EducationFive ways cannabis can potentially benefit eczema

Five ways cannabis can potentially benefit eczema

9 min read

Sam North

Five ways cannabis can potentially benefit eczema

Eczema can affect many areas of your life – you might cancel plans to go out because you feel self-conscious about the rash, or you could be up half the night because the constant itch is driving you mad. It is a common skin condition, impacting one in five children and one in 10 adults, but sometimes eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis (AD), really can become unbearable.

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From the constant cycle of itching and scratching to the red raw, cracked, and bleeding skin that comes during a flare up, it can have a real impact on people’s quality of life. Not only can it affect a person’s physical wellbeing, it can have a severe impact on their mental health too. One study into hand eczema showed most patients suffered significant impairment in their daily lives.

In recent years, there has been lots of interest in the dermatology community around cannabis and its potential as an additional treatment option for eczema. The Cannabis sativa plant has been administered worldwide for therapeutic purposes for thousands of years, but its psychoactive effects have caused it to come under fire with many countries, including the UK, classifying it as illegal.

However, the law changed in 2018 to allow medical cannabis to be prescribed under certain, strictly defined circumstances. Products containing active cannabis compounds but without the associated high have also come onto the market, providing new hope for eczema sufferers.

Eczema and cannabis: the science

The Cannabis sativa plant has been cultivated for thousands of years and been used for many practical and medicinal applications. Some of the earliest records dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times listed its application for everything from gout and constipation to mood improvement and pain relief. It is also a valuable source of fibres and has been used in textile, clothing, and shoe production as well as a biofuel, paper, and ropes. 

However, its euphoric effects have led to it being banned in many countries, and it’s only in the last 50 years research into its therapeutic effects has been carried out. It remains a controversial substance and research is in its infancy, but results so far suggest it has a promising role to play in the development of new drugs to help everything from rosacea and psoriasis to pain relief and, of course, eczema.

So how does it work? Cannabis contains many active compounds. The most noteworthy are the group of cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids to be exact) and to date scientists have isolated more than 100 from cannabis and hemp plants. These plants also contains terpenes and flavonoids, compounds which are responsible for the smell of cannabis and are thought to aid or increase the effectiveness of the cannabinoid compounds.

The two most active cannabinoids in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Both potentially offer many potential positive health outcomes, and while THC is associated with the cannabis ‘high’, CBD is totally non-intoxicating. 

It’s CBD which is of particular interest in treating eczema because it possesses potential anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-itch properties. Moreover, it has a high safety profile with relatively low levels of the compound needed to have an effect on the skin. 

Dr Henry Granger Piffard, one of the founders of American Dermatology, wrote about the benefits of cannabis on eczema long before the rest of the scientific community started researching it. He is quoted as stating

“A pill of cannabis indica at bedtime has, at my hands, sometimes afforded relief to the intolerable itching of eczema.”

The reason behind the interest in CBD is that it interacts well with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a vast and complex network of signaller cells and transmitters responsible for many critical functions in the body, in particular skin homeostasis, and that manipulation of this system by CBD may help to reduce inflammation, reduce scarring and promote skin healing.

Five ways that cannabis can help eczema sufferers

Reduces inflammation

Eczema is an inflammatory condition causing redness, swelling, cracked and bleeding skin. Cannabis possesses strong potential anti-inflammatory properties, which could help reduce the appearance of eczema. Researchers showed THC may suppress allergic contact dermatitis in mice when it is bound with CB1 receptors in the ECS.

Can decrease itching

A team at Johns Hopkins Medicine studied the effects of medical cannabis on treating chronic itching in one patient. The woman, an African American in her 60s, had a 10-year history of chronic itching. However, doctors found that after administering medical cannabis, she had a near instantaneous improvement. Of course, a single person piece of research such as this does not provide any real evidence, but it is an interesting case study.

Acts as a pain reliever

Eczema not only causes itching, but it can cause pain too, particularly if the skin becomes cracked and bleeds. Many studies have shown medicinal cannabis may relieve pain because of THC’s interaction with receptors in the brain linked to pain relief and mood. 

Antimicrobial

When eczema becomes severe and the skin cracks, there is an increased risk of infection. However, CBD has shown promising activity against several bacteria, including MRSA.

Topical CBD has fewer side effects than steroid creams

To date, topical application of CBD has been shown to be safe. It also doesn’t have the same side effects of traditional creams which can cause skin thinning, colour changes and a worsening of symptoms over a prolonged period of use. 

How to administer cannabis for eczema

To deal with eczema, sufferers usually need a robust daily skincare routine using hypoallergenic moisturisers and cleansers. They should also try to avoid common eczema triggers such as perfumed products, washing powders, hot or cold temperatures, low humidity and certain fibres. 

Topical creams can be applied to the surface of the affected skin, and cannabis-based products could prove to be beneficial. However, patients should exercise caution when choosing the right product for them:

  • Potency – CBD is typically measured in mg, but there are no specific dosages at this stage recommended for eczema sufferers. Start with a low dose, take a cautious approach and monitor its effects.
  • Check ingredients – As well as cannabis derived ingredients, have a look for other skin soothing compounds that may be included, which can aid overall healing.
  • Irritants – Some terpenes can make the itch worse. Similarly, different manufacturing processes and a lack of quality control can mean some products contain compounds which could irritate. Always buy from a reputable supplier. Before applying any cream, cannabis based or not, do a patch test before applying to the eczema affected areas to ensure you are not allergic to any of the contained ingredients. 
  • Health claims – Very few cannabis products have been legally approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the UK, but some makers will claim they cure all sorts of ills. Beware of claims it can treat serious conditions – research is still ongoing, and the full therapeutic benefits not totally understood as of writing. Remember, medicinal cannabis should be viewed as a complimentary therapeutic addition, not as some sort of ‘magic cure all’.
  • For the best possible health outcomes, before buying any over the counter CBD topical option, first consult with a doctor that is registered to prescribe medicinal cannabis, and one that has experience doing so. Not only is the medicinal cannabis market subject to much higher regulatory standards than those place on over the counter options, but the prescribing doctor will be able to offer you insight and access into medicinal options that you simply cannot get without a prescription.

Safety tips and considerations

Recreational cannabis is still illegal in the UK – possession carries the risk of a fine and imprisonment of up to five years, while cultivation and supply carries a sentence of up to 14 years. However, medical cannabis is legal under limited circumstances. Its prescription is strictly controlled and must be prescribed by a doctor. 

Products which contain THC, such as medical cannabis, can cause euphoria or a sense of relaxation, increased appetite, and an altered perception of time. However, some people also experience fear, anxiety, distrust, or panic – but, these less desirable outcomes are most often associated with higher than medically needed doses. With cannabis, along with all other mind-altering compounds, there is a risk of substance abuse. 

Products containing CBD oil are legal in the UK provided they contain less than 0.2% THC. Hemp seed oil products are also legal.

Aside from the legality, it’s important to only source your cannabis products from reputable sources, so you can be sure you’re getting the same potency each time and that no other products which could exacerbate your condition or cause other side effects have been added.

As mentioned previously, to ensure you receive the highest standards of both product safety and advice, reach out to a medical cannabis prescribing doctor. 

While topical cannabis medications are generally well-tolerated with few side effects, it’s significant to note that when ingested or inhaled, it can produce some unwanted side effects.

These include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhoea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue

Is cannabis the answer for eczema sufferers?

It’s still early days, and the need for further research is ever-present, but the evidence does suggest that cannabis products could be beneficial to people with eczema. While it can reduce itching, improve skin and help people sleep better, its full effects around efficacy and long-term application are still in the process of being uncovered.

If you, or a loved one, is currently battling eczema, and you are finding it difficult to control flare-ups with conventional pharmaceuticals, you may want to try adding a medicinal cannabis topical to your treatment plan. But before doing so, we strongly recommend seeking the advice of a health care professional.

If the idea of medicinal cannabis interests you, we are here to help. At Releaf, we have a dedicated, experienced, and registered team of in house doctors waiting to offer any guidance you may need. We believe that access to medical cannabis is important. That's why we offer tailored monthly packages based on your cannabis prescription, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection. 

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Authors

Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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Editorial Team