What Are Transdermal Cannabis Patches?

Stephen Andrews
28 Feb 2022

Medical transdermal patches have been around for several decades now. A handy alternative to pills and injections, transdermal patches can contain different types of medication and have been used to treat conditions such as chronic pains and hypertension. The nicotine patch probably is the most successful transdermal patch product, introduced in the 1990s to help tobacco smokers subdue their habit. Today, with the rise of the cannabis industry, transdermal patches infused with various cannabinoids such as CBD, THC, or CBN, are marketed to offer relief from pain, inflammation, insomnia and other conditions that may disrupt normal daily functioning.

By penetrating the skin, transdermal patches offer a unique way for cannabinoids to enter the body. Plasters are perfect for medical users who don't like smoking or who, for other health reasons (such as asthma), can't smoke. Patches are also convenient to use, can be easily concealed, and applied to any body part. 

Transdermal cannabis patches can contain a single isolated cannabinoid like CBD, THC, or CBN or have split ratios of, for example, 50% THC and 50% CBD. Patches infused with CBD and/or THC are usually applied to the skin to alleviate pain and inflammation in a specific body area. On the other hand, CBN-dominant patches are particularly effective to facilitate a better night's sleep. 

How do cannabis transdermal patches work?

Transdermal patches need to be applied over a venous area of the body. Body heat plays a crucial role to help cannabinoids trapped in the bandage pierce through the skin and enter blood vessels. Cannabinoids penetrate the body section where applied slowly and gradually, and medications have a long-lasting response.  

When used for pain treatment, transdermal patches release a more significant amount of cannabinoids into the blood that will reach the target area of pain, more so than oral CBD. That is why patches are particularly effective against local pains such as neck or back pain. The patch needs to directly cover the area of pain to get maximum relief effect. 

One disadvantage of transdermal patches however, is that they have chemical carriers that help the cannabinoids penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. These chemical agents can cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction among those with more sensitive skin. 

Branded CBN patches Mary's Medicinals sold in marijuana dispensaries in the States.
Branded CBN patches Mary Medicinal's sold in marijuana dispensaries across the States. Each transdermal patch contains 10 mg of CBN. Photo credit: Cheminded on Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Different types of cannabis transdermal patches

CBD patches

CBD patches are commonly applied to the skin to treat local pain and inflammation. A CBD patch has similar effects to taking CBD orally. However, CBD patches may generate fewer side effects than oral products because the cannabinoids dispensed in the body are not processed in the stomach, thus the system is free of byproduct elements that may adversely interact with other chemicals (e.g., prescription drugs the patient is taking) in the body. 

CBD unleashed from a patch takes a shortened route to reach the focal point of pain in the body. CBD accumulates in the blood vessels and more of it reaches the pain point than CBD from oral products. 

CBD plasters are designed to release cannabidiol over an extended period as they stay attached to the body for a few days. Broad-spectrum CBD patches contain CBD compounds only. Full-spectrum patches may contain trace amounts of THC as well.

The recommended products for users new to CBD are CBD isolate patches with up to 20 milligrams of the cannabinoid. A smaller initial dose will help the body adjust to cannabinoids and prepare it for more significant amounts for medical treatment. The most potent CBD transdermal patches are infused with up to 100 mg of CBD. 

THC patches

Like CBD patches, THC patches are applied to a venous area of the body to alleviate chronic pains and reduce inflammation. While THC patches contain the psychedelic compound of cannabis, they are not designed to give users the typical high you would get from smoking, vaping or dabbing. 

Some manufacturers combine THC and CBD to create more effective cannabis products. Applying a medical bandage infused with THC will lead to a slight psychedelic effect but will most notably numb the place of pain. THC patches can offer all-day or all-night relief to those suffering from chronic issues such as neuropathy or anxiety

CBN patches

With the CBN market waking up, medical users worldwide can also benefit from a growing number of CBN-based products, including CBN skin patches. A CBN bandage can be particularly helpful for insomnia and restlessness. When combined with CBD and THC, CBN sedative effects become even more robust and are appropriate for treating other health conditions, too.  

People who use CBN patches for insomnia claim that products help them fall into a deep state of sleep and wake up fresh in the morning. Other reported reactions include mild psychedelic effects, along with slight euphoria and appetite change. The sedative effects of CBN can also be experienced through other medical supplements such as CBN oils, capsules, gummies or gel pens. 

How to use transdermal patches?

Cannabis transdermal patches are simple to use. One precaution is that the skin where you want to stick the bandage must be clean from any dirt or cosmetics. It's best to clean the skin with water and soap before applying the patch. Apply the patch once the skin is dry. 

Transdermal patches can have one or two protective liners that users need to peel off to expose the sticky side of the strip. The plaster must be pressed down firmly with the palm to ensure it stays attached for its estimated duration. 

Each packaging of cannabis transdermal patches details the maximum hours a plaster should be worn, after which the patch needs to be removed and substituted with a new bandage if required.

Stephen Andrews