Do Topicals Make You High or Make You Fail a Drug Test?

Do topicals make you high?  Can cannabis topicals cause me a fail a drug test?

These were questions we recently received from a Senior Stoner reader and ones we have gotten lots of variations on over the years..

The short answers are no, and no, with one important exception. 

Now on the longer answers!

Do Topicals Make You High? Why or Why Not

Topical cannabis preparations like lotions, balms, salves and other products that are rubbed on the skin or added into baths can be quite effective for inflammation and pain relief as they bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the skin, but they won’t make you high.

Generally speaking topicals have far less cannabis in them than what you smoke, vape or eat.  But even if they didn’t and you made a super strong topical preparation, you still wouldn’t feel high with this application method.

Dr. Amanda Reiman of Personal Plants made an excellent comparison between cannabis topicals and rubbing alcohol. Despite its high alcohol content, you are not going to feel drunk by using rubbing alcohol. The same is true to of cannabis topicals and feeling high.

This is because cannabis topicals do not cross the blood barrier (with one important exception, see below).  Rather they bind to cannabinoid receptors in the skin.

Likewise topicals provide localized relief, as opposed to the systemic relief that happens when you eat or inhale cannabis.


Learn how to make topicals at home, and you not only take away your pain, but you will save a ton of money as well.

Cannabis Topicals and Drug Tests

You also don’t have to worry about failing a drug test with topicals, as the cannabis is absorbed through the skin and never enters the bloodstream.

That said there is one type of topical that will both make you high and cause you to fail a drug test.

Transdermal Patches: The Exception to the Cannabis Topicals Rule

If you live in a recreationally or medicinally legal state, you may come across cannabis infused transdermal patches. While extremely effective, these patches do contain ingredients that allow THC to enter the bloodstream.

Likewise they can make you feel high and they can cause you to fail a drug test.

However, if drug testing is not an issue, transdermal patches can be a great way to medicate as they are discreet and keep a steady dose in your system at all times.

 Mary’s Medicinals makes some great transdermal products. They even have a CBD-only product for those who want to avoid the high, although we always advocate for whole plant medicine here at Senior Stoner.

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