Are cannabinoids absorbed through the skin?
Cannabinoids are garnering interest in the world of science. Dozens of these molecules appear in the cannabis plant, and many of them are showing promising results in animal and human studies.
Cannabinoids are typically ingested orally, sublingually, or inhaled through a vaporizer. However, cannabinoids such as CBD can also be found in a whole range of cosmetic products including creams, lotions, and balms. But how exactly do cannabinoids affect the skin? Do they pass through this protective barrier, or are their effects only skin-deep?
Do cannabinoids pass through the skin?
Upon applying a cannabinoid product to their skin, people often assume the cannabinoid enters their bloodstream. But just how true is this supposition? Well, it really depends. CBD and other cannabinoids can be applied to the skin in two distinct methods: topical and transdermal.
Topical application refers to creams, ointments, and other cosmetic products designed to be massaged into the epidermis—the topmost layers of the skin. These products target the skin itself and don’t ferry cannabinoids into the blood vessels of the derma below.
In contrast, transdermal products deliver CBD in a manner that penetrates through the upper barriers of the skin and into the bloodstream. Animal studies have shown that CBD administered as a transdermal gel makes its way into the bloodstream and increases plasma levels of the cannabinoid.
However, transdermal CBD isn’t just a matter of rubbing the cannabinoid into the skin. It requires several adjuvants to make a hydroalcoholic gel capable of penetrating the epidermis. THC also appears to permeate the skin through lipophilic pathways, as evidenced by a 1998 paper that showed transdermal application of delta-8-THC—a more stable form than delta-9-THC—to sustain delivery of the cannabinoid into the bloodstream over 24 hours.
Although studies on transdermal cannabinoids are few and far between, this method of application could serve as a way to bypass the digestive system and deliver cannabinoids directly into the bloodstream. This method of administration resembles the pathway of sublingual ingestion. Multiple patents exist for transdermal application of cannabinoids, and companies offer products featuring varying ratios of THC, CBD, CBN, and THCA.
How cannabinoids interact with the skin
Although transdermal delivery manages to introduce cannabinoids into the bloodstream, topical products offer a different advantage. The skin—much like many other areas of the body—harbours cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a regulatory role in the body and helps many different biological systems maintain homeostasis. The skin is no exception.
A review published in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences states that the endocannabinoid system of the skin plays a key role in several crucial processes. External cannabinoids share a similar structure to those found in the body, and also target the same receptor sites.
Cannabinoids and dermatological issues
Several studies have investigated the effects of cannabinoids on common dermatological issues. For example, a study in the Journal of Dermatological Science looked at the effects of this family of molecules against keratinocyte hyperproliferation, which is associated with
red, flaky, and scaly skin.
These uncomfortable symptoms arise as the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells—an issue of homeostatic regulation. This leads to a rapid build-up of skin cells on the surface of the skin. The study found THC, CBN, CBD, and CBG to inhibit keratinocyte production and help restore balance in the skin. That said, more studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Researchers also looked at how cannabinoids affect overproduction of sebum. When this oily substance builds up in the pores, bacteria can form and begin to cause red blemishes. Research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation tested the effects of CBD on human sebocytes, cells that pump out excess sebum. The researchers found that cannabinoids might help these cells behave normally by acting on TRPV4 and A2A receptors.
Conclusion: cannabinoids and the skin
Although research remains in the early stages, cannabinoids certainly produce intriguing effects in regards to the skin. The discovery of the ECS in our largest organ raises many questions on the role(s) of cannabinoids in dermatological research.
Can CBD absorb through the skin?
CBD oil has taken the natural health space by storm with an ever-growing list of wellness benefits. And it can be applied topically to absorb through the skin, in hopes of helping to alleviate localised pain and swelling, increase relaxation and even improve the appearance of your skin. There is next to no THC in quality CBD products, so you don’t need to worry about legality, getting high or failing a drugs test.
What CBD creams are there?
CBD is believed to help people who suffer from anxiety, pain and sleep issues. There are many athletes who apply topical CBD creams to help with joint and muscle pains. CBD topicals are applied to the surface of the skin and are then absorbed into the body through the pores. CBD topicals typically come in three consistencies:
1. Lotions/creams: these are quite similar with regards to ingredients and texture, though creams are often a little thicker than lotions. Creams and lotions often combine CBD with things like aloe vera, shea butter and other nutrients that help moisturise and promote a healthy skin barrier.
2. Balms/salves: with these products, less is more, and there is little difference between products that use either term in their name. They are usually formulated with essential oils and beeswax, with no water included.
3. Oils: these will have the smoothest feeling, and typically incorporate other ingredients like coconut or olive oil. You can also expect the presence of other essential oils, minerals and vitamins. They take a little longer to absorb as they are thick and slippery, but they are ideal for massages.
CBD topicals are easy to use, but you should always ensure you opt for a product that works for you. For instance, a thicker salve might be ideal to target a troublesome region, while a lotion may be better for an all-around relaxing sensation.
The benefits of CBD
CBD doesn’t get into the bloodstream when you use topicals, but there are different potential benefits. The skin has endocannabinoid receptors, and CBD infused products may help activate them. The following benefits have been associated with CBD topicals:
1. Anti-inflammatory properties to fight pain and swelling.
2. Help with skin conditions like acne, psoriasis and eczema.
3. Moisturising without clogging the pores.
If you want to try CBD topicals for yourself, speak to your GP first to ensure there won’t be any negative interactions with other medications you take. Always choose a reputable supplier for CBD products, as unscrupulous sellers may supply products that don’t meet the strict legal requirements. You don’t want to be unknowingly purchasing an illegal product.