EducationThe ultimate guide to cannabis acne treatment

The ultimate guide to cannabis acne treatment

5 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

The ultimate guide to cannabis acne treatment

Acne is a common skin condition that affects most people at some point in their lives. It occurs when hair follicles become blocked with oil and dead skin cells, creating a plug and causing inflamed red pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads.

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It’s most often seen in teenagers thanks to the hormonal changes which occur during puberty, but people can experience breakouts at any age. Acne will typically clear up by itself over time but, for some, it can become extensive or persistent, causing skin discolouration and, in some cases, permanent scarring.

It’s not just the physical impact; the mental effects too can lead to social anxiety. In various studies' people with acne say it makes them feel unattractive, self-conscious and embarrassed. This low self-esteem can result in sufferers avoiding getting a job, participating in sports, or going out with friends. Teenagers in particular may suffer significant distress and feel unattractive.

There are many over-the-counter creams and preparations to treat mild acne. If it becomes severe, it may require stronger prescription creams or antibiotics. However, these treatments can make symptoms worse before they get better and patients might not see results for weeks, even months.

There are several promising studies which show  medical cannabis could offer hope to acne sufferers due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, paving the way for alternative, natural treatments which provide people with relief.

Cannabis and its properties

Cannabis is well-known for having a psychoactive effect when consumed, which in the past has made it a controversial choice for treating medical conditions. However, the Cannabis sativa plant has been adminstered for thousands of years, with records revealing Emperor Sheng of China employed it medicinally around 2800 BC.

As well as the main psychoactive component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabis contains hundreds of other potentially helpful cannabinoids. After THC, cannabidiol (CBD) is the next active compound found in the highest concentrations and has been linked to many health benefits but has no known psychotropic effects. Both THC and CBD are part of a group known as cannabinoids, of which more than 100 have been found to date. However, cannabis also contains compounds called terpenes, which give plants their aroma and are thought to enhance the effects of cannabinoids.

Scientists can successfully separate CBD and other compounds from THC to create non-intoxicating, but still potentially therapeutically beneficial products. CBD-containing products are legal in the UK for ‘over-the-counter’ sale, provided they contain less than 0.2% THC. While cannabis, when used for recreational purposes, is illegal in the UK, since 2018 medical cannabis containing THC can be prescribed under limited circumstances to treat certain conditions. However, its recreational use remains strictly controlled.

In today's article, we are going to dive deep into the world of medicinal cannabis and see if it may offer potential benefits for the reduction of acne.

Cannabis as an acne treatment

Research has shown CBD can potentially reduce the amount and severity of acne because of its possible anti-inflammatory properties. CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of transmitter and receptor cells responsible for many important bodily functions, including skin regulation.

A 2017 review concluded CBD has anti-inflammatory properties which could calm the skin and reduce inflammation caused by acne while a 2014 study looked at its effects on sebocytes – the cells responsible for producing sebum, the waxy, oily substance that can cause acne. Researchers found it could stop the cells from overproducing sebum and therefore reduce the risk of them getting acne.

A 2023 clinical study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine concluded participants experienced a significant reduction in inflammation and the elimination of acne when using a topical formulation which contained CBD. However, the authors cautioned that the trial had no placebo and further placebo trials would need to be undertaken. They also added that the addition of salicylic acid could have enhanced the effect of CBD, and further tests were required.

Different forms of cannabis for acne treatment

There are endless treatments for acne, from topical creams and ointments to oral preparations. Before you decide which one is right for you, it’s worth considering a few things:

  • Third-party testing – Are there any independent test results which corroborate the claims made by the manufacturer?
  • Concentration – CBD products come in different concentrations. Generally, 5-10% is considered low, 10-15% medium and above 20% high. Start with a low concentration first and monitor the effects before increasing.
  • Other ingredients – Have a look at what else is in the formulation to avoid picking ones that may make acne worse. Denatured and stearyl alcohol, fragrances, parabens, sulphates, oxybenzone, mineral oil and lanolin are all ones to avoid.

Topical or Oral?

For acne, many cannabis treatments can be applied directly to the skin – oils, creams, moisturisers etc. For oral preparations such as oils, edibles or tinctures, users ingest a small amount either by placing it directly under the tongue or with food. The common goal is to achieve balance and for some, this will be better achieved topically, for others it will be orally.

With topicals, patients can apply the cream to a small area to see if it works before applying it more extensively. With oral preparations, they will enter the bloodstream and may take longer to deliver results, as your body needs to digest them first.

Finding an alternative treatment for acne

There’s no doubt that acne can make people's lives miserable, so finding effective alternative treatments is vital to improve quality of life and alleviate, not just the physical symptoms, but the mental effects too. The research into medicinal cannabis as a potential treatment is promising but further studies need to be carried out to properly confirm its efficacy and safety.

At Releaf, 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

With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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