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The Consumer Guide to Buying Topical Cannabis Products


As a legal medical marijuana patient in the state of California, I’ve been purchasing topical cannabis products from dispensaries for many years, as well as making my own at home. I’ve put together a brief buying guide today for other patients and recreational consumers that want to make informed buying decisions.

I’ve seen a lot of things that disappoint me, but today I ran across something that was so outrageous and disappointing that I felt it was necessary to do a little activism and public service on my blog. According to test results from Washington state (click on the topicals tab for full results), the vast majority of cannabis topical products like lotions and massage oils being sold at dispensaries contain less than 5 mg total cannabinoids.

I can almost hear the irreverent chatter going on at the office or back room of some of these brands, “Well, topicals are getting anyone high, anyhow, so why bother with putting any cannabis in them? Let’s charge those dispensary prices for low-cost placebos and no one will know the difference!”

Just no. nope. nope. nope. Not on my dime you don’t! And I hope after reading my consumer guide, that you’ll say no to this nonsense too.

The importance of ingredient disclosure

In mainstream natural health products there are no hidden ingredients; everything that is in the product is listed on the label by amount. Cannabis spa products should meet the same standard, with no “secret” ingredients. Sure, formulation methods can be a trade secret; but if someone is asking you to put their product on your body, or in your body, they have an ethical obligation to tell you what is in the product. Any refusal or laziness in doing so means that you should spend your money elsewhere.

The importance of testing

Topical cannabis products without test results on the label detailing the amount of cannabinoids and other chemical constituents have something to hide–and you should likewise be hiding your wallet when you run across them. All topical cannabis products available for sale at a dispensary or collective need to maintain test results from an independent lab, period.

The importance of packaging

I can’t stress enough how quality packaging improves the shelf life of any product. Look for sealed packaging that has not had the seal broken. Most topical products will use plastic or glass packaging. Don’t be afraid to ask if the plastic packaging being used is BPA-free plastic! Containers should be sturdy, and without cracks or chips.

The importance of informed budtenders

This is a big one, believe it or not. I have yet to witness a budtender giving educated information about the topical cannabis products being carried at the dispensary they work for. It’s as if the cannabis spa products sitting on their shelves are a second thought or a novelty product. Unfortunately, as we have seen with test results coming out now, this seems to be the case in many instances. There’s a really good chance that you are not going to be able to rely on the information given to you by budtenders about the topical cannabis products they are selling. Informed budtenders are definitely on my wishlist for this industry; but for now it is important for consumers to educate themselves and rely on third-party laboratory test results to aid the purchasing decision process.

So, how much cannabis and cannabinoids should be in topical and spa products anyhow?

The best answer to this question is that the amount should be the amount that you find most effective. And I can guarantee you that .0001 mg, .03 mg, etc. is not enough, for anyone. If a product is being sold as a cannabis product, it needs to have cannabis in it. Most homemade and DIY cannabis spa preparations are going to have as much, or even more cannabis and cannabinoids than a typical edible product. You should expect the same quality from the commercial providers of these products.

What price point can I expect for a quality cannabis spa product?

There’s no one right answer to this, but for a product that is rich in cannabinoids, like the typical edible product, you should expect to pay about twice as much as you would for an edible product, for the same amount of doses. Ingredients like essential oils, exotic butters and oils, in addition to the cannabis content, will make a product a bit more expensive than an edible which uses cheaper ingredients like flour and sugar.

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