Topical cannabinoids can be helpful for treating an array of skin conditions, suggest a research review recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, investigated the available research on the subject and concluded that cannabinoids are effective against psoriasis, eczema, inflammatory skin disease, dermatitis, and in some cases, even skin cancer.
Topical cannabinoid products, often in the form of salves and balms, are applied directly to the skin. Their active compounds penetrate and are absorbed into the skin to interact with surrounding cells without entering the bloodstream. Because the compounds don’t reach the bloodstream, even if they contain psychoactive cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), they won’t elicit any euphoric effects.
“These are topical cannabinoid drugs with little or no psychotropic effect that can be used for skin disease,” said the study’s lead author Robert Dellavalle.
It’s the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids that make them beneficial for skin conditions, Dellavalle believes. The two most well recognized cannabinoids — cannabidiol (CBD) and THC – have shown to interact with the endocannabinoid system’s CB2 receptors to stimulate an anti-inflammatory response.
“Perhaps the most promising role for cannabinoids is in the treatment of the itch,” said Dellavalle.
One study included in the review found that eight of 21 patients with severe itching or pruritus were able to completely eliminate and treat their skin condition by applying a cannabinoid cream twice a day for three weeks.
Another study showed a cannabinoid topical containing THC to significantly inhibit the growth of a tumor. This is particularly important, as between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will at one point in their life have some type of skin carcinoma.
“These diseases cause a lot of problems for people and have a direct impact on their quality of life,” said Dellavalle. “The treatments are currently being bought over the internet and we need to educate dermatologists and patients about the potential uses of them.”
Some topical cannabinoid products, specifically those containing higher levels of THC, are only legally available in states with a prescription and in states with medical cannabinoid laws. Others, such as CBD topicals that use oil derived from hemp, are legal under federal law (individual states may pass laws governing hemp-derived CBD). You can learn more about the laws regarding CBD here.