Cosmeceutical Critique

A primer on cannabis for cosmeceuticals: Research and treatments for particular skin conditions


The relatively recent discovery of the endogenous cannabinoid system and the quickly evolving, yet still convoluted, legal status of cannabis in the United States has spurred excitement over expanded research opportunities. Despite its checkered legal history, marijuana – derived from Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica – has long been used for medical purposes and is one of the most widely used drugs throughout the world.1 Modern medicine has deployed this dynamic plant to treat chronic pain, glaucoma, and nausea, and continues to investigate its application in a broad array of conditions: anorexia, spasticity, atherosclerosis, autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, tumorigenesis, and multiple cutaneous disorders, including acne, eczematous disorders, lichen simplex, melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer, melasma, prurigo, pruritus, psoriasis, scleroderma and systemic sclerosis, and seborrheic dermatitis.1-4 This column will focus on recent studies and potential applications of cannabinoids for some of the most common and vexing dermatologic conditions.

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Oláh et al. have demonstrated that the nonpsychotropic phytocannabinoid ((-)-cannabidiol [CBD]) imparts anti-acne benefits by diminishing sebaceous lipid synthesis, decreasing proliferation, and easing inflammation in human SZ95 sebocytes.5 In additional investigations of nonpsychotropic phytocannabinoids and their effects on human sebocyte function, they reported in 2016 that the phytocannabinoids (-)-cannabigerol [CBG] and (-)-cannabigerovarin (CBGV) appear to exhibit promise in treating xerotic and seborrheic skin, and ((-)-cannabichromene [CBC], (-)-cannabidivarin [CBDV], and (-)-delta9-tetrahydrocannabivarin [THCV], in particular, display notable potential as anti-acne ingredients. The investigators added that these compounds, due to their substantial anti-inflammatory effects, warrant consideration for use in treating skin inflammation.5 Previously, Ali and Akhtar conducted a single-blinded, 12-week comparative study in healthy male volunteers to evaluate the effects of twice-daily application of 3% cannabis seed extract cream on human cheek skin. The researchers found the base with 3% cannabis seed extract to be safe and effective, with skin sebum and erythema content on the treated side reduced significantly compared with the side treated only with the control base. They concluded that this well-tolerated formulation could be indicated for the treatment of acne and seborrhea to enhance facial appearance.6


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