creams and lotions? Discover the properties of cannabis topicals and learn how to easily make them at home.
How to Make Homemade Cannabis Salve (CBD or THC)
To grow and make your own medicine… that is the stuff that dreams are made of, am I right?! We like to use our organic homegrown cannabis in a variety of ways, but making topical cannabis salve is on the top of the list. Cannabis salve can help to reduce inflammation, soothe skin irritation, joint pain, and more! It also happens to be quite simple to make your own cannabis salve, and easy to customize it to suit your needs.
Read along to learn how to make cannabis salve in 4 simple steps. With this recipe, you can use marijuana, hemp, high CBD, high THC, raw cannabis, decarbed cannabis, or any combination thereof! (Depending on what is legal and available in your area of course.) Let’s talk about benefits of each of those, how cannabis salve works, and what awesome healing potential it has.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links to products for your convenience, such as items on Amazon. Homestead and Chill gains a small commission from purchases made through those links, but at no additional cost to you.
What is Cannabis Salve
Maybe we need to step back a moment. How about, “what is a salve?”. A salve is simply the term for a healing solution that you put on your skin, including creams, ointments, or balms. Generally, salves are fairly thick, shelf-stable, and include nourishing oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, sweet almond oil, or others.
In our cannabis salve recipe, we prefer to use mostly coconut oil, because it is full of saturated fat that binds well with cannabinoids. It is also ultra-moisturizing. We also add a dash of olive oil to increase absorption and smoothness. To learn more about various carrier oils, check out our homemade calendula oil article – where I discuss the pros and cons of a dozen different oil options!
Salves also typically contain waxes or butters to bind the ingredients and make them semi-solid at room temperature. Beeswax is a popular option because it is readily available, easy to work with (especially when purchased in pastilles), and creates perfectly smooth results. See the ingredient list below for recommended vegan substitutions.
When cannabis is added to salve as an ingredient… voila! You’ve got yourself a cannabis salve. The most common way to add cannabis to a salve recipe is to create a cannabis-infused oil first, and then combine the oil with the other salve ingredients.
Therefore, that is exactly what we’re going to do in this recipe: make cannabis oil, and then the salve. But first: “what kind of cannabis should I use in my oil or salve?”
Using Decarboxylated or Raw Cannabis in Salve
How about a little bit of both?
If you aren’t familiar with the term, decarboxylation is the process of heating cannabis at an ideal time and temperature to transform raw cannabinoid compounds from their “acid” form to more active and potent versions. For example, CBDA and THCA are changed into CBD and THC respectively. Decarboxylation naturally occurs when cannabis is smoked or vaporized, but it needs to be accomplished by other means when using cannabis in oil or salves – such as by heating it in the oven. (Read more about decarboxylation here)
The medicinal benefits of decarboxylated THC and CBD are well-documented. Both are anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, high in antioxidants, relieve pain, relax muscles, and suppress tumor growth. This is especially true when they’re used and work together, known as the “entourage effect“. THC is a particularly powerful analgesic (pain-reliever). CBD has even more expansive healing applications, and can help relieve seizures, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis. That said, we definitely want to reap those benefits and use decarbed cannabis in this salve recipe!
On the other hand, emerging studies are revealing that raw THCA and CBDA have some pretty groovy perks too. THCA is showing a promising ability to reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, arthritis, and cancer. CBDA also fights inflammation and tumor growth.
Beyond CBD and THC, there are dozens of other compounds found in cannabis that may produce individual, interactive, or synergistic benefits, including phytocannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. It should be noted that THC is psychoactive and CBD is not, though that doesn’t matter all that much when making a cannabis salve intended for topical use only.
Considering all of this, we like to use both decarbed and raw organic cannabis (containing both THC and CBD) to create a full-spectrum, well-rounded, ultra-healing finished product.
What Can Cannabis Salve Be Used For?
Cannabis salve is stellar at relieving many ailments! First of all, coconut oil and olive oil are extremely nourishing on their own – so you’re going to get plenty of moisture from your salve to heal dry, cracked, or otherwise irritated skin. If you add a few drops of essential oils to your salve, you’ll also get the benefit of aromatherapy.
The healing properties of your homemade cannabis salve may vary slightly depending on what type of cannabis you use. In general, cannabis salve can be used to treat or relieve the following :
- Rashes, itching, or other skin irritation
- General inflammation
- Sore joints
- Muscle aches
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Irregular cell growth (e.g. skin cancer cells)
Personally, I like to rub a little cannabis salve on my tight and sore neck muscles, shoulders, wrists, knees, elbows, ankles, bottom of my feet, and behind my ears. Hey, all this gardening (and sitting to blog) does a number on my body!
The beneficial effects of various cannabinoids. Chart courtesy of PotGuide
How Does It Work?
Did you know we all have an Endocannabinoid System? Yep. Just like we have an endocrine system, immune system, digestive system, and so on. Our bodies have natural receptors, literally made to interact with cannabinoid compounds. This includes both internal, naturally-synthesized cannabinoids and those from external sources – like those from marijuana or hemp. Neat, huh?
When cannabis salve or medicated topicals are applied to our skin, the THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids present in the solution penetrate the skin to bind and activate our localized endocannabinoid receptors. They won’t enter the bloodstream however, so topically-applied salve will not get you “high”.
HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE CANNABIS SALVE
- 7-10 grams of decarboxylated cannabis (ground or torn to fairy small pieces). If your cannabis is not yet decarbed, see Step 1 in the instructions below.
- 1 ½ cups of coconut oil OR, 1 ½ cups of already-infused cannabis coconut oil (*see notes about using different types of oil below)
- Optional: 5 grams raw cannabis, dried and cured.
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup beeswax pastilles (vegan option: replace with the same amount of organic soy wax, candelilla wax, or carnauba wax)
- Optional: Essential oils of choice. I like using this certified organic lavender oil. Tea tree, peppermint, rosemary, lemon, or eucalyptus are also great choices!
- Optional: 1 tablespoon of shea butter or 1 teaspoon of vitamin E oil for additional antioxidants and moisture
- A double-boiler, or make-shift double boiler – such as a glass pyrex bowl or stainless steel bowl perched on top of a saucepan with water below
- Cheesecloth (if your cannabis oil is not already made)
- Mixing bowl
- Glass jars or salve tins, for storage
- Recommended: probe thermometer
Makes: Approximately 2 cups (16 ounces) of finished salve
*Notes: If you want to scale this recipe up or down: the general rule of thumb for salve is to use about 1 part of beeswax to 4 or 5 parts oil, including both coconut and olive oil. Since we use virgin coconut oil that is solid at room temperature, we can get away with lesser beeswax and the salve will still set up well. If you use a different carrier oil that is liquid at room temperature, either omit the extra 1/3 cup olive oil mentioned above, or increase the amount of beeswax pastilles to 1/2 cup.
Step 1) Decarboxylate Your Cannabis
If you haven’t done so already, the first step is to decarboxylate the cannabis you intend to use in this salve recipe. Or at least some of it, if you want to also use some raw material.
Grind or tear up the cannabis into fairly small pieces. Spread it evenly on a baking sheet, and heat it in the oven on 250°F for 25-30 minutes. Easy, right?
Step 2) Create & Strain Cannabis-Infused Oil
If you tuned into our “How to Make Cannabis Oil” tutorial, you will recognize these steps. The process is virtually the same, except we are going to use slightly more coconut oil here. If you’re interested in making medicated edibles, check out that article!
When making cannabis oil, it is important to not overheat it. Because we are starting with already-decarboxylated cannabis, maintaining a lower temperature will preserve the already-active THC and CBD content as well as the terpenes. Avoid heating it over 200 degrees F. 120 to 180°F is even better.
That is where a double-boiler comes in handy! Even over the lowest flame, heating oil in a pot directly on the stove is much more difficult to prevent overheating, and can create “hot spots” – destroying our precious cannabinoids.
I suggest monitoring the oil temperature with a probe thermometer if possible. Because oils have a higher boiling point (or “smoke point”) than water, the oil will not appear to be as hot as it really is! For example, the oil may be well over 212 degrees but not visibly bubble and boil like water would at the same temperature.
Steps to Make Cannabis-Infused Oil:
- Add water to the bottom pan of your double-boiler. Now add 1.5 cups of coconut oil to the top section of the double-boiler. Heat until it melts.
Stir in 7–10 grams of decarboxylated cannabis to the melted oil. Add an optional few grams of raw ground cannabis if you desire.
Continue to heat the cannabis and oil over a low heat for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use a probe thermometer to check the temperature, and adjust the heat as needed to maintain the oil below 200°F. We aim for a target temperature range of around 130 to 150°F and infuse for one hour.
When the time is up, line a strainer with cheesecloth and position it over a glass bowl. Pour the cannabis and oil mixture through the strainer. Gather the cheesecloth and gently squeeze out the excess oil from the cannabis. Warning: the oil will be hot, and your hands will get greasy! You may want to wear food-grade gloves.
Keep the strained cannabis oil aside for now. It will be added to the salve mixture soon.
Step 3) Mix the Salve Ingredients
Just like the last step, we want to avoid excessively heating the cannabis oil in order to preserve cannabinoids. If you happen to be using solidified cannabis-infused coconut oil that you previously made, I highly suggest mixing everything in a double-boiler once again (since you’ll need to heat it longer and hotter to re-melt your oil).
On the other hand, if you just made your cannabis oil and it is still liquified, you can do this step straight in a pot on the stove – keeping the heat as low as possible once the cannabis coconut oil is added.
In either a pot or double-boiler, add ⅓ cup of beeswax. Heat until it is completely melted. Now turn down the heat to low. Next, stir in 1.5 cups of strained cannabis coconut oil and ⅓ cup olive oil. Now is the time to add the optional vitamin E plus a few drops of optional essential oils as well. Stir until everything looks completely combined. Once it is, quickly remove the liquid salve from the heat and transfer it into your storage containers of choice.
Step 4) Cool & Store
When it is ready, I pour the liquid salve straight into these 2 ounce glass jars, or these 4 ounce glass jars. You can also use these shallow wide aluminum salve tins. The cannabis salve will harden as it cools, and then it is ready to use!
It is best to store your finished cannabis salve in a cool dark location because light degrades cannabinoids. The amber and cobalt jars we use block UV light, which protects the salve if I leave it out.
Note: Sometimes, the surface of the salve may crack just a little bit as it cools. See the photos below. I have found that salve in our 2-ounce glass containers don’t crack, but larger volumes may. This is really only an aesthetic “issue” if you care. Personally, I don’t mind. It disappears as soon as you begin to dig in and use it!
However, some folks may not like the appearance of the cracks – particularly if the cannabis salve is going to be sold or given as a gift. To avoid settling cracks, put the cannabis salve in a mixing bowl before transferring it into a storage container. Allow it to only partially cool and solidify, whip and mix it up, and then pack into your containers.
Step 5) Feel Good
Lather up! Apply a thin, even layer to the affected area. You should start to feel the results within 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the severity of your issue and strength of your salve. Repeat several times per day as needed.
Will this make me smell like weed?
Just slightly! I find our salve to have a mild cannabis odor, but nothing overpowering. The coconut aroma also stands out. If you add essential oils to your recipe, that can also help to mask the smell. I often apply salve after showering (including before going to work) and don’t think there is much of a noticeable odor after a half an hour or so. No one has ever said anything to me at least!
How long does cannabis salve last?
When stored in ideal cool and dark conditions, homemade cannabis salve should last up to a year. The potency will only slightly decrease during this time. I try to use clean hands when I dig into my salve jars, to avoid introducing any contamination that could make it potentially mold or spoil faster. You could also use a salve spoon.
Ready to make your own medicine?
I hope you found this tutorial to be useful, interesting, and informative! I also hope that it helps you soothe your trouble spots, whatever those may be. Finally, please remember to heed caution depending on your local laws, and always be careful with your cannabis products around curious kiddos or pets.
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Learn how to make your own healing cannabis salve, using marijuana or hemp. It helps reduce inflammation, skin irritation, joint pain, psoriasis, & more!