Pot-laced lotions promise pain relief without the ‘high’

As access to medical marijuana expands in Massachusetts, there’s new interest in topical products that promise to provide relief for aches and pains.

“It’s a game changer for me,” said Lisa Burke, who uses marijuana-infused lotion to soothe her sore hands. “It has changed my life completely.”

Burke first learned about the product Allay while working at New England Treatment Access, or NETA, a licensed dispensary in Brookline.

“Oftentimes, I wake up in the morning and my hand is so stiff, I can’t move it,” she said. “So I put two pumps onto my hand and rub it in and I can move my hand with zero pain.”

The lotion’s active ingredient is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a psychoactive compound found in the marijuana plant.

Take it orally and you’ll get high.

Put it on your skin and it could provide relief from pain, rashes and other skin conditions.

“You may have some anti-inflammatory properties, which I think has given rise to some of these infused cream products,” said Dr. Kevin Hill, an addiction specialist at McLean Hospital who authored a book about marijuana.

“These products aren’t going to penetrate into your bloodstream,” he said. “They’re not going to make you high, so it’s a very low risk in that way. I think the real question is, do they work?”

Right now, a real answer is tough to find.

The federal government still refers to THC as a Schedule 1 illegal substance. That’s been a roadblock to conducting clinical studies in the United States.

“It ostensibly has no recognized medical use,” said Norton Arbelaez, NETA’s director of government affairs. “In practice, we know that that is an outdated and false designation of this very old and very helpful benefit.”

He said topical products are popular and patients tell him that they work.

“One would hope that as these anecdotes grow in number and volume and frequency, that the traditional medical community can take a fresh look at how cannabinoids, and particular topicals, can help people that…

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