Dermatologists have been bombarded with questions from patients as to whether the agents THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) or CBD (Cannabidiol) in cannabis topical creams will work to alleviate skin conditions such as eczema. Whether they’re in states where cannabis has been legalized or not—but more so in legal states, the desire to find relief is obvious and very much sought after.
The molecules found in marijuana are likely to hold merit for their ability to help treat a number of dermatological conditions, and whether it’s called weed cream, CBD salve, or THC lotion, there’s optimism that marijuana in the form of medicinal cannabis will be found to provide healing benefits over a number of skin conditions and offer an all-natural treatment to traditional medications.
From medical science to medicinal cannabis
First, let’s get a little background history. One of the oldest and most universal drugs on the planet is marijuana, which is acquired from the Cannabis sativa plant. While many people have the assumption that the marijuana “high” is the most distinctive feature of the drug, in actuality only the THC agent in marijuana is the cause of the intoxicating high—out of 60 agents.
Research focused on four cannabinoid agents found in the plant that doesn’t cause the “high”—cannabidiol (CBD), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabinol (CBN), is increasing the interest among doctors and patients on the use of cannabis in topical form to provide relief for health-related issues, and those that are dermatologically related.
While the names that identify the plant go by the names “cannabis”, “hemp,” and of course “marijuana”, you’ve heard of other more colloquial names, such as “weed”, “pot”, and “ganja”. But no matter what the drug is called, the strains of the plant that are abundant in THC are the ones that provide the high typically associated with marijuana.
Because of the somewhat recent discovery of cannabinoid receptors in the human body through the endocannabinoid system, more discussions that support how cannabis can play a bigger role in treating various skin diseases has begun.
The use of cannabis as a treatment for eczema also has a long history in research dating back to the days of Dr. Henry Granger Piffard (1842-1910), who was a leader and one of the founders of American dermatology and founder of the journal, JAMA Dermatology. He noted that:
Eczema in treatment with medicinal cannabis
A variety of skin conditions fall under the general name and category of “Eczema”. The disease itself is the cause of redness, itchiness, and patches of dry skin that can appear anywhere on the body, but is typically located on hands and feet, joints, and even on the face, scalp, and eyelids of patients. Both children and adults can suffer from flare-ups intermittently.
Controlling the “Itch factor”
Research has shown that cannabinoids contain properties that are anti-itch, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial. Cannabinoids have an intense effect on reducing itching which relieves the condition significantly. That’s because of the receptors in the skin that can work and interact with the cannabinoids to help improve the look of the skin and reduce the irritating itchiness.
Cannabinoids can also help manage Staphylococcus aureus colonization, a significant stumbling block and catalyst of eczema.
Cannabinoids have antimicrobial attributes that have been remarked about for close to 40 years, but with more in-depth study and analyzing, research has found that the five predominant cannabinoids found in cannabis offer a highly protective shield against a number of S. aureus strains.
There are properties in cannabinoids that help reduce the inflammation associated with eczema. In studies involving mice and rat models, topically administered THC worked to tame inflammation in mice by the activation of CB1 receptors that could subdue allergic contact dermatitis. In addition, there were molecules discovered and reported to be similar to those found in cannabis that also showed remarkable promise in containing anti-inflammatory properties when studied in rat models.
A cream made of endocannabinoids was tested on human subjects to determine its effectiveness, and of the testers participating, they reported an improvement over extreme itching and sleep loss by about a 60% average.
Of those using immunomodulators, about 20% were able to discontinue use, and of those using oral antihistamines, 38% discontinued use. There were also 33.6% of the subjects who used a topical steroid and were able to drop its use altogether when the study concluded.
What the future may hold
While there are creams and topicals available now, patients in need of relief from eczema symptoms should be wary of the ingredients used in some products, so that they don’t try a product with known irritants like terpenes.
Choose a product that only contains irritation-free terpenes in its ingredients and formulation. Make sure the topicals you consider are those that are clearly indicated as creams for pain and inflammation relief as well as for reducing skin irritation (stay away from those that are for use with muscle and joint pain!).
Another watchword is to search out products that have been tested by a laboratory unassociated with the manufacturer. Visiting a dispensary in person is a good way to make sure you’re getting the right product for your condition, versus purchasing it online.
There’s great hope for the future of cannabinoids to be studied and found increasingly effective in the therapy for many skin conditions like eczema and others. The positive results of cannabinoids treating patients with eczema has gotten started and is on its way to greater acceptance and approval!