Study Summary: Cannabinoids & Skin Disease

Updated: Sep 25

A 2019 study entitled "Cannabinoid Signaling in the Skin: Therapeutic Potential of the 'C(ut)annabinoid' System" that was published in the journal Molecules explored the efficacy of a variety of cannabinoids for human skin, with a focus on specific diseases and conditions of the epidermis, including acne, cancerous melanoma, dermatitis, and psoriasis.

"The skin is a vital organ that fulfills multiple roles besides being a complex protective barrier against a wide variety of environmental challenges," reported the study. It noted that the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) has "been proven to be an important, multifaceted homeostatic regulator that influences a wide variety of physiological processes," including many aspects of skin health.


"Although the most prevalent dermatological disorders are usually not directly life-threatening ones, their symptoms can dramatically impair quality of life of millions of patients world-wide," reported the scientists.

Cutaneous cannabinoid signaling is deeply involved in the maintenance of skin homeostasis and a lack of ECS tone may contribute to several diseases of the skin, including acne, dermatitis, hair growth issues, itch, pigmentation disorders, psoriasis, and various types of cancerous tumors.

The study noted that the ECS is comprised of endocannabinoids such as anandamide and 2-AG and specialized receptors (CB1 and CB2, among many other types), along with a "complex enzyme and transporter apparatus involved in the metabolism of the ligands" and that this network of neurotransmission is "expressed in several tissues, including the skin."


The ECS & Skin

The study noted that "experimental efforts over the last two decades have unambiguously confirmed that cutaneous cannabinoid ('c[ut]annabinoid') signaling is deeply involved in the maintenance of skin homeostasis."


A lack of tone and overall health in the ECS (what the study labeled "dysregulation") may contribute to "several highly prevalent diseases and disorders" of the skin—including acne, dermatitis, hair growth issues, itch, keratin diseases, pigmentation disorders, psoriasis, scleroderma, and various types of cancerous tumors.

"Several lines of evidence demonstrate that both endogenous and phytocannabinoids can exert various biological effects in the skin, implicating cannabinoid signaling as a key contributor to cutaneous homeostasis" (skin health), reported the study.


ECS Receptors Present

The scientists noted that the presence of endocannabinoids (such as 2-AG and anandamide) and ECS receptors (CB1, CB2, the TRPV 1-4 series, and others) "has been shown on many different cell types of the skin, including epidermal keratinocytes, melanocytes, mast cells, fibroblasts, sebocytes, sweat gland cells, as well as certain cell populations of hair follicles."


"Endocannabinoids and ECS receptors appear in various skin cell types, including epidermal keratinocytes, melanocytes, mast cells, fibroblasts, sebocytes, sweat gland cells, and certain hair follicles."

A comparison of 20 melanoma and 20 non-melanoma patients "revealed that expression of CB2 [ECS receptors] was up-regulated in melanomas as compared to normal melanocytes."


CBD for Acne

The research noted that the popular cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) "was found to exert complex anti-acne effects" via a number of biochemical mechanisms, including anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and anti-bacterial actions.

CBC, CBDV, and THCV have been found to behave in a "CBD-like manner (potent complex anti-acne effects)," while CBG and CBGV have displayed behavior more similar to the endocannabinoids 2-AG and anandamide, most specifically "potent anti-inflammatory activity."


Immune Responses in the Skin

"Another key function of cannabinoid signaling is to control local immune responses in the skin," reported the scientific investigation. It found that both endocannabinoids, 2-AG and anandamide, can affect immune functions in the body and "are generally considered to be anti-inflammatory agents."

A variety of phytocannabinoids have demonstrated significant efficacy in the form of topicals used to treat a range of skin diseases and conditions. One of the previous studies reviewed revealed that topical application of THC "was found to be efficient in alleviating allergic ear swelling" in a study of mice. CBD, THCV, and CBGV have shown "context-dependent pro- or anti-inflammatory actions."


The study reported that topical administration of a number of cannabinoids—including CBC, CBCV, CBD, CBDV, THCV, and THC—"was found to exert significant anti-inflammatory effects as revealed by reduced ear swelling."

Cannabinoid Candidates for Topicals

Reported the researchers, "besides endocannabinoids and [the phytocannabinoid] THC, other phytocannabinoids also deserve attention as potential topical anti-inflammatory agents." The study reported that topical administration of a number of cannabinoids—including CBC, CBCV, CBD, CBDV, THCV, and THC—"was found to exert significant anti-inflammatory effects as revealed by reduced ear swelling."


Conclusions

The study's authors reported that "research efforts of the past two decades have undoubtedly proven that cannabinoid signaling profoundly influences several aspects of the cutaneous biology" and that its dysregulation contributes to "the pathogenesis of several skin diseases."


They concluded that development of pharmaceutical treatments based on "cutaneous cannabinoid signaling promises to be a powerful tool in treating such diseases." The study welcomed additional research on the topic, particularly human clinical trials, to "exploit the untapped potential of the cannabinoid system in managing skin diseases."


View the original study.


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