Cannabis and Skin 


Your skin is one of the largest organs in your body, and it is loaded with CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. In fact, it has the highest amount and largest concentration of CB2 receptors in the body. These receptors respond to both phytocannabinoids from ingesting or applying cannabinoids based on the cannabis plant (exocannabinoids), as well as responding to your body’s own manufactured cannabinoids from your endocannabinoid system (endocannabinoids). The CB2 receptor, in general, is responsible for many of the effects caused by medical cannabis, and the regulation of skin function is partly under the influence of this receptor


There is clinical lab evidence and a multitude of studies in humans showing the benefits of cannabis and your skin. However, the exact dosage, delivery system, method of delivery, and other factors need to be addressed. Both THC and CBD as major cannabinoids are usually indicated as being therapeutic for your skin, and the exact ratio of these two, as well as other cannabinoid extracts and terpenes, and other non-cannabis additives, plays a role in therapeutic benefit. Cannabinoids and their derivatives and other cannabinoid extracts and compounds can be effective in several ways. They are widely known to be anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-oxidants. Plus, the plant terpenes in cannabis also have a role in skin permeability and penetration, absorption, and acts as a vehicle to enhance absorption and effectiveness. Some common terpenes seen in products include Limonene, Pinene, and Linalool. Some of these enhance absorption, and others are anti-bacterial. Worthy to mention is also that several other plant terpenes, i.e. geraniol and citronella act directly to kill and repel insects, and are common in natural insect sprays and repellants when applied to your skin.


Direct application of a cannabinoid cream or lotion to the skin surface is the most common usage for a topical skin condition, and no systemic or psychoactive effect occurs. Transdermal patches and pens usually provide topical application in the form of an adhesive patch applied to clean skin. This is designed for a systemic, or whole-body effect, and can have psychoactivity depending upon the type of patch used. These patches can be expensive, and they have perhaps five different types depending upon the exact cannabinoid profile and ratios. THC, CBD, CBN, and combinations of these are common for having in the patch, and occasionally this delivery system may be of benefit. Edible, vaped, or smoked cannabis may also be of benefit through an immunosuppressive effect that limits your immune response and can reduce an inflammatory rash, itching, or otherwise irritated area. Some studies show that a systemic reduction in overall anxiety which sometimes occurs with cannabis use can also aid in disease progression with eczema or psoriasis, as these conditions sometimes worsened by stress.     


The endocannabinoid system plays a role in the growth, production, and death of skin cells in several different fashions that will be discussed briefly and investigated. Because of the large number of receptors located in cutaneous cells, it is quite evident that cannabinoids play a major role in the regulation of skin function. This has been shown in many studies, both clinical and anecdotal. In addition to the medical benefits that the cannabinoids can provide, there is also a large cosmetic benefit to some of the ingredients and extracts from the cannabis plant, and this has been known for thousands of years...


Skin disorders that may be aided by cannabis include acne, psoriasis, seborrhea, pruritus (itching), rashes, burns, eczema, and others. With Psoriasis for example, cannabinoids have been shown to regulate keratin activity and inhibit proliferation, thereby possibly aiding in the disease. In addition, keratinocytes have been shown to bind to and metabolize anandamide – this is your body’s own endocannabinoid!! In other cases, cannabinoids have been shown to affect cell division, growth, and differentiation of cutaneous (skin) cells. Therapeutic effects may possibly aid in quicker wound healing, burns, or graft patients. Dermatologists will help answer these questions with future research, especially after the federal government allows research to occur in our own country, with funding and university participation.


Different responses are seen among clinical patients in my own practice on their response to topical cannabinoid creams and lotions. These products can be used for localized arthritic pain, for example in a knee or joint, or for muscle tension caused by disease, exercise, or injury. Also, many cannabis concoctions can be used for cosmetic and healthy skin maintenance, and cannabinoids usually integrate well with other skin products. Thousands of products are currently on the market, and often several different formulations need to be tried to find the best one for your particular skin. As a cannabis provider, and medical professional, it is important to “Do No Harm”. While it is possible that high doses of THC have been shown to possibly promote acne in some individuals, and a few patients may be allergic to the cannabis plant and its derivatives, adverse effects are rare and non-life-threatening, and usually not serious.


Therefore, these products can be sampled and selected according to efficacy for your specific need. Several formulations and products can be used with little fear of any adverse effects. In some instances, however, be advised that results can take up to a few weeks, and not always instantaneous as in some topical products. Also, regulation of these products can be lax and some are not quite as advertised if purchased on-line, or for example at gas stations or convenience stores by bogus operators and companies. Best to stick to reputable brands and well-known companies or medical dispensaries for these products. It should be noted however that some products from around the globe may be beneficial and only available on-line and not in our own country… but those containing THC must be sold and regulated in a medical or legal state. CBD only products are generally widely available but may lack some of the benefit provided by the addition of THC. More in Part 2 next month…