Skin care products that contain the marijuana ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are being offered by a Denver-based company. Before you add these items to your must-have beauty list, there are a few things you should know about them and about marijuana and the skin in general.
Why put marijuana in skin care products?
Since the recent passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado, recreational marijuana use is legal in that state, and it also clears the way for another way to use cannabis: skin care products. A company called Apothecanna, which makes lotions, body sprays, and creams that contain cannabis flower oil, now finds that their formerly illegal skin care items (because of their high THC levels) can join the legal ranks.
For now, however, these marijuana products are available only to medical marijuana patients. That will change in January 2014, when retail marijuana stores will be allowed to open in the state.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, industrial products (e.g., cosmetics) that contain THC are exempted from drug controls if the cannabinoid does not enter the body. Apothecanna owner James Kennedy stated in an ABC News story that their products contain THC “to enhance the properties of the other ingredients” and are “not meant to be inebriating in any way.”
News of these products prompts questions about the ability of marijuana to benefit the skin. What have researchers discovered about cannabinoids (e.g., THC, cannabidiol, and others) and their impact on the body’s biggest organ?
Could marijuana compounds help the skin?
While THC is known as an exogenous (coming from the outside) cannabinoid, the human body also produces its own cannabinoids (referred to as endogenous cannabinoids). Research has indicated that cannabinoids generally have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities.
In an article entitled “Cannabinoid system in the skin—a possible target for future therapies in dermatology,” which appears in Experimental Dermatology, researchers discussed what is known thus far concerning cannabinoids and the skin. According to the authors, the identification of cannabinoid receptors in both healthy and diseased skin suggests that altering the cannabinoid system could help in the treatment of skin problems.
Itching (pruritis), for example, is a common skin problem associated with many different dermatologic conditions. The researchers reported that numerous studies in both animals and humans have shown creams containing certain endogenous cannabinoids can effectively relieve itching.
In a study that included nearly 2,500 patients with atopic eczema, investigators found that a topical product containing a cannabinoid provided relief of symptoms and was well tolerated. The researchers also reported that cannabinoids have been shown to reduce skin inflammation in animal studies.
Overall, the authors of the Experimental Dermatology article noted that the “therapeutic possibilities of cannabinoid usage in skin diseases seem to be unquestionable.” They noted that “possibly, in the future, cannabinoids will be widely applied to treat pruritus, inflammatory skin diseases and even skin cancers.”
In a previous report, another study explored the potential role of cannabinoids in the management of psoriasis. Researchers at the Nottingham University study reported that cannabinoids “inhibit keratinocyte [cells that produce the horny skin layer] proliferation, and therefore support a potential role for cannabinoids in the treatment of psoriasis.”
The bottom line
The new THC-containing skin items will have a disclaimer stating that they are “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” However, given the findings of some research suggesting a positive effect of marijuana compounds for some skin disorders, the day may come when skin care products may truly be used for medicinal purposes.
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