EducationThe potential benefits of using CBD for skin healing

The potential benefits of using CBD for skin healing

8 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

The potential benefits of using CBD for skin healing

For centuries, millennia even, humans have used the Cannabis sativa plant for its plethora of potentially beneficial properties. From clothing and sustainable textiles to pain relief and relaxation, this fascinating plant certainly has many uses. But it’s the emerging medical applications which are attracting the most recent attention, as research increasingly points to their benefits.

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Humankind began cultivating cannabis thousands of years ago, with ancient people believing it helped everything from rheumatism and gout to constipation. In the 1st Century BC, the Greeks were reported to have used it to heal injuries in their horses, while other historical medical texts document the benefits of using cannabis to treat burns and cuts.

It is only in the last 80 odd years, though, that the scientific community has started to thoroughly investigate its benefits and understand how the compounds of the cannabis plant interact with the human body. Research has found cannabinoid compounds react with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) – a complex system of receptors and signalling chemicals (endocannabinoids) responsible for many critical bodily functions including sleep, mood, memory, and reproduction. These receptors can be found all over the skin and become active during the healing process.

While the use of cannabis has broad interactions across the whole body, including the management of pain relief, anxiety and gut disorders, it also has important implications for skin healing. There is a growing body of research which suggests its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties not only help alleviate many common skin conditions but promote skin healing and reduce scarring. Researchers are still learning about the benefits of the cannabis plant, but studies suggest the topical application of cannabidiol (CBD), one of the active cannabinoids found in cannabis, may provide relief from conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and other inflammatory skin diseases.

With 70% of the British population either currently or previously battling a skin condition (or scarring), here we will have a look at the role of cannabinoids in improving skin healing.

How to use CBD for skin healing

CBD is one of the two main active ingredients in the cannabis plant. While it is an essential compound in medical cannabis, it is actually most commonly derived from the hemp plant, a cousin of cannabis, and also sometimes produced in a laboratory. Unlike the other main active compound (THC) which is commonly associated with the typical cannabis high, CBD has no intoxicating effects, but still confers many potential therapeutic benefits. This is because although CBD and THC have a very similar chemical makeup, they are arranged differently and therefore react differently in the body.

Research has shown that the ECS plays a vital role in proper skin function. An imbalance in the ECS is considered a factor in a range of skin issues including dermatitis, itchy skin, eczema, hair loss or growth and hyperpigmentation.

What are the five main benefits of CBD in skin healing?

Anti-inflammatory

CBD has been shown to activate the receptors in the ECS, which reduce the body’s inflammatory response. Tell-tale inflammation signs of redness, pain, swelling, and warmth indicate the immune system is fighting off an infection or healing injuries. But chronic inflammation that lasts a long time can damage healthy tissue and lead to further damage. 

CBD is thought to reduce pain and speed up the healing process, while terpenes (the compounds responsible for the way cannabis smells) have also shown the potential to boost this effect.

Antibacterial

While CBD’s antibacterial properties haven’t been hugely researched, one study showed it led to reduced bacterial growth of Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Newington, both of which can cause gastrointestinal illness in humans. It is believed topical application of CBD could reduce the risk of bacterial infection as cuts, rashes, and burns heal. Again, terpenes have been shown not only to boost CBD’s own properties, but also to offer antibacterial benefits of their own.

Antimicrobial

Antimicrobial resistance is a threat to humans, and there are very few new effective treatments coming to market. But there is some evidence that CBD can reduce and even kill the activity of certain bacteria and microbes. This is because CBD is particularly effective at breaking down biofilms, an outer layer that protects bacteria from the effects of existing antibiotics.

Antioxidant

CBD has been shown to have potential antioxidant properties, with activity comparable to vitamins E and C. In practice, this means it can potentially scavenge free radicals, protect the oxidisation processes in the body, and reduce metal ions which, in the skin, can accelerate new cell formation and limit damage.

Reduced scar tissue

The various benefits of CBD listed above promote skin healing and reduce the production of scar tissue. When the body gets damaged, it initiates an inflammatory response to make the necessary repairs. CBD is thought to aid repair by influencing collagen production and cell growth mechanisms.

Different types of CBD products for skin healing

CBD comes in a range of product options – oils, ointments, creams, lotions, dried flowers, sprays, and capsules. For skin healing applications, it is most likely to be prescribed in the form of an ointment or cream that can be applied to the surface of the skin.

Research studies and evidence

While research into the effects of CBD on skin healing is still ongoing, there have been several promising studies. One 2019 study by the University of Debrecen in Hungary revealed CBD could have an impact on the production of fibroblasts, the most common type of skin cell present in connective tissue. The study suggested this could help with healing after injury and reduce the risk of scar formation.

A further 2019 study on the effect of CBD ointment on chronic skin conditions and their resulting scars suggested greatly improved skin conditions for the participants. Patients suffering from psoriasis and atopic dermatitis were instructed to apply CBD ointment twice daily for three months – all reported improved skin elasticity and hydration with no allergic reactions during treatment. However, although the authors concluded the topical application of CBD ointment could improve the quality of life of people with chronic skin conditions, the study only involved 20 patients with no control group.

Another study from the Luxembourg Institute of Science looked at the antibacterial and antifungal properties of Cannabis sativa, which suggested it could be used to help treat skin infections. And this study from the University of Queensland and Botanix Pharmaceuticals showed it had the potential to kill MRSA, a cause of many skin infections and increasingly resistant to other antibiotics.

Research from Naresuan University, Thailand, proposed CBD could have therapeutic applications for skin disorders of the mouth such as ulcers and gingivitis and offered potential benefits for the treatment of oral inflammation.

However, while the research supporting the benefits of CBD for skin conditions is growing, a review in the Dermatology Online Journal in 2018 called for further randomised, controlled trials to assess its effectiveness and potential side effects.

Risks and side effects of CBD for skin healing

While the results of using CBD to promote skin healing and reduce inflammation are promising, and it’s generally well-tolerated in patients, there are side effects associated with the use of CBD which, when taken orally, can include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Low mood
  • Reduced appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness

CBD can also interact with blood-thinning drugs and affect how quickly certain drugs are broken down in the liver, which could change the effects of those medications.

More research is needed to discover what if any side effects there are when CBD is applied topically, but to date, patients have not suffered adverse reactions or rashes.

The other aspect to think about when choosing a CBD product is the concentration of CBD. CBD oil is legal in the UK and patients may be able to find products online, but unless it comes from a reputable supplier, it’s often difficult to know the exact concentration. The medicinal cannabis sector is subject to much heavier regulatory oversight than the CBD consumer market, so for the best possible outcomes, always consult your doctor before beginning any CBD treatment.

The potential for faster skin healing with CBD

As we can see from the research, the evidence strongly suggests cannabinoids, and in particular CBD, have an important role to play in improved skin healing and the treatment of common skin conditions. 

However, it’s important for medical cannabis users to find a strain and product which suits their individual needs. That’s why we offer a highly personalised service with ongoing support to ensure they receive optimal results with no unnecessary risk.

Releaf understands that medical cannabis can be life-changing for many people. 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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