EducationCannabis and eczema - Five ways it can help

Cannabis and eczema - Five ways it can help

11 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Cannabis and eczema - Five ways it can help


Understanding cannabis's potential for eczema relief

Eczema can affect many areas of your life. From the social stigma felt by sufferers during a bad reach outbreak to the sleepless nights spent battling what can feel like an everlasting itch, eczema can make life unbearable.

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 be excruciatingly intolerable.

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

Why explore cannabis for skin conditions?

In recent years, there has been much interest in the dermatology community around medical cannabis for eczema relief. The cannabis sativa L. plant has been taken 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 (notably CBD) but without the associated high have also come onto the market, providing new hope for eczema sufferers.

The scientific backbone: how cannabis tackles eczema

Cannabis has been cultivated for thousands of years and has been used for many practical and medicinal applications. Some of the earliest records dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times listed its use for everything from gout and constipation to mood improvement and pain relief.

However, its euphoric effects have led to it being banned in many countries, and it’s only in the last 50 or so years that research into its therapeutic effects has been carried out.

So how does it work?

Cannabis contains many active compounds called cannabinoids, and to date, scientists have isolated more than 110, which include both THC and CBD. It also contains terpenes, compounds responsible for the both the aroma and flavour of cannabis. Research is indicating that terpenes may also aid or increase the effectiveness of cannabinoid compounds and potentially offer their own therapeutic benefits.

Key compounds in cannabis: CBD and THC for skin health

The two most active cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Both potentially offer many positive health outcomes, but while THC offers the intoxicating effect relating to recreational cannabis usage, CBD is totally non-intoxicating.

CBD is a particularly exciting new option for treating eczema because it possesses anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-itch properties. Moreover, it has a good safety profile, with relatively low levels of the compound needed to have an effect on the skin.

THC eczema research is a little less developed but still promising. One study found that THC, along with other cannabinoids, could inhibit skin ageing. Another study showed that THC, when applied topically, could have anti-inflammatory effects on the skin, reducing itching and potentially helping eczema patients.

Dr Henry Granger Piffard, widely considered to be one of the cornerstones 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 saying,

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

Both THC and CBD interact with endocannabinoid system (ECS), now thought to play the role of master regulator in our bodies. The ECS is a vast and complex network of signaller cells and transmitters responsible for many critical functions in the body, particularly skin homeostasis, and the manipulation of this system by CBD and THC can reduce inflammation, reduce scarring, and promote skin healing.

Five ways that medical cannabis may help eczema sufferers

Cannabis's anti-inflammatory action on eczema

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

Soothing eczema's itch with cannabis

A team at Johns Hopkin 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 using medical cannabis, she had a near-instantaneous improvement.

Easing eczema pain with medical cannabis

Eczema not only causes itching, but it can cause pain too, particularly if the skin becomes cracked and bleeds. Many studies have shown it can relieve pain due to the ability of THC to interact with receptors in the brain linked to pain relief and mood. In the future, we hope to see more THC for eczema discomfort products available.

Fighting infection in eczema with cannabis's antimicrobial power

When eczema becomes severe and the skin cracks, there is an increased risk of infection. CBD antimicrobial properties are effective against a range of invasive bacteria, including MRSA.

Topical CBD vs. steroid creams: A safer choice for eczema?

To date, the application of CBD topically has demonstrated a proven safety profile. Furthermore, unlike traditional creams that can lead to skin thinning, colour changes, and the exacerbation of symptoms with prolonged use, CBD does not exhibit such side effects.

How to implement medical cannabis in the treatment of eczema

To deal with eczema, sufferers need a robust daily skincare routine using hypoallergenic moisturisers and cleansers. They should also 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 be beneficial. However, patients should exercise caution when choosing the right product for them.

Legal and medical considerations for cannabis use in dermatology

  • Potency – The concentration of CBD and THC is usually expressed in milligrams, yet there are currently no established dosage guidelines for those with eczema. It's advisable to begin with a minimal dose, proceed cautiously, and observe the results. In the UK, THC-infused eczema creams are accessible solely through prescription, whereas other cannabis-based topical and oral solutions can be bought without one.
  • Check ingredients – Beyond cannabis-derived components, search for additional compounds that soothe the skin and promote healing within the formulation.
  • Irritants – Some terpenes may exacerbate the itching associated with eczema, and inconsistencies in manufacturing standards might lead to irritants in the final product. Opting for products from well-regarded suppliers is recommended to guarantee both safety and quality.
  • Health claims – A limited number of cannabis products have received formal endorsement from the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Despite this, some manufacturers claim their products can cure many conditions. Exercise caution regarding assertions of treating serious health issues– research into cannabis's comprehensive health benefits is still in progress, and its full potential remains to be totally understood.
  • UK medical cannabis legality - In 2018, the law surrounding medical cannabis was changed and no longer prohibited in its entirety. The new legislation allows doctors to prescribe cannabis-based medication in specific situations, such as for chronic pain or chemotherapy-induced nausea. Cannabis is yet to be recognised as a therapy option for eczema by the NHS, but thankfully private cannabis clinics can help. Private clinics often offer cannabis for eczema, although you should expect a thorough consultation before treatment is offered.

Safety tips and considerations for cannabis and eczema

Recreational cannabis or marijuana 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 use is strictly controlled and must be prescribed by a doctor.

Products which contain THC 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. Products containing CBD 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 only to buy your cannabis products from reputable sources. The consumer CBD market has less stringent regulations when compared to the medical market, and this could lead to inconsistencies in quality and dosing. Always research the brand, their production methods, and customer reviews before purchasing.

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

These include:

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

Common FAQs on cannabis for eczema treatment

Is cannabis legal in the UK for treating eczema?

Yes, medical cannabis is legal under certain circumstances and can be prescribed by a doctor. However, recreational use of marijuana is still illegal.

How does cannabis treat eczema at a cellular level?

Cannabis works by engaging with the endocannabinoid system present in the skin, which plays a crucial role in regulating inflammation, skin cell growth, and skin health. Both THC and CBD interact with cannabinoid receptors in the skin, helping to reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms of eczema.

Additionally, certain cannabinoids also have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, promoting healing and protecting the skin's barrier function.

Can cannabis cure eczema?

At present, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that cannabis can cure eczema. However, it has shown potential in reducing inflammation and relieving symptoms associated with the condition. More research is needed to fully understand the effects of cannabis on eczema.

Are there any risks of apply cannabis based medical products for eczema treatment?

While topical cannabis medications are generally well-tolerated with few side effects, it is essential to use caution and consult a doctor before using any cannabis-based product. The potential risks include allergic reactions, skin irritation or sensitization, and potential interactions with other medications. It's important to carefully read and follow the instructions for any cannabis-based product before use.

Can using cannabis for eczema treatment have psychoactive effects?

Topically applied cannabis products do not typically produce psychoactive effects, as they do not enter the bloodstream. However, ingesting or inhaling cannabis products may cause euphoria or altered mental state due to the presence of THC.

Final thoughts on medical cannabis for UK eczema sufferers?

Research suggests that both THC and CBD relieve eczema symptoms.

Medical cannabis shows promise as a potential treatment option for eczema, with its ability to relieve pain and fight infection. While we do not recommend cutting out pharmaceutical eczema treatments, CBD and THC-infused topical products could provide significant benefits when used in conjunction with traditional options.

Before making any decisions relating to your treatment, reach out to a specialist that has experience with prescribing cannabis based medical products for skin conditions, and make sure to discuss the potential benefits and risks.

Don't let the stigma surrounding medical cannabis prevent you from getting a suitable treatment. Releaf provides tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

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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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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Further reading

Why you should use CBD for skin inflammation

Most people will experience skin inflammation at some point in their lives, whether it’s from an insect bite, a rash, a skin disorder such as eczema or dermatitis or an infection. Skin inflammation can cause redness, swelling, dryness, itching and pain, which is irritating at best, but can affect a person’s quality of life at its worst. In recent times, scientists have studied cannabis for its pharmacological uses, discovering it could play a beneficial role in the treatment of skin conditions.

Editorial Team

Five key CBD skincare benefits

CBD skincare is big news, with hundreds of products hitting the market in recent years. The skin is the body’s largest organ and is responsible for many crucial functions, including keeping germs out and protecting the body’s internal organs from infection. It prevents loss of moisture, protects organs from UV exposure and acts as a sensory organ detecting touch. It also regulates temperature and produces vitamin D, which is critical for building bone.

Sam North

Do cannabis topicals really work?

Contrary to popular belief, cannabis isn’t just something that you inhale or ingest. Whilst these may be the most traditional and popular ways of receiving the benefits and effects of medical cannabis, there are so many more options. One of the groups of products exploding in popularity in the medical cannabis scene is topicals.

Editorial Team