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Balms, Lubes, Patches: The State(s) of Topicals

As the cannabis market matures across the second decade of the 21st century, some aspects of the industry, such as flower’s lead (albeit steadily diminishing) in market share, are likely to hold steady. But the cannabis market is ever-evolving. By July of 2021, market snapshots will reveal different consumer trends in pot-friendly states.

For example, topicals — marijuana products that get slathered, rubbed, sprayed and affixed to bodies rather than ingested — could rise, as mainstream news invests increasingly more pixels and ink in marijuana and medicine. Yes, it was medical applications that got the whole legal cannabis world blazing, in California back in 1992 when the state pioneered medical marijuana. But for a long time, most of the products available revolved around ingesting — mostly smoking, followed by edibles.

With more brands jumping into the market and looking for niches, as well as more companies with R&D budgets and scientists on staff, topicals stand as an intriguing opportunity; topicals are popular for dealing with aches and pains. The rise of CBD products in traditional stores and online also could provide some lift to cannabis-infused products. Many cannabis topicals stress their high CBD levels, for pain relief and muscle- and joint-recovery. It doesn’t take much Googling to discover that combining CBD with THC has the potential to offer even more relief than CBD alone. 

For now, though, the market is profoundly petite. Between Colorado, Oregon, California and Arizona (which supports only a medical market), topicals are the most popular in California, where the $15.7 million in sales this year through May represent just 1.75 percent of all California cannabis sales, according to cannabis market research firm BDS Analytics.

Topicals don’t come cheap in CA.

California’s Topical Market

Californians are more crazy for balms and sales than consumers in other states. Through May of this year, balms and salves captured 50 percent of the topicals market, followed by creams (18 percent), patches (7 percent) and spray (6 percent). Meanwhile, the average retail price for a topical was the highest, at $30.33.

The Centennial State – also known as Bargainville.

Colorado’s Topical Market

Coloradans crown balms/salves as queen, too, and consumers in the Centennial State bought enough of them through May to represent 41 percent of topicals sales (compared to California’s 50 percent). Creams grab 16 percent of sales, patches 14 percent, and lotions 10 percent. Colorado tends to have the lowest average retail price for most products, and that includes topicals. At $18.37, an average topical sale (pre-tax) is 40 percent cheaper than in California. Growth remains strong for topicals in Colorado — dollar sales rose by 29 percent between January and May of this year compared to last year.

Lube rises in the Beaver State.

Oregon’s Topical Market

If lotions barely registered in California and captured fourth place in Colorado, they rose to second place, or 13 percent, of Oregon’s topicals market, which grew by 70 percent during the January through May period of this year. Balms/salves landed in first place, with 43 percent of sales. Patches grabbed third place, with 8 percent, and massage oil and lubricant tied at 4 percent of Oregon sales (go, lubricant!). The average sales price of $26.47 is the second-highest among the reviewed states, but growth nevertheless is potent this year, hitting 70 percent.

Creaming it up in the Grand Canyon State.

Arizona’s Topical Market

Arizonans are cream-crazy compared to other states. While the national favorite, balms and salves, also leads in Arizona with 35 percent of sales, creams captures 30 percent — look out, balms and salves, creams are coming to get you. Patches’ market share is 13 percent and lotions sit in fourth place at 8 percent. Growth in Arizona for topicals hit 130 percent compared to last year, and the average retail was $24.53.


Doug Brown

Doug Brown

Douglas Brown spent more than two decades in newspaper and magazine newsrooms around the country, covering everything from the White House and Capitol Hill to technology policy to crime in New Mexico. Now, he runs Contact High Communications, a leading cannabis public relations firm based in Boulder, CO. He can be reached at

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