Topical VS Transdermal

Topical vs transdermal cannabis; what's the difference?

Posted on August 31st, 2018 to Cannabis by

Topical vs transdermal cannabis; what's the difference?
Topical vs transdermal cannabis.

Topical Vs. Transdermal: Is There a Difference?

Transdermal and topical medications are some of the most widely used over the counter and prescription treatments used for various conditions worldwide—and while they are common, there is a ton of confusion regarding the differences between transdermal and topical formulations. 

The Main Difference

In the world of cannabis, both transdermal and topical compounds are applied directly to the skin, but only transdermal formulas are made to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin.


Transdermals use several different methods to enhance penetration through the main barrier of skin called the Stratum Corneum. 

Topical preparations do not penetrate the skin layers as deeply as transdermal applications do—but this is how they were designed to work. Not everyone requires the same strengths and levels of potency to get relief, and not everyone has the same tolerance levels, making topical cannabis applications perfect for newbies or people with low tolerance levels. 


The terms “transdermal” and “topical” are poorly understood and are often used interchangeably, however this is completely understandable considering both are topical (applied to the skin) by definition.

However, the science behind their absorption are quite different.  Topical medications usually refer to medications that are applied to the skin that are slowly absorbed, effecting the skin locally, more on a surface level. 

Transdermal applications are applied to the skin, but they involve compounds that penetrate dermal tissue with the purpose of increasing the amount of cannabis that can cross into the skin barrier—sometimes even entering other areas of the body aside from where it was applied. 

To get a better grasp of the differences, we think it is important to understand the skin and its many functions. The largest organ on our bodies, the skin makes up for roughly 10% of our body mass, and its primary function is acting as a barrier between our organs and to the dangers outside world. This hearty shell protects us from micro-organisms, chemicals, allergens, and UV radiation all while helping to regulate our body temperature, blood pressure, and even metabolism.

A example of a sub dermal layers and a needle injecting into the Subcutaneus layer
An example of a skin layers and a needle injecting into the Subcutaneus layer

There are three main regions of the skin: epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. Surprisingly a number of our appendages are interconnected with the skin including sweat glands, hair follicles, and the blood stream. This is what makes both topical and transdermal medications so effective. 

Cannabinoids, like active ingredients contained in other medications, can be effectively absorbed through the skin. Some examples of some topical and transdermal products you will come across include balms, salves, serums, lubrication, patches, and creams. 

Interestingly, cannabis topicals and transdermals have been proven to be both fast acting and effective—with results typically lasting approximately 1-2 hours. Transdermal patches are applied directly to the skin, delivering the cannabinoids straight into your system, which is very beneficial for patients with chronic pain. The duration with transdermals can vary, however some people have reported feeling the effects lasting upwards of 48 hours. 

It’s About Preference

Whichever method you chose to use depends on your unique needs and preferences, but we are fans of both! Just make sure you purchase your transdermal and topical preparations from a trusted and reputable dispensary to ensure you are getting quality medication. 

For Our Video Lovers!

For an interesting and detailed visual explanation about how our skin works and absorbs substances—check out this helpful video below! 


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