We’re all familiar with the standard lineup of skincare potions; now, licensed cannabis producers are getting in on the action. Cannabis-infused creams, lotions and intimacy oils are making their way to OCS.ca and authorized cannabis retail stores.
These topical products are applied to intact skin, which absorbs the cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD. Unlike other consumption methods — such as ingesting, smoking and vaping — applying cannabis-infused products topically does not cause psychoactive effects. Instead, topicals may offer a skin-calming or refreshing sensation. We chatted with Aphria and 48North to uncover the processes they follow to get the cannabis into their skin-focused products.
Step 1: Make the Base
While their ingredients may vary, every topical product starts with a base that will eventually contain the cannabis. It’s not surprising that producers use the same elements that compose non-infused skincare products — such as shea butter, beeswax, argan oil and Epsom salt — in order to provide consumers with a similar experience.
For its Solei Unplug lavender-scented body cream, Aphria developed a proprietary base that includes several moisturizing and stabilizing ingredients. “We believe cannabis topical products can and should be products our consumers will want to use not only for the added cannabis, but because they enjoy the experience,” says Page Penner, Aphria’s product development specialist.
Step 2: Add the Cannabis
Once the base is created, cannabis is added in the form of a concentrated distillate: an extract that contains nothing but pure cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD. The extract is warmed and mixed with a carrier oil, such as argan oil, sunflower oil or fractionated coconut oil, which helps it blend smoothly with the base to create a uniform concoction.
Both Aphria and 48North produce the distillate in-house from their own plants, while some topical producers use cannabis supplied by other companies. The exact amount of THC and CBD will vary, depending on the product, so read labels carefully.
What Is Distillate?
An extremely concentrated form of cannabis oil, distillate is produced from the cannabis plant using a process of boiling and condensation. Read more here.
Step 3: Add Other Skincare Ingredients
Because the cannabis distillate contains nothing but pure cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, it’s nearly scentless and has almost no discernible texture. To customize their products, licensed producers can stir in botanical extracts, essential oils and fragrances commonly used in non-infused skincare products. “In the case of our Latitude Sex Pot Intimacy Oil, we use extracts of damiana, jasmine and rose in amounts that add to the experience, while being mindful of not wanting an overly scented product used for intimacy,” says Katie Iarocci, director of product innovation at 48North.
Ingredients such as activated charcoal, vitamin E and fractionated coconut oil may enhance the aromatherapy and skin-nourishing properties in topicals. 48North’s Apothecanna body cream and body oil, for example, both contain plant extracts, such as arnica, juniper and peppermint. Meanwhile, Aphria is working on a high-CBD cream with a cucumber-mint scent, as well as a scent-free option for those with sensitivities to fragrance.
Step 4: Blend Away
Blending is an essential step that ensures the active ingredients and additional skincare ingredients have been evenly distributed throughout the base to provide a consistent experience. Aphria blends its topicals in vessels that hold up to 130 L; the formulation of each batch takes a few hours.
“Our process was designed in a way to ensure that our final cream is homogenous, meaning the elements are uniform throughout the mixture,” says Penner. “To achieve this, we’ve performed studies on our production equipment to confirm the cannabinoids are evenly dispersed throughout the cream.”
Step 5: Testing, One, Two, Three
The individual components are tested for customer safety — including checking the cannabis itself for pesticides — before production starts. Testing is also conducted after blending, to ensure the process was successful and that the product contains the intended amount of cannabinoids. Some producers, such as Aphria, choose to have their products tested by an independent party.
“All of our formulations are verified for cannabinoid content by an accredited third-party lab,” says Iarocci. “Their analytical methods have been validated to ensure they can accurately measure the amount of active ingredient in the final product.”
Did You Know?
All cannabis products must ensure adherence to federal labelling and packaging requirements, which include the cannabis symbol, brand name, THC and CBD content, health warning message, lot number, “packaged on” date, bar code, nutrition facts table and list of ingredients. It’s a lot to cram on a label but so important for the customer to know. The excise stamp must also be present to show the product is certified legal and the manufacturer has paid the duty on it.
Step 6: Packaging and Labelling
Because these products are not meant to be ingested, their packaging may vary slightly from other cannabis products. But regardless of the application method — whether it’s a spray, roll-on or squeeze bottle — Health Canada requires certain safety standards when it comes to packaging. For example, 48North’s Latitude Sex Pot comes in a child-resistant glass bottle with an insert that dispenses the product in precise drops. As a last step, Aphria’s Solei products receive an induction seal before they’re capped to ensure consumers receive a fresh product every time.
So now that you can picture how these products are made, what can you expect next in the world of topicals? “While CBD has a ton of interesting momentum behind it as far as a skin-soothing and nourishing ingredient, research is still teasing out the specific benefits of each of the amazing natural compounds cannabis has to offer us,” says Iarocci. Look out for new scents, trending ingredients, varying cannabinoid ratios and unique formats to add to your product lineup.