The skin is the largest organ in the human body. One of its major functions is protecting the body against extraneous materials. It serves as the first barrier of the immune system. The skin has other important functions including regulation of body temperature, maintenance of hydro-electric balance, and perceiving of pleasurable or painful stimuli. Any alteration in the appearance or function of the skin can have serious consequences on our mental and physical health. Many skin problems remain in the skin. In some cases, though, the skin may reveal underlying health conditions affecting the entire human body.

Cannabinoids in Dermatology

The use of Cannabis sativa L topically dates back to ancient China. Cannabis preparations were used for the treatment of ulcers, skin rashes, hair loss, and wounds. Archeological evidence also exists suggesting that the ancient Egyptians used topical cannabis preparations for the treatment of eye conditions and also in bandages for wounds. The leaves of the cannabis plant were used by the Arabs in the medieval era for the treatment of skin diseases such as lichen planus and pityriasis. As recently as 100 years ago, tinctures of cannabis were sold in pharmacies. They were used for the treatment of irritable bladder, calluses, and menstrual pains and also as to assist with quitting opium addiction.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) performs regulatory processes within the skin. Endocannabinoid compounds, such as AEA and 2-AG, cannabinoid receptors, like TRPV-1, CB1, and CB2, and various enzymes all play a role in the synthesis of cannabinoids and their metabolism.

The main elements in the ECS play a role in key aspects of skin health including regulation of the growth of skin annexes and epidermis, inflammatory and immune responses, cell survival, transmission of signals to the central nervous system (itching, pain, etc.), and production of lipids, among other functions.

Notwithstanding the long history of topical use of cannabis, research into the effects of cannabinoids on skin disorders hasn’t been seriously pursued. Nevertheless, there is increasing evidence on the efficacy of cannabis on the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, and also for the treatment of autoimmune conditions such as scleroderma, characterized by fibrosis and inflammation.

Psoriasis: Sounds Like a Job for Cannabinoids

Psoriasis is a very common inflammatory skin condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, its major characteristic is the build up and shedding of skin cells due to a sped up life cycle of those skin cells. This is caused by an immune system-related issue, in which T cell and other white blood cells, called neutrophils, attack healthy skins cells by mistake. Though we do not fully understand how psoriasis develops, research has shown that deregulation of TH17 cells and Th1 cells plays a major role in the development of psoriasis.

Luckily, cannabinoids, like CBD, are all about re-regulation of the many functions that fall under the domain of the ECS. At the moment, mostly anecdotal evidence exists concerning cannabinoids and their ability to regulate psoriasis. However, several studies have been done that illustrate the efficacy of cannabinoids on psoriasis. In 2013, a studyinvolving human skin cultures showed how regulation of CB1 receptors was able to slow excessive skin growth. In addition, a 2007 study found that cannabinoids "have therapeutic value in the treatment of psoriasis", and a scientific review in 2016 suggests the same.

Cannabinoids and Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a very frequent inflammatory skin disorder. Onset and progression of this disorder are induced by environmental, genetic, and immunological factors. Atopic dermatitis is characterized by erythema, dryness of the skin through loss of the epidermal barrier, scabs, lichenification, and exudation. Intense itching is also a major characteristic of atopic dermatitis and it results in frequent scratching and infection by Staphylococcus. Atopic dermatitis has no cureand the main objectives of treatment include reduction of symptoms, prevention of exacerbations, and minimizing the risk of skin infections.

Studies have shown that cannabinoids play a very essential role in the therapeutic management of atopic dermatitis. In this regard, cannabinoids inhibit histamine release and activation of mastocytes. Also, topical application of cannabinoids has proven to reduce inflammation of the skin in animal models of atopic dermatitis. Other researchers have suggested that cannabinoids may play a vital role in maintaining the barrier of the epidermis.

Cannabinoids also play a role in the treatment of fibrotic skin diseases. One of these is sclerosis or systemic scleroderma. This is a rare autoimmune disorder with three major characteristics–poor functioning of the fibroblasts, resulting in an influx of proteins from the extracellular matrix and production of inflammatory cytokines and autoantibodies. Sclerosis is characterized by gradual fibrosis and thickening of the skin, secondary to high accumulation of collagen which could be localized to the skin or extended to the internal bodies–limited cutaneous sclerosis and diffuse sclerosis respectively. A microvascular injury heralds the onset of sclerosis, this is followed by the activation of fibroblasts.

According to the Fundacion CANNA, the fibrotic response may be modulated by pharmacological and genetic manipulation of the endocannabinoid system. Activation of fibroblasts is prevented by the blockage of the CB1 receptor.

In Conclusion

The purpose of the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) is to maintain homeostasis between biological systems within the body and re-regulate them when they are unbalanced. Phytocannabinoids, specifically hemp-derived cannabinoidslike CBD, CBG, and CBC, can act similarly to the body’s own cannabinoids, and help maintain homeostasis or re-regulate imbalance. Skin conditions, as well as many diseases and disorders, are caused by biological dysregulation.Promising evidence suggests that cannabinoids can potentially treat various skin conditions and diseases.

Humans have known the positive health effects of cannabis for a long time. Now that we are aware of the ECS and how phytocannabinoids work with our own endocannabinoid systems, it’s important that we further research and educate about the benefits of cannabinoids. The potential benefits of cannabinoids require our attention and investigationbecause patients and health care providers deserve safe, natural, effective alternatives to treatments that do not work. 

The Nature’s Breakthrough educational resource is just one of the ways The Hemp Haus practices its sincere commitment to and passion for educating people about CBD and helping them find the right, high-quality product based on their needs.

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