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What to Expect When Canada Regulates Cannabis Topicals

Canadian regulations on cannabis-infused topicals are set to come into effect on October 17, 2019.

Topicals are one of three new classes to be introduced, alongside edibles and extracts, and they are defined as “products that include cannabis as an ingredient and that are intended to be used on external body surfaces (i.e. skin, hair, and nails)”.

The suggested applications for topicals are mostly related to the body as a localized treatment for arthritis, inflammation, neuropathic pain, and menstrual cramps, which is consistent with medicinal cannabis’ reputation as a type of pain reliever. And because currently, topicals are only being sold medicinally in Canada, the only way to obtain them legally is as a patient with a prescription.

Cannabis also holds many possible cosmetic applications that are of interest to licensed producers and beauty brands alike.

In the US, CBD is already being popularized as an ingredient in products that claim to “promote the skin’s strength, elasticity and bounce” and “calm redness and muscle spasms.”

Some evidence supports the use of cannabis topicals that contain THC and/or CBD to treat conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, and acne. The variables in creating an effective product, however, are vast; sources say that products should be high in THC and optimally full spectrum. As it stands, Canada’s regulations propose that there should be a limit of no more than 1,000 milligrams (1 gram) of THC per package.

Legal product packaging has been regulated and standardized by Health Canada in order to reduce cannabis inducement. In other words, the packaging is not supposed to promote the benefits of the product contained within.

It is proposed that the amended regulations would prohibit representations regarding cosmetic benefits (i.e. “reduces the appearance of wrinkles” or “softens skin”) on all product packages and labels. Further, making representations on the product, package, label, panel, or brand element claiming the cannabis product has health or cosmetic benefits would also be prohibited.

The proposed regulations make it difficult to square future cosmetic cannabis topicals with the type of product image that the beauty industry has traditionally cultivated through branding, packaging, and marketing.

We can only surmise that forthcoming topicals will be about as fetching as a tube of Polysporin, with less information about what the product purports to do available to the shopper.

Under the current regulations, recreational stores cannot give medical advice. In the case of cannabis-infused topicals that blur the line between medicinal and recreational, would customer service be able to offer guidance in the way that most beauty customers are used to?

Other statements made around product composition and ingredients in the current regulations raise more questions about what can and cannot be developed as a cosmetic cannabis-infused topical in the future.

Currently, topicals are sold in kits that require the purchaser to mix the cannabis product with a carrier substance (which would be an unusual practice for a beauty industry product), but proposed amendments to the regulations would permit “a broader diversity of product forms for human use.”

Elsewhere, the regulations state that “a cannabis product that is intended to be used in the area of the human eye bounded by the supraorbital and infraorbital ridges, including the eyebrows, the skin underlying the eyebrows, the eyelids, (and) the eyelashes” must not be sold or distributed, and that “products that are intended to be used on damaged or broken skin or to penetrate the skin barrier by means other than by absorption (e.g. through the use of abrasives or needles) would continue to be prohibited.” This would limit products such as eye creams, healing ointments, and any serum meant to be used in tandem with an exfoliant or derma roller.

The beauty industry itself has done a great job of taking a buzz-worthy ingredient and running with it. Most of what’s available in Sephora Canada’s offering of “cannabis-”tagged products use hemp seed oil as the star ingredient. This allows brands to play with both the craze for all things cannabis and wellness as well as beauty’s recent fascination with oils, while still avoiding stricter regulations.

Meanwhile in the US, major retailers such as Sephora, Barney’s and Neiman Marcus have devoted beauty counters to CBD products in select locations, and brands like Josie Maran and Herbivore Botanicals have set up separate websites for CBD oils with shipping limited to legalized states.

With Canadian regulations still pending, it remains to be seen how creatively the cannabis and beauty industries can enact product development and marketing strategies for cannabis-infused topicals.

Jaime Sin's Bio Image
Jaime Sin

Jaime Sin writes about sexuality, cannabis, beauty, and fashion. She's based in Toronto.

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