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How to Dose Cannabis Topicals

a hand pumping CBD cream from bottle

If you do not have a significant history of using cannabis, you could be forgiven for thinking marijuana is limited to dry flower and edibles.

However, there are more ways of using cannabis than ever before, including methods that don’t even get you high, at least not in the traditional sense, like topicals.

Because they are generally not psychoactive, it can be extra challenging to determine how to dose cannabis topicals properly.

Generally, it is recommended that you do a small patch test before applying topicals to larger parts of your body.

Then, if your skin has not reacted negatively to the topical, apply the smallest amount of the recommended dose listed on the product label. Wait to see if you feel the effects. If not, add a little more.

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Understanding Cannabis Topicals

Cannabis topicals are marijuana-infused products that are usually applied to the skin.

They contain cannabinoids like delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) and may be combined with other active ingredients that are usually found in skincare products (e.g., ceramides, retinoids, capsaicin, arnica).

Topicals can come in several different forms, including but not limited to:

  • Lotions and creams
  • Oils
  • Sprays

The 2018 Farm Bill, which broadly legalized CBD in the United States, is one reason CBD topicals have become so widespread, especially in states where cannabis is still illegal.

Proper cannabis topicals, however, will likely contain a combination of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids and terpenes.

Even though true marijuana topicals can only be sold in states with recreational or medical cannabis programs, no kind of topical is likely to get you high, with the potential exception of transdermal patches (although these are not always considered topicals).

Instead, topicals interact with the cannabinoid receptors in our skin (i.e., epidermis) to create a non-intoxicating but potentially therapeutic effect.

Some topical products have been shown to benefit the treatment of skin conditions and provide a more general reduction in inflammation and pain relief.

Factors Influencing Cannabis Topical Dosage

Plenty of factors could affect the topical dose you will want to apply. One factor is individual tolerance.

Other factors relate to the topical product itself. For example, consider the ratio of THC to CBD in your topical. Your dose — as well as the topical that you should use — should also depend on your desired effect.

When using lotion to achieve anti-inflammatory effects, for example, you might want to take a larger dose than the amount you might apply when adding THC skin cream to your skincare routine.

General Guidelines for Dosing Cannabis Topicals

You should always do a patch test when trying new skincare products and wait to see how it affects the skin before a complete application to an affected area.

Topical potency and volume can vary from product to product, so general dosing advice may not apply across the board. Always start with a small dose first.

According to Mark Kasabuski, a doctor of pharmacy with over 15 years of experience working in pharmacies and medical cannabis dispensaries, “All products are going to have different potencies. The biggest thing is to read the label or discuss with your patient care specialist, dispensary budtender, or pharmacist, depending on where you are purchasing from.”

While it’s true that most cannabis-infused topicals will not cause you to feel any intoxicating effects, using higher doses than you need could unnecessarily increase your topical tolerance. Plus, using a whole bottle of THC lotion to deal with a sunburn could be a waste of money instead of simply applying an appropriate amount to the affected area.

For general dosing best practices, Kasabuski recommends starting “by applying the smallest amount possible of the recommended product dosing with an applicator. And if you use your hands, make sure to wash them after.”

Measuring Dosage by Type

Different types of topicals may require different dosages. Topicals also vary significantly in terms of volume.

Kasabuski notes that there is no consistent starting dose for topical products, telling us, “I’ve seen topicals that are 5 mg per pump, 10 mg per pump, 1 mg of THC per pea-sized amount, 5 mg for the entire container…it really can vary that much.”

Creams and Lotions

The total quantity of milligrams in a cream or lotion is essential, but it is equally important to understand the total volume of the product.

For example, a 3 oz lotion with 500 milligrams of THC might require a smaller dose than a 5 oz lotion with the same amount of THC.


Similar to measuring creams and lotions, you should consider the total volume of an oil product, including salves and balms, when measuring your dose.

You should also consider using the oil as a standalone topical or mixing it with other products.


Sprays could be perfect for those wanting lower doses of a topical.

While you should still consider your dose overall, sprays can likely be applied more frequently than many other topicals due to cannabis sprays’ decreased ability to provide localized relief compared to topicals.

Safety Tips

Although you may not be at risk of feeling psychoactive effects, safety considerations remain when dosing cannabis topicals. You should always read the label of any topical you purchase to know what you allow to permeate your skin.

You should also look into potential interactions between medications or substances you regularly use with cannabis topicals.

Even using pure CBD products has been shown to cause notable interactions with certain medications, with some experts suggesting that using CBD products should necessitate an alteration in the dosage of certain medicines.

If you remain unsure how cannabis-infused topicals might affect your relationship with any medications you are on, speak to your healthcare provider.

And even though topicals likely will not cause you to feel high, you should always leave any creams, ointments, or topicals out of reach from pets. Cannabis is toxic to cats and dogs, regardless of its form.

The Bottom Line

Dosing cannabis topicals may seem like a tricky science at times. But once you find the dose and topical that works best for you, you can reap the benefits of many of the therapeutic properties marijuana can provide.

The versatile nature of the cannabis plant is a true miracle. Indeed, for conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and arthritis, topical cannabis applications are ideal.

For more personalized help finding the right cannabis topical dose for you, consider making an appointment with Leafwell cannabis guidance.

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