Cannabis Salves vs. Topicals: What’s the Difference?

In the world of cannabis, there are so many options to choose from. You can inhale fresh flower, devour delicious edibles, and even rub infused lotions on your skin. Dispensaries offer new and exciting products, constantly lining the shelves with endless possibilities for green exploration.

The type of marijuana products used are based on their desired effects, as well as your preferences. Don’t like throat irritation? Not a problem. Don’t feel comfortable ingesting cannabis? There’s nothing to worry about. Don’t want to get high? Gotcha covered.

Cannabis topicals are a category of hemp product that allow you to avoid inhalation and ingestion, and this category includes salves.

Below, we break down the difference.

Cannabis Topicals

Bowl of Hemp Salve
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Topicals are a way to use cannabis externally. They are used on the skin, and are usually meant to soothe inflammation, pain, and skin conditions.

Topicals have been used throughout ancient history, according to the East West School of Planetary Herbology. They cite Tibetans treating itchy skin and traditional Arabic remedies mixing a cannabis solution for skin and hair serums. Today, we see topicals increasing in popularity because of their streamlined effects.

Usually when other kinds of pot products are ingested, there is a widespread effect: marijuana seeps throughout the entire body; a brownie starts in the digestive system, enters the bloodstream, and takes a tour of the whole host. When it comes to topicals, the effect of the cannabis is localized to the exact area of the application. When a topical is placed on your elbow, there’s no messing around: the relief is felt directly in the elbow. It’s quick and effective.

Another key difference between topicals and other pot products is that external application does not produce a mental high. Cannabis topicals usually have higher levels of CBD, and less of the psychoactive chemical THC, which is more prevalent in marijuana products that are eaten or inhaled.

However, topicals that do have high amounts of THC still will not produce a high: according to, “For THC to have a psychoactive effect, it needs to enter the bloodstream and pass the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain.”

Topicals come in several forms: creams, oils, lotions, and salves.

Cannabis Salves

Cannabis Topicals and Salves
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A salve is an ointment, and a subcategory of topicals. For example, beer is a kind of alcohol product. Sour beer is too, but it’s a type of beer. Salves work the same way: they are a kind of topical.

While other types of topicals like creams and lotions might do the trick, others may prefer the soothing texture of the salve. It’s usually thicker and spreads a little differently.

Salves continue to have the same effects as other topicals. They are used externally, focus on CBD over THC, ease pain, and don’t produce a high. Like any other of the topically-applied products, it’s as simple as rubbing onto pain-prone skin.

Topicals, salves included, are a great cannabis product to pinpoint problematic areas on the skin and get all the surface-level perks of marijuana without the high. Next time you have sore muscles after a tough workout, joint pain from arthritis, or itchy skin from eczema, rub some topical relief on the area and voila: you’re good to go.

Article by: Savannah Nelson