The Surprising New Way to Get High

From vaporizers to candy bars, liquid drops to pills and water pipes to gravity bongs, there are many creative ways to take your pot these days. Even by these standards, the newest way of consuming cannabis appears unconventional: through your skin. Transdermal cannabis patches work like a nicotine or birth control patch; they are applied directly to a venous part of the body where they deliver a slow and steady dose of medicine. This new innovation is altering the way doctors and patients interact with cannabis medicine. I had the opportunity to try the entire line, and can’t wait to make these patches a part of my daily regimen. 

The effects of a cannabis patch are drastically different than most traditional methods of ingestion, such as smoking. Typically, when a cannabis user eats an edible or smokes, the effects of the dosage are felt immediately and wane over time. Instead, the medicine is steadily released, creating a sustaining effect that lasts up to 12 hours. 

I met the crew of Mary’s Medicinals, the innovators behind these patches, at the first ever Marijuana for Medical Professionals conference earlier this month in Denver, Colorado. Many of the presenters and doctors in attendance were eager to discuss how they have been integrating the cannabis patches into patient care regimens to great success.


Photo of Mary's Medicinals transdermal patch kit, courtesy of Angela Bacca. 

After the conference, I set off on a journey to try each and every blend Mary’s makes: 

The Cannabis Patches: 

Each cannabis patch has a dosage of 10-20mg of cannabis. For perspective, the State of Colorado considers an edible dose of cannabis to be 5-10mg of THC, edibles and infused products can be sold in packages that contain up to 100mg of THC by volume. Rather than consuming a square of chocolate that contains a 10mg dose of THC the patient feels instant, more even and sustaining effects of the same 10mg over a longer period of time. 

What makes these patches so great is the crew at Mary’s clearly knows their marijuana science. While each of the patches has a different formulation to favor the effects of a particular cannabinoid, the medicine contained in the patch is still sourced from whole-plant material. There are over 80 known cannabinoids in cannabis as well as strain-specific terpene profiles (essential oils responsible for smell, taste and to some extent effect) and flavanoids. Cannabis researchers have long endorsed the “entourage effect” of cannabis as a medicine; meaning cannabis is a more effective medicine in whole-plant formulations than as isolated cannabinoids. 

According to Nicole Smith, CMO of Littleton, Colo.-based Mary’s Medicinals, terpenes used to enhance the patches are sourced from other natural plants such as lavender and citrus fruits. Smith and her partner had previous experience developing nutraceutical patches with other botanicals, albeit non-psychoactive ones. When cannabis became legal in the state they set out to make the perfect cannabis nutraceutical patch.

“We realized the market really needed a product like this so we jumped in with two feet. The concept is marrying horticulture and technology,” says Smith. “Doctors love the concept… it really bridges the gap for them.”

Mary’s clearly knows what they are doing. Each patch, gel and topical I sampled had its own unique effect that was never paranoia or anxiety inducing. The effects of each and every formulation were clear, clean and effective.   

The Cannabidiol (CBD) Patch and Transdermal Gel:

Using a new cannabis medicine for the first time is always an experiment that can result in taking a day to just enjoy the simple pleasures of food, sleep and nature. I set aside an entire day to test the effects of these patches to determine adequate dosage. I decided to start with the CBD patch because unlike THC, CBD is non-psychotropic and doesn’t cause impairment. In fact, CBD is known to counteract a lot of the psychedelic effects of traditional high THC cannabis such as anxiety and paranoia. Mary’s says the 10mg patch alleviates inflammation, diabetes, cancer, mood disorders (PTSD to ADD) and neurodegenerative diseases. 

I have Crohn’s Disease, so the source of most of my problems is inflammation, making this patch an ideal first choice. Per the directions on the package, I swabbed my left wrist with isopropyl alcohol, which disinfects as well as facilitates the transfer of the medicine through the skin to the bloodstream, before carefully applying the patch. 

Within minutes I found myself bubbling over with energy and excitement. I went for a long brisk walk so as not to waste the uncharacteristically high level of energy. When I got home I was able to approach all tasks in front of me with a clarity and eagerness I have never felt in my adult life. I can see how this patch would be effective for pretty much anyone, not just someone suffering from a mood disorder or attention deficit. By the end of the day I realized I had not felt one hint of pain the entire day, I had felt so good I hardly noticed just how good I was really feeling.  

The active medicine in this patch is also available in a gel “pen” that dispenses 2mg doses with each pump. The gel is applied to the wrists or top of the feet and rubbed in, effects are felt within 15 minutes. Because each pen has 100mg of active ingredient and is instantly absorbed in the skin, they are a great way to supplement the 10mg patch as needed. I have been carrying this convenient and discreet little tube around with me everywhere and rubbing a bit into my wrists as I see fit. The gel is lightly fragranced so instead of smelling like cannabis it has the pleasing faint scent of clean linens or traditional shampoo. 

At the end of the day I did a “dab” of concentrated cannabis high in THC. While I felt the relaxation of the dab in my body, the CBD patch ultimately blocked the psychotropic effect of the high-THC dab. I would not recommend using this product, or other high-CBD products, if you are seeking the effects of high-THC cannabis. 

The THCa Patch

Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid, or THCa, is the unheated or “raw” form of THC. Unlike THC, THCa is non-psychotropic and will not cause impairment. THCa is often obtained for use by patients by juicing fresh cannabis leaves. THCa has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, pain relieving and cancer fighting properties. Mary’s says their THCa patch provides non-drowsy pain relief and inhibits cell-growth in tumors. 

I in no way felt any sort of psychedelic effect. Using this patch, I was still able to drive, function and socialize as normal. Just like with the CBD patch, I had increased energy and felt absolutely no pain while wearing the patch. Incidentally, I felt some abdominal pain come back creeping in within about 30 min of removing the patch at the end of the day. Luckily, I was ready to try the next one—the CBN patch. 

The CBN Patch

Cannabinol (CBN) is sourced from aged THC. While it retains some of the psychoactivity of THC, the CBN patch is best utilized as a sleepy time medicine. CBN provides pain relief, is anti-inflammatory and, more importantly, it puts you to sleep. 

Within 20 minutes of applying the CBN patch, which Mary’s says is best for relief of muscle spasms, inflammation and insomnia; I pretty instantly felt relief from the new pain creeping in after removing the THCa patch, but then I felt a warm bubbly gooey feeling throughout my whole body. It was almost cartoon-esque, I was being beckoned to sleep by the feel good goo and I chose not to fight it. After submitting to the effects, I slept a refreshing 10 hours before waking up and slapping on a high-THC sativa patch. 

The High-THC Sativa Patch

Unlike the 10mg CBN, THCa and CBD patches, the main ingredient in this patch was fully psychoactive THC and double the dose – 20mg. I applied this patch with more caution but was ultimately pleasantly surprised by the results. Because this formulation was made with sativa-dominant marijuana strains, it was engineered to provide pure energy and the slow release of the THC kept the experience happy and balanced. After enjoying a Sunday brunch with a friend, I insisted we pull over and take a long brisk walk so I could take advantage of the incredible energy the patch was giving me yet again. If I had them more available, I could easily ditch my excessive caffeine addiction and switch to sativa patches for good. 

Mary’s says the patches can be cut with scissors to adjust dosage or safely combined with other patches to deliver targeted medicine for the specific effects desired by an individual patient.  With repeated use, I would suggest rotating the location of the patch on the body as I experienced some mild inflammation on my left wrist, where I had been applying each patch, one after the other. 

Currently, Mary’s Medicinals are only available in Colorado and some stores in Washington State. They have plans to expand to a handful of other states with medical cannabis such as California over the next couple years. 

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