Oral Cannabis Products Vs. Topical THC: Which Are Right for You?

Oral Cannabis Products Vs. Topical THC

There are so many cannabis products available in today’s market that selecting the best cannabis product for you may seem a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, though, you can typically narrow your selection if you start by considering your needs and preferences. For example, if you enjoy the ritual and relaxing vibes that come from inhaling your marijuana, smoking or vaping may be for you; if you want a quicker and more discreet way to partake, an edible or topical product may be a better fit.

Similarly, considering if you’re in the market for a cannabis pain relief option, a stress relieving product, or just simply a pleasant high can help you select the right product for your needs. For those focused on pain relief with or without a psychoactive element, you may want to give oral cannabis and cannabis topicals some consideration. Both oral products and marijuana topicals offer convenience and variety that can help you reap the benefits of cannabis in new and unique ways. In fact, there are tons of amazing canna-edible and canna-topical products for you to choose from to give you the unique experience you’re looking for.

How Does Cannabis Help With Pain?

First, it’s important to know how cannabis works to address pain. Cannabinoids are the active chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant that can exert changes in your mind and body when smoked, inhaled, or otherwise consumed. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary cannabinoid contained in the cannabis plant.

Cannabis-infused products that make you feel euphoric, intoxicated, or high are created with high concentrations of THC. CBD, another cannabinoid, is found naturally in industrial hemp plants as well as cannabis plants cultivated for adult or medicinal use. There are potentially over 60 other cannabinoids found in cannabis as well, including CBG, CBN, and many other precursors and byproducts.

Your body has several cannabinoid receptors designed specifically to interact with these and other cannabinoid compounds. These receptors have a variety of roles, including regulating mood, immunity, appetite, and pain sensations. When you smoke, inhale, consume, or otherwise use a cannabis product, the cannabinoids it contains interact with your cannabinoid receptors to reduce nerve inflammation, stop the release of pain-related neurotransmitters, moderate irritated or excited nerves, and activate pathways for other mechanisms in your body to begin regulating pain.

Why Use Oral or Topical Cannabis?

Oral or topical forms of cannabis pain relief may be an attractive option for you if you don’t wish to inhale your cannabis. Or, maybe you’ve heard about how oral and topical cannabis products are often recommended for pain management over other products. So, which is better? That answer is truly dependent on your tastes, your preferences regarding your marijuana experience, and your specific pain management needs.

If you are wondering which non-inhalable cannabis product is right for your pain, this comparison of marijuana edibles and topicals for pain can help provide you with the information you need to pick a best-fit product. We’ll break down the differences between oral products and topicals, which ailments these product types are typically used to treat and provide some examples of available products in both categories.

Cannabis You Can Take Orally

Oral Cannabis
These products can be designed to deliver primarily CBD, THC, or multiple cannabinoids to achieve the entourage effect, though we’ll focus on products containing THC here. After consumption, orally administered THC reaches the bloodstream, either by absorption through blood vessels in the mouth, or via the digestive tract. This means oral THC products are capable of producing a psychoactive effect plus pain relieving qualities.

While food-based edibles are a very popular way to consume THC orally, these products extend far beyond candies and baked goodies. There are also oils, tinctures, capsules, and even oral sprays available for use. Regardless of type, edibles and other forms of oral THC can help relieve pain and mitigate the uncomfortable effects of many health conditions as described above.

Let’s take a look at the most common oral cannabis products:


Tinctures are an oral form of cannabis, usually made with alcohol to extract the desirable cannabinoids. These often come packaged in a glass bottle with a dropper. For that reason, cannabis tinctures are one of the best methods of getting a precise dose when consuming your cannabis. Tinctures can vary in their level of psychoactive effect depending on how they’re consumed, but most are placed under the tongue for absorption into the bloodstream via the sublingual artery. Tinctures typically have an onset time of 10-15 minutes, with their effects lasting four to eight hours.

Tinctures taken under the tongue are faster acting than your typical edible. However, tinctures can also be added to many food products that you currently enjoy. Coffees, teas, juices, soups, smoothies, and salad dressings are just a few examples. Just make sure you add the tincture after the food or beverage is prepared and remember to factor digestion into your onset time.

Cannabis Oils

Cannabis oils are another great option for oral consumption and are created by extracting the desired cannabinoids and combining them with a carrier oil. With cannabis oils, as with tinctures, you have the option to hold the drops under your tongue or immediately swallow them. Cannabis oils can also be added to foods and beverages if that’s your preference.

The speed at which your body metabolizes the oil will be different when swallowed versus when it’s absorbed under your tongue. Both are good options if you want a method that’s quick and convenient — about 15-30 minutes. Keep in mind that if you choose to mix your oil with food, you’ll need to add more time to your onset schedule.

Cannabis Capsules

Cannabis capsules may seem a bit high-tech, but they are simply cannabis in pill form. Capsules are packaged in extremely precise doses and are highly portable. If you need to take cannabis for pain symptoms or to alleviate symptoms of a particular health condition, cannabis capsules can help you avoid the dosage issues you may run into when you inhale cannabis.

Depending on the variety, cannabis capsules can contain THC only, CBD only, or a full spectrum of cannabinoids. Medical marijuana patients often opt for capsules because the pills provide them with a potent dose of THC, zero cannabis taste, and long-lasting effects. The typical onset time for cannabis capsules is 15-30 minutes, and they can last for a duration of four to six hours.

Oral Sprays

Cannabis in the form of oral spray provides users with a simple option of consuming medical-grade cannabis without smoke, vape clouds, or the need for a food or beverage. Oral sprays make for a reliable micro-dosing option and take effect quickly because the spray can be absorbed through the mouth as well as the digestive tract. Oral sprays are also fairly easy to swallow for those who may have conditions that make swallowing pills or large amounts of food difficult. Users of oral sprays can expect to feel the effects of the THC anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after using the spray, depending on the amount consumed.

Cannabis Edibles

Cannabis Edibles

Standard edibles are a tried-and-true method of consuming THC. Edibles can be prepared at home or purchased pre-packaged, and they are excellent for those who are just beginning their cannabis experience. Accessibility and ease of use also make standard edibles a great choice for anyone who can’t inhale cannabis due to a medical condition. With edibles, the effects can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to become noticeable based on the amount consumed, body weight, and the metabolism of the consumer.

Please remember that while edibles have their benefits, they must be digested before you feel the effects. The process will take a bit longer than smoking or inhaling.

Pre-packaged edibles come in many different varieties, but some of the most popular products include:

  • Hard candies, such as taffies, lozenges, and suckers
  • Chewables
  • Beverages or “drinkables” like teas, coffees, sodas, and cocoas
  • Chocolates
  • Baked goods like cookies, brownies, muffins, and cupcakes, and more

Cannabis-infused cooking oils can be used when frying or searing foods and preparing meals. Cannabis-infused butter for canna-butter is another product that can be baked into a product or spread directly on prepared food to give you a euphoric boost or easy pain relief.

What Is Topical THC?

Topical THC products are products infused with THC, CBD, or both, like lotions, creams, gels, patches, or oils that can be applied to the body. Topical cannabis products are produced in a variety of potencies and can include other herbal ingredients to cool, soothe, and hydrate the body for pain relief. Since topicals vary in form, they also vary a bit in their time frame for onset. Topicals administered to the skin typically take effect in five to 10 minutes and last for a duration of four to six hours.

When most topical cannabis with THC is applied to the skin, you won’t experience any psychoactive effects. Instead, the THC will work locally to reduce any inflammation and pain in the areas on which it is applied. This is because most topical cannabis is not absorbed into the bloodstream, and the THC it contains will not interact with cannabinoid receptors in the brain to create a euphoric feeling.

One notable exception is transdermals, which are capable of producing whole-body effects. While most cannabis topicals can help with localized pain relief, transdermals are specifically made to reach the bloodstream using sophisticated encapsulation technology. The encapsulation process encases THC, CBD, and other desirable compounds inside a water-soluble shell.

This allows the compounds to penetrate into your bloodstream for effects that can be felt throughout your entire body. Transdermals come in the form of gels or patches that can be placed on the body to hold the active compounds against the skin until they can penetrate into the bloodstream. They take between 10 to 15 minutes to take effect and last for a duration of about 72 hours.

Is Oral or Topical Right For You? Assess the Benefits

Both orally administered cannabis and topical cannabis have their benefits. Here’s a summary to help you decide which is best for you.

Benefits of Oral Cannabis Products for Pain Relief

There are many benefits to using oral marijuana products for pain relief. Edibles and other oral products are great because they can be used discreetly. That’s a benefit for anyone who isn’t a fan of the smell of marijuana or who wants to be able to access quick relief without the ritual of smoking. Additionally, most oral cannabis products offer full-body pain relief, and the THC in the products will give you a euphoric feeling or high that can enhance the experience, if that’s your preference.

Benefits of Topical Cannabis Products for Pain Relief

Like oral forms of marijuana for pain relief, topicals are also a great option for those who want to be discreet. Topical cannabis products, like creams, lotions, balms, or transdermals also offer quick pain relief through the skin and via the bloodstream in the case of transdermals. Anyone who wants to aid healing, soothe inflammation, and relieve soreness without the psychoactive high that edibles and other oral marijuana products give will find that topicals are a great solution.

Marijuana Edible Products vs. Topicals: Which Are Better for Pain Relief?

So, should you take oral cannabis or use a topical product for pain relief? That depends on the effects you are seeking to experience. We recommend making your choice based on what you need in terms of dosage, lifestyle, and ease of use rather than making it an issue of marijuana edibles vs. topicals.

The answer to which type of cannabis product is better for you will primarily depend on your specific needs and your answers to these questions: Are you looking to experience a euphoric high along with your pain relief? If so, oral cannabis is definitely the way to go. Are you wanting localized pain relief? If so, choose a topical that does not penetrate into the bloodstream. Is quick relief your priority? A spray or tincture may be your best bet.

Choose Your Best Cannabis Product for Pain Relief

Best Cannabis Product for Pain Relief

When taken orally, edible cannabis products enter your bloodstream to interact with cannabinoid receptors in your brain, relieving pain and giving you a sensation of being high. Most topical cannabis products are applied on the skin, are absorbed into your body, and do not get you high. So, if you are looking for the pain relief benefits and the euphoric effects that THC provides, choose an oral product. And, if you’re looking for targeted relief with zero other effects, go with a topical.



Jenny Stradling

As the CEO and Co-owner of a Digital Design and Marketing Agency, Eminent SEO, I have been researching and creating quality content online for websites and marketing campaigns since 2005. I’m passionate about a wide array of topics and contribute to several publication sites, along with my company blog and personal website. It’s my personal mission to help ensure that educational content is accurate is held to a higher standard and to clean up all the outdated and inaccurate information on the web.

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