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Specialized glands, cells, and hairs help the skin perform all of its routine functions. Surprisingly, recent research has shown that cannabinoid receptors are actually found on cells throughout the skin. Cannabinoid receptors are the binding locations for compounds like THC, the primary active chemical in cannabis. Both THC and non-psychoactive CBD are phytocannabinoids. Our bodies make versions of these compounds, known as endocannabinoids.
It’s a common misconception that cannabinoid receptors are concentrated only in the central nervous system and the brain. They’re actually found all throughout the body. This includes the skin, the gut, and reproductive organs. The fact that these cell sites are found in a wide range of bodily regions indicates how important endocannabinoids are to our basic health and physiological functioning. This includes the basic health and functioning of the skin.
The endocannabinoid system is the proper term for the vast network of cannabinoid receptors and their corresponding compounds, endocannabinoids. Turns out, the endocannabinoid system has a diverse set of responsibilities in the skin. The compounds regulate a few vital skin functions. Here are a few of them:
As a giant external organ, the skin experiences quite a bit of stress in daily life. To help it cope, specialized immune cells are present in different skin layers. Endocannabinoids engage with these immune cells to help control inflammatory response.
In a 2007 study, researchers found that mice with without cannabinoid receptors displayed an increased inflammatory allergic response to irritants. The research team also found that levels of endocannabinoids increased when mice with contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is an allergic rash or reaction to a foreign irritant. These findings attest to the endocannabinoid system’s crucial role in the body’s immune system, aiding in the body’s ability to protect itself.
The skin contains numerous oil-producing factories known as sebaceous glands. This oil has a few purposes: it lubricates the skin, protects your body from invading germs, and plays a role in skin nutrition. The oil, known as sebum, contains antioxidants and is slightly acidic. The acidity helps neutralize any undesired bacteria that you may pick up throughout the day.
Studies have shown that the endocannabinoid system aids in sebum creation. The endocannabinoid system is thought to play a regulatory role in managing the production of this oil, along with maintaining the function of the hair follicle. Sebaceous glands are connected to hair follicles, causing the two of them to act as a mini-organ of the skin.
Tired of excess back hair? Put some weed on it! Well, kind of. There is some evidence that THC and our own endocannabinoid, anandamide, slow down hair growth in a dose-dependent fashion. The more THC you apply, the slower the hair is going to grow. This finding just might be why cannabis-based health product company, Phytecs, is looking into developing skin-care products that target the endocannabinoid system. On their website, they state:
“Endocannabinoids regulate skin inflammation, oil production, and even play a role in unwanted hair growth. Skin care products that target the endocannabinoid system are likely to be a fundamental element of next-generation cosmetic treatments.” – Phytecs
When you apply activated cannabis directly to the skin in the form of a topical, you’re directly engaging these cannabinoid receptors. If you sprain an ankle and your ankle swells up, applying a cannabis topical can both ease the pain in that area as well as drastically reduce inflammation.
The same goes with other inflammatory abrasions, bruises, and skin conditions. Cannabis cream is non-psychoactive. Simply rubbing on a little canna-balm isn’t going to get you high. But, infused balms, creams, salves, and lotions are a great natural first-aid product to have on hand for minor abrasions.
You can also use cannabis cream in the form of transdermal patches. Patches like those created by Mary’s Medicinals are popular among arthritis sufferers and those recovering from an injury. You apply a transdermal patch just like you’d apply an IcyHot or nicotine patch, and they work wonders for reducing pain and inflammation in a localized area.
Obviously, for serious skin issues or injuries, you’ll need to consult a doctor before trying any new treatments. It’s also best to ask your local dispensary or care center for product recommendations. In the world of marijuana, not all products are created equally. If you can, err toward products that have been laboratory tested and have been shown to actually contain cannabinoids like THC, CBD, or both.