Your skin is one of the most advanced barrier systems in the world. It protects us by providing an extensive network of glands, lipophobicity (“lipid/oil-hating”), and a well stocked platform for beneficial microbes called ‘natural flora’. It stands as one of our major connections to the outside world, and today we’re going to dive right in and discuss topical cannabis applications and go beyond skin deep in the process.
As we all know, evidence of the medicinal use of Cannabis goes back thousands of years, but it also goes beyond the regularly-discussed oral (inhalation and consumption) routes of administration. Indeed, evidence in passed-down Persian remedies for headaches include Cannabis extracts mixed with other ingredients such as garlic, camphor, and spearmint that were applied topically depending on the type of headache the person was experiencing. In ancient Egypt, mixtures of Cannabis flower and honey were used topically to help with the pain of childbirth. In China and Europe in centuries past, cannabis poultice and other ingredients were applied directly to wounds to help with healing (as we’ll discuss soon, this is being studied with fervor as we speak).
We’ve discussed the importance of the endocannabinoid system in the past and many of you are aware of how extensive and important it is in regulatory actions taken by the brain and body. It should come as no surprise that our skin is also connected to this vast network of feedback pathways. In fact, dermatologists are excited for (and demanding) more in-depth research on the subject, and studies are already being performed and have even been published regarding wound closure and healing. The average usage of topically applied cannabinoids have shown a decrease in opioid usage for pain management and an overall average decrease of 3.5 points (0-10) on the pain index scale. Decreased skin-fold thickness was also seen in many of these cases, leading to less-noticeable scaring and increased dermatological function at the wound site. While large scale studies are still being performed, many small scale studies have concluded and the information they provide is very promising. For these reasons, many dermatologists are suggesting the use of topical cannabinoids already.
Topical applications of cannabinoid-containing products show great promise in assisting with a myriad of other ailments as well. The well known and documented anti-inflammatory action many cannabinoids possess can bring potential relief to patients experiencing anything from mild allergic reactions (contact dermatitis) to lupus and more. Since CB1 and CB2 receptors are found extensively throughout the skin, how do we get past the lipophobic nature of this protective barrier on our bodies? The answer is two fold: we do and we don’t. Both, as it turns out, work immensely well. On the basis of wound closure and pain management of open sores, the barrier of the skin isn’t an issue: lipophilic molecules such as cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds pass right through. On the other hand, many users (17% of adult cannabis users in Canada based on surveys done 2017-2020) use topical applications containing cannabinoids on general pain and minor ailments. In fact, online cannabinoid-rich topicals have increased 100-fold per year since 2018. The reason this works is because the cannabinoid receptors are embedded in all layers of the skin, including the upper epidermis (surface) layer in the same way sensory nerves are, so cannabinoids don’t have to penetrate far to be effective. The use of other known-beneficial compounds such as essential oils can assist in this pass-through naturally, without causing any side effects.
Another interesting aspect of topical cannabinoids regarding pain management is their effect on dermal and epidermal opioid receptors. Now, we know that cannabinoids don’t act on opioid receptors in the body like morphine or other opium-related compounds do, but when put on the skin, they register a natural reaction from the body to turn these receptors on and control the management of pain (also called nociception) internally. Even those with intractable pain discussed in recently published studies (of course, links are below), topically applied cannabis extracts show an effective and measured difference compared to no use. Through the direct interaction to CB1 and CB2 receptors or indirect interaction through TRP ion channels, topical cannabis is part of the widening future of Cannabis sativa.
As discussed previously, the range of ailments topical cannabinoid studies have already given us information on is wide and promising. From acne, psoriasis, pruritus (itching), and dermatitis, to more serious conditions such as scleroderma (hardening/tightening of skin), dermatomyositis (muscle inflammation, rash), cutaneous lupus erythematosus (skin diseases related to lupus), epidermolysis bullosa (fragile, blistering skin), general pain, skin cancer, and wound healing/closure. Through the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and TRP ion channels, cannabinoids (specifically THC and CBD) have shown to affect the growth, proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis of keratinocytes (keratin-creating cells), melanocytes (melanin-forming cell), adnexal structures (ovary and uterine cells), and fibroblasts (creates extracellular matrix and collagen). This all means the overall effect of cannabinoids on skin homeostasis supports a large therapeutic dermatological potential.
Although studies are still being conducted, the evidence and information being put out by clinical small scale testing is extremely promising. Due to the things we’ve learned about botanical applications of many different plant species, we have a window into the final result of all that we’ll learn from the topical application of Cannabis. Keep checking our blog for more updates in the future. Cannabinoids are certainly part of it!
As always, check the links below for more information, and send any questions or topics you’d like to see in future blog posts to BlackhouseBotanicalsBlog@gmail.com!
Until next time...