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The skin is made up of several layers and cell types. The epidermis is the top layer of skin and is made up of cells called keratinocytes (responsible for waterproofing and acting as a barrier to infection), merkel cells (receptors for sensation of touch and pressure), melanocytes (responsible for defining skin colour), Langerhans cells (which help the immune system), and sensory nerve endings (responsible for recognizing touch pressure, temperature, as well as itching and pain). Underneath the epidermis lies the dermis, which is a dense layer of connective tissue that contains blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, nerve fibers, hair follicles, sebaceous glands, and sweat glands. The hypodermis lies below both the dermis and epidermis, and it is made up of cells that are important to the skin’s immune system, which are supplied by vessels and nerve fibres (Biro et al. 2009).
The ECS has receptors in the sebaceous glands and hair follicles, as well as surface keratinocytes. When agonist endocannabinoids bind to the sebaceous cells, the ECS system’s receptors dramatically upgrade the production of lipids. Inversely, blocking of endocannabinoids with antagonist drugs, such as CBD, dramatically suppresses lipid production (Gardner 2010). Instead of binding to the receptors, like some agonist cannabinoids do, CBD acts as an antagonist to the receptor that blocks the release of neurotransmitters. CBD has been demonstrated to have strong anti-inflammatory properties, as well as an effect on the way the sebaceous glands secrete lipids. As such, CBD shows great potential as a therapeutic treatment for acne and other skin disorders (Olah 2014). The exact mechanism for how CBD works in the human body is yet unknown, but it has demonstrated remarkable antibacterial properties and seems to be able to activate, antagonize, or modulate the activity of a plethora of different receptors and cellular targets in the skin.
In studies, CBD works as an antagonist and seems to inhibit the synthesis of lipids in the skin. Many common treatments for skin conditions currently include carotenoids, such as Vitamin A, which are said to have antioxidant properties and to help protect against cell damage. CBD has shown to be much more efficient than vitamin A derivatives like Accutane. Cannabis seed extract was found to be safe in volunteers, and well tolerated for the reduction of skin sebum, making it useful for the treatment of acne (Ali 2015). A preclinical trial found that CB1 antagonists seem to have an effect on hair growth, giving CBD potential as a supplement for hair growth (Gardner 2010).
More testing and trials are needed before scientists know the full mechanisms of how the ECS functions and how cannabis and drugs like CBD can modify it. CBD has the potential to help in a whole host of skin disorders, and to help keep our skin healthy and clear.
A Olah, B Toth, I Borbiro et al. “Cannabidiol exerts sebostatic and antiinflammatory effects on human sebocytes.” J Clin Invest., 2014: 3713-3724. Ali A, Akhtar N. “The safety and efficacy of 3% cannabis seeds extract cream for reduction of human cheek skin sebum and erythema content.” Pak J Pharm Sci., 2015: 1389-95.
Gardner, Fred. Cannabidiol as a treatment for acne? http://www.beyondthc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/CBD-for-Acne.pdf, O’Shaughnessy’s, Summer 2010. Tamas Biro, Balazs Toth, Gyorgy Hasko, Ralf Paus, Pal Pacher. “The endocannabinoid system of the skin in health and disease: novel perspectives and therapeutic opportunities.” Trend Pharmacol. Sci., 2009: 411-420.