The skin is the largest organ of the integumentary system, which is the system that protects the body from damage. Weighing in at 8 pounds and covering up to 23 square feet, the skin protects us from the outside world. Recent studies suggest that the skin helps control the immune system. Those coping with chronic skin conditions understand the value of healthy skin. While most skin conditions cannot be cured, they can be effectively managed and even prevented.
A study of the wide range of functions of the skin reveals the ways in which compromised skin health can impact quality of life, resulting in both impacts to appearance and bothersome symptoms. In order to explore treatment possibilities, an overview of the skin's biology is necessary. Skin conditions are considered an autoimmune disease.
Topical skin irritations include things like bug bites, wounds, infections, itching, burning, and inflammation. These can range from slightly bothersome to severe. But there are three large categories of skin conditions that tend to be chronic and more severe.
Human skin is made up of a number of layers, each having unique chemical composition which determines how skin responds to inflammation. Here is an overview of how each layer is comprised and functions: (4)
Epidermis - The epidermis is made up of keratinocytes (the waterproofing element of the skin), Merkel cells (receptors for touch and pressure), melanocytes (determines skin pigment), and Langerhans cells (function as antigen-presenting cells of the skin immune system). Sensory nerve endings reach the lower layers of the epidermis.
Dermis - Dense connective tissue composed of collagen, elastic and reticular fibers produced by dermal fibroblasts. The dermis is supplied by blood and lymphatic vessels and is a network of fibers forming a dense neuronal network. The dermis is the home of skin appendages like hair follicles as well as the sebaceous and sweat glands.
Hypodermis - Made up of vessels and nerve fibers that are part of the skin's immune system in the form of adipocytes, fibroblasts and macrophages.
The skin layers and cell types form a complex, multicellular communications network, the proper function of which establish a number of physiological reactions in the body such as:
This closely intertwined endocannabinoid system is responsible for a wide range of health effects relating to the skin. Looking at the science behind skin functions as an organ of the body shows reveals the impacts of various treatment options.
In order to maintain skin health, there are a number of G-protein-coupled cannabinoid receptors, biosynthetic pathways and metabolizing enzymes that must remain in delicate balance. Recent studies suggest the existence of a functional endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the skin that impacts various biological processes; a mediator of hormone production, generating necessary proteins. The disruption of this delicate balance might facilitate the development of multiple pathological conditions and diseases of the skin.
The compounds isolated in CBD are found to be an effective anti-inflammatory for the skin through the cannabinoid receptor mechanism present in the skin. Many other topical treatments act to relieve symptoms, but do not impact the ECS itself to restore balance to the skin's biological properties.
The compounds present in CBD are found to have anti-inflammatory effects through inhibiting the proliferation of a number of tumorigenic cell lines. Cannabinoid (CB) receptors are present in human skin and anandamide, an endogenous CB receptor ligand, inhibits epidermal keratinocyte differentiation. Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease also charactering by epidermal keratinocyte hyper-proliferation. (5)
CBD isolates the chemical compounds that are able to retard the spread of epidermal keratinocyte cells that result in inflammation, swelling, redness, itching and other adverse reactions. The specific compounds found to stop keratinocyte proliferation are Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and cannabinol. (6) In the study referenced here, CBD was tested specifically in the treatment of psoriasis and found be effective in both stopping the spread of the disease and in alleviating symptoms. Could CBD be effective for skin disorders beyond psoriasis?
Acne vulgaris is the most common human skin disease, affecting the quality of life of millions worldwide. In spite of aggressive efforts to treat acne, and exhaustive research, doctors have been unable to target the trio of issues in play with acne - sebum overproduction, unwanted sebocyte proliferation, and inflammation.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) regulates multiple physiological processes, including cutaneous cell growth and differentiation. In a normal cycle, the human body expresses receptors which specifically bind and recognize photocannabiniods and the enzymes involved in the synthesis of the intercellular work that keeps the skin healthy. In an acne outbreak, this ECS system fails to work properly and requires outside assistance of some kind to facilitate balance in the ECS system and enzyme production. The chemical compounds isolated in CBD provide the support of the ECS system to restore balance to the skin in many cases.
A National Institutes of Health study specifically explored the effects of the major nonpsychotropic phytocannabinoid of cannabidiol (CBD), on human sebaceous gland function, which is responsible for the outbreak and spread of acne. The study determined that CBD behaves as a highly effective sebostatic agent. Administration of CBD to cultured human sebocytes and human skin organ culture inhibited the lipogenic actions of various compounds, including arachidonic acid and a combination of linoleic acid and testosterone, and suppressed sebocyte proliferation via the activation of transient receptor potential vanilloid-4 (TRPV4) ion channels. (7)
Collectively, findings suggest that, due to the combined lipostatic, antiproliferative, and anti-inflammatory effects, CBD has potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne vulgaris. (8)
In one small study of 22 individuals suffering with skin ailments not responsive to other topicals, patients were given a topical CBD compound. The compound showed measurable results on sensory nerve fibers and cannabinoid receptors. The shocking statistic with this study, though, that merits attention is that participants reported a whopping 86.4% reduction in itching and inflammation. The therapy was well-tolerated by all subjects, reporting neither burning nor dermatitis. Higher concentrations of CBD were found to be even more effective than lower concentrations. (9)
Topical applications for skin ailments are safer and more effective because nothing is being absorbed into the bloodstream, and the relief is applied directly where needed.
Because cannabinoid receptors have been located in even the smallest nerve fibers controlling hair follicles, it makes sense that CBD provides a safe, long term option for those suffering from skin disorders. Balancing the skin's own endocannabinoid system through inflammation reduction, protein and enzyme balance, and retarding proliferation of harmful agents makes CBD an effective and viable long-term option for those who have tried other remedies but not had success.
CBD represents a new line of defense for those suffering from skin disorders. Its proven success in reducing inflammation and itching, and even cosmetic impacts like redness and swelling, makes it a viable alternative treatment for those not well served by other available options.
1 - Davis, D, "The 3 Most Common Skin Conditions: Can CBD Help?" www.helllomd.com (June 2016).
2 - Davis, D, "The 3 Most Common Skin Conditions: Can CBD Help?" www.helllomd.com (June 2016).
3 - Davis, D, "The 3 Most Common Skin Conditions: Can CBD Help?" www.helllomd.com (June 2016).
4 - Biro, T, Toth, B, Hasko,G, Paurs R, Pacher, P, "The Endocannabinoid System of the Skin in Health and Disease: Novel Perspectives and Therapeutic Opportunities," National Institutes of Health (July 2009).
5 - Wilkinson JD, Williamson EM, "Cannabiniods Inhibit Human Keratinocyte Proliferation through a non-CB1/CB2 Mechanism Have Potential Therapeutic Value in Treatment of Psoriasis," US National Library of Medicine at National Institutes of Health (Feb 2007).
6 - Wilkinson JD, Williamson EM, "Cannabiniods Inhibit Human Keratinocyte Proliferation through a non-CB1/CB2 Mechanism Have Potential Therapeutic Value in Treatment of Psoriasis," US National Library of Medicine at National Institutes of Health (Feb 2007).
7 - Olah, A et al, "Cannabiion Exerts Sabostatic and Antiinflammatory Effects on Human Sebocytes," National Institutes of Health (Sept 2014).
8 - Olah, A et al, "Cannabiion Exerts Sabostatic and Antiinflammatory Effects on Human Sebocytes," National Institutes of Health (Sept 2014).
9 - Stander S, Reinhardt H, Luger T, "Topical Cannabinoid Agonists" US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (Sept 2006).