Deep Dive: Cannabinoids for Skin Health

Updated: Oct 11

A June 2022 research study entitled "Cannabis Sativa and Skin Health: Dissecting the Role of Phytocannabinoids" that was published in the journal Planta Medica explored the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis- and hemp-derived phytocannabinoids in the maintenance of healthy skin. "This review summarized the current evidence on the effects of phytocannabinoids at the cutaneous [skin] level," reported the study.

"The use of Cannabis sativa is currently recognized to ease certain types of chronic pain, reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea, and improve anxiety," reported the researchers. They lamented the fact that few studies have investigated marijuana for a range of skin disorders, including "acne, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, pruritus, and pain."


The study explained that cannabis is "an herbaceous plant which is generally found in temperate and tropical regions of the world." It noted that the botanical species has been "an important source of fibers for the preparation of ropes, textiles, or paper" since ancient times. As medicine, cannabis was used in Chinese medicine more than 5,000 years ago "as a remedy for pain and inflammation."


The study noted that the medicinal use of cannabis topicals "were recorded at the end of the 19th century for the reduction of itching."

"Old and recent evidence suggests the extension of cannabis benefits to dermatological disorders," reported the study. It noted that the medicinal use of cannabis topicals "were recorded at the end of the 19th century for the reduction of itching." The researchers also reported that "several studies have evaluated the cutaneous effects of this plant, focusing mainly on the individual cannabinoids."


The Study

The design of this research study was that of a literature review that analyzed prior investigations of the topic. The study's authors elected to include many types of research in their analysis, including in vitro evidence (studies and observations involving no living creatures), in vivo research (involving living creatures ranging from rodents to dogs), and clinical trials involving human subjects.

The research performed a "systemic search of electronic databases" that included PubMed, Scopus, Embase, and Web of Science in October 2020. The scope of the prior research explored included all types that investigated "the effects of phytocannabinoids at a cutaneous level" in any year. "This review includes only published articles and does not consider unpublished works or non-peer-reviewed articles," added the study's authors.


Results

The literature analysis revealed many things, including that the most researched phytocannabinoids in terms of their potential efficacy for skin disorders are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Also found was the fact that a number of other cannabinoids may be involved in biochemical mechanisms of merit to skin health, including the treatment of common conditions such as acne, dermatitis, psoriasis, and even melanoma cancer.


CBD for Skin Disorders

The study's review of the evidence in the scientific literature revealed that the "most investigated nonpsychotropic cannabinoid at the cutaneous level" is CBD. This prior research observed significant antioxidant effects exerted by CBD on the skin and various skin cells that "has opened the investigation on the use of CBD as an antioxidant for psoriasis." The study's authors reported that CBD "revealed mostly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties."


Cannabinoids beyond CBD could function as anti-acne agents, including "CBDV, CBC, and THCV being the most effective."

Another study revealed that CBD exhibited "potential anti-inflammatory activity." One research investigation found that a number of cannabinoids beyond CBD could function as anti-acne agents, including "cannabidivarin (CBDV), cannabichromene (CBC), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) being the most effective." THCV was also found to be anti-inflammatory.


The phytocannabinoids cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabigerovarin (CBGV), its varin isomer, were found to target the CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system and to mimic the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG.

Image courtesy Leafwize Naturals


"As a consequence, several cannabinoids (CBG-like) may be of interest against dry skin conditions (xerosis, skin aging) while others (CBD-, THC-, CBC-like) may counteract seborrheic disturbs," summarized the scientists.


The study indicated that CBD and CBG may play an important role in treating skin cancer. "Consequently, the inhibition of [cancer] levels by CBD and CBG may result in "skin tumor repression."


THC for Skin Disorders

The research reported that the second most commonly cited phytocannabinoid within the scope of its literature analysis was THC "in the isoforms of Δ8-THC and Δ9-THC." The study noted that, for research purposes, delta-8 THC is preferred due to the fact that it is chemically more stable.


One study reviewed compared the skin permeability of delta-8 THC with that of cannabinol (CBN) and CBD and observed "the accumulation of Δ8-THC in skin tissue, while CBN and CBD exhibited 10-fold higher permeability."


THC was also shown to display "anti-cancer activity through anti-inflammatory effects on infiltrating immune cells."

THC was also shown to display "anti-cancer activity through anti-inflammatory effects on infiltrating immune cells." For psoriasis, the phytocannabinoids CBD, CBG, CBN, and delta-9 THC demonstrated efficacy that may help sufferers. CBD, CBG, and CBN were found to be slightly superior to THC in this capacity.


Like its chemical cousin CBD, THC has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties that may be of benefit in the treatment of many skin disorders, including skin cancer. "The anti-inflammatory effect of the topical application of Δ9-THC was verified" in an experiment involving rodent subjects (mice) with ear dermatitis.

The study noted the "inhibitory effect of Δ9-THC (5 mg/kg, subcutaneous injection) on immune cell infiltration" in a cancer model and that delta-9 THC "was also considered responsible for the reduction of melanomas" in research involving rodent subjects.


Conclusions

The scientists concluded that their analysis of the research literature on the topic of cannabinoids for potential treatment of skin disorders "underlines the complexity of the mechanisms regulating the effects of phytocannabinoids at cutaneous [skin] level." They noted that data collected from in vitro studies "demonstrate that the biological effects of phytocannabinoids involve many different cell populations other than immune cells, whose role is still fundamental in...numerous skin disorders, [including] psoriasis, dermatitis, acne, and dry skin."


CBD & THC Good for Skin Disorders

The study reported that its data "highlight the general anti-inflammatory effect of CBD" and that this popular hemp-derived cannabinoid contributes to beneficial antioxidant mechanisms. "It is important to point out that in the only two investigations in which C. sativa extract was compared to pure [isolate] CBD, the extract was superior in terms of anti-inflammatory effects (both in vitro and in vivo)," reported the study's authors.

The researchers concluded that both delta-8 and delta-9 THC demonstrated "good results in terms of skin inflammation reduction," but that their "intrinsic psychotropic activity limits the development of new dedicated therapeutic solutions." They reported that both preclinical and clinical evidence supports the application of phytocannabinoids in "the treatment of seborrheic disorders [of the skin], especially acne."


The study summarized that phytocannabinoids "possess a great potential for the treatment of several skin diseases."

The study summarized that phytocannabinoids "possess a great potential for the treatment of several cutaneous pathological conditions [skin diseases], ranging from photo-aging and inflammatory diseases to seborrheic and autoimmune disorders." It reiterated that "whole extracts have been sometimes reported to exert a wider and more potent bioactivity than single phytocannabinoids" (isolates).


Phytocannabinoids for Skin Reality Check

Despite observing many positive outcomes for the application of phytocannabinoids to various skin disorders in a wide variety of research models, the study's authors noted the "small number of rigorous clinical studies" and an overall "lack of data on safety" in terms of the application of phytocannabinoids to skin disorders. They concluded that these factors "limit the understanding of the real benefits for human skin" delivered by phytocannabinoids such as CBD, CBG, and THC—including their various isomer forms (CBDV, etc.).


View the original study.


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