Is 2018 the year of the marijuana transdermal, or patch?

marijuana skin patches
Woman with lower back pain © Laurin Rinder

Want to try cannabis for pain or inflammation but hate the idea of smoking anything? A popular alternative is a cannabis transdermal — a skin patch infused with the main active ingredients in cannabis. A tiny patch can deliver pain relief and relaxation throughout the body. How do transdermals work, and could they be right for you? Read on to learn more.

What are marijuana skin patches?

Transdermals are infused patches that deliver a consistent supply of cannabis’ active ingredients. These patches are usually infused with THC, the highly medicinal and psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, but may also contain cannabidiol (CBD). The second most-common active ingredient in cannabis, CBD can treat inflammation, muscle spasms, pain and anxiety in some patients. These patches are applied to any veinous area of the body, and provide consistent, continuous, and relatively long-term effects while applied.

How do marijuana skin patches work?

Transdermals use the same scientific principles as nicotine or opioid patches. They use a carrier substance that enables the cannabinoids to transfer more easily from the skin into the bloodstream. While the patch is on, it can provide relaxation and pain relief throughout the body. It doesn’t cause the lift in mood, (mile “euphoria”) one gets from smoking THC-rich flower.  

Why are people using marijuana transdermals? What’s the benefit of them?

Transdermals are prefered because they’re discreet, with no smoke and no high. They work fast and last for a long time. And they come in specific and exact doses.

Patients use these transdermals to manage many conditions such as chronic pain, muscle spasms, inflammation and sports injuries.

Last year the National Academies of Sciences report supported these patient claims of pain relief, saying that there is significant evidence that THC can effectively reduce pain and spasms.

marijuana skin patch
A Mary’s Medicinals cannabis skin patch. | Photo by David Downs

What are the downsides of marijuana transdermals?

While transdermals are fast-acting, they still do not effect you as fast as inhaling cannabinoids. Those that need immediate relief may not find them the right fit. Transdermals may not be as widely available as other cannabis products in your region. Once you do find them, they may be more expensive, as well. Lastly, the manufacturing process to create a cannabis skin patch often destroys some of the plant’s aromatic compounds, called terpenes, which can play a role in cannabis therapies.

What do marijuana transdermals cost?

Transdermals usually cost around $15 to $20 per patch. But price can vary brand to brand, and even dispensary to dispensary, so the best way to price out transdermals is to check with the dispensaries near you.

Where do you buy cannabis transdermals?

You can purchase cannabis transdermals from a local dispensary. To locate a recreational dispensary in California, use our updated map of retail cannabis stores.

If you are in one of 29 medical or eight recreational cannabis states like Colorado, Washington, etc. — use dispensary locator websites like and to locate dispensaries nearby. You can browse dispensaries’ menus on locator sites, dispensary websites. Call ahead to confirm product availability, as many online menus get outdated daily. If you are in a state with only medical cannabis, be sure to get a doctor’s recommendation first.

What are some popular cannabis transdermal brands?

Mary’s Medicinals is one popular brand, with 10 mg and 20 mg patches in a variety of different cannabinoid blends. They can be found in multiple states including California, Washington and Colorado. In California, Pure Ratios is another good choice, for their reservoir patches. These transdermals deliver cannabinoids to your system for up to 96 hours!

Did you know? …

Patches can also other, more exotic cannabinoids and terpenes, like THC-A, which offers the pain relief of THC without the lift in mood, or mild “euphoria” of THC. 

Send us all your questions about transdermals or other medical cannabis modalities via email GreenState editor or message us on Facebook.

Emily Earlenbaugh, PhD is a cannabis writer and educator. She holds a doctorate in the philosophy of science from UC Davis.