Although Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the more than 100 identified cannabinoids—chemical compounds—found in hemp, has been proven effective against some serious disorders like life-threatening epileptic seizures, it also helps deal with life’s minor traumas. One of those nagging, annoying disorders CBD helps treat is acne.
Acne is a disorder that affects up to 10% of the global population, with almost 80% of 11- to 30-year-olds suffering from this embarrassing malady.
Usually occurring on the skin of the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders, acne is caused by an overproduction of sebum, an oily substance that transports dead cells to the surface of the skin and waterproofs and protects the skin.
When too much sebum is produced, it collects in the pores—small holes in your skin—and traps bacteria. The trapped bacteria lead to inflammation and then infection, which triggers white blood cells to invade the area.
The martyred white blood cells accumulate as pus and form one of several types of pimples, including whiteheads (which stay on the surface of the skin) and blackheads (which rise to the skin’s surface and look black, although the color is not from dirt).
Although acne is rarely a serious health threat, some types of pimples are painful, including large, deep nodules and cysts. Pus-filled cysts can also cause scarring.1
Given the prevalence of acne, it’s not surprising there are a slew of treatment options out there. However, the side effects of the remedies often outweigh the benefits.
For instance, a long-term course of antibiotics, once the favored treatment for acne, wipes out health-supporting bacteria and has been implicated in everything from encouraging drug resistance to elevating the risk of cancer.
Another popular acne treatment, Accutane, has been associated with kidney and liver disease, among other adverse side effects.
More recently, researchers have raised the possibility that Accutane increases the risk of suicide in young users. Topical treatments like Retin A often caused skin inflammation that was worse than the acne it was supposed to treat. And while certain oral contraceptives helped many women clear up their skin, side effects, such as an increased risk of blood clots, were concerning.2
Because phytocannabinoids (“phyto-“ = plant) like CBD have proven effective at diminishing cutaneous inflammation, they are being studied to treat acne. Unlike the pharmaceutical zit-fighters on the market, CBD’s side effects are at worst benign and at best beneficial.3 One of those favorable side effects is relieving stress, which has been implicated in causing acne, so CBD may deliver a one-two punch to pimples.
So how does CBD help acne?
In order to answer this question, it’s helpful to know about the recently discovered endocannabinoid system (ECS). In simplified terms, the ECS is a collection of cell receptors and corresponding molecules. Cell receptors act like tiny locks on the surface of your cells, and they’re unlocked by chemical molecules called agonists. Whenever an agonist binds to a cell it relays a message and sets off a series of chemical effects.
The main cell regulators of the ECS are Cannabinoid Receptors 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2). The keys to these receptors are called endocannabinoids, which are like the body’s natural CBD. “Endo-“ means within, and a cannabinoid is a compound that fits into cannabinoid receptors.
Cannabinoid receptors are located all over the body, demonstrating how important endocannabinoids are for day-to-day bodily function. Among other processes, endocannabinoids help regulate sleep, mood, immune function, reproduction and fertility, pain, memory, and skin cell growth and differentiation.
Endocannabinoids, which your body creates with the help of fatty acids like omega-3s, are the chemical messengers that tell your body to start or stop these processes. When the endocannabinoid system is disrupted, things go haywire. A malfunctioning ECS is thought to contribute to a wide range of disorders.
Besides cannabinoid receptors, the ECS also include enzymes that deconstruct leftover endocannabinoids. That’s where the phytocannabinoid CBD comes in. CBD works its magic on an ECS enzyme, and in doing so increases the availability of endocannabinoids in your system.4
Nearly a decade ago, at the 2009 meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS), Hungarian researcher Tamas Biro presented a talk entitled “Cannabidiol as a Novel Anti-Acne Agent? CBD Inhibits Lipid Synthesis and Induces Cell Death in Human Sebaceous Gland-Derived Sebocytes.” In his talk, Biro explained that applying endocannabinoids to a line of cells derived from human sebaceous glands resulted in the CB2 receptors dramatically “upregulating” lipid production, whereas blocking the endocannabinoids with an antagonist drug radically reduced lipid production.
Based on that research, Biro wondered how phytocannabinoids would affect lipid production. Biro and his co-workers applied CBD to cells that had been treated with anandamide (one of the main types of endocannabinoids), expecting that CBD would ramp up lipid production. However, that was not the case. “To our surprise,” Biro reported, “anandamide in the presence of CBD was unable to produce a lipid synthesis! CBD does exactly the opposite of the endocannabinoids. It does not stimulate but inhibits lipid synthesis, especially if the lipid synthesis was previously upregulated, as for example in acne. It was very surprising,” he reiterated, “that a phytocannabinoid could prevent the action of the endocannabinoids.”
Biro’s data shows that CBD does not target classical cannabinoid receptors but rather ion channels expressed on the sebocytes. In the presence of CBD, the ion channels open to allow calcium to flow into the cells, which slows down lipid production. However, the low levels of CBD used in the study slowed down the sebum production but didn’t otherwise hinder the cells from performing their normal functions. Vitamin A derivates like Retin A and Accutane inhibit lipid synthesis by killing off the lipid-producing cells.
Of course, Biro and his fellow researchers noted that CBD’s universal anti-inflammatory action may also help amplify its acne-fighting ability.5
Contemporary studies echo Biro’s in vitro (laboratory) research. Since human skin doesn’t have a good animal model, scientists have skipped animal studies and are moving cautiously toward in vivo research on humans. A 2016 study hailed CBD for its “combined lipostatic, antiproliferative, and anti-inflammatory effects.” In other words, it decreased sebum production, the spread of sebocytes, and inflammation levels. The study concluded, “…due to the combined lipostatic, antiproliferative, and antiinflammatory effects, CBD has potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne vulgaris.”
If you’re looking for a safe, effective acne treatment for yourself or a loved one that will have helpful rather than harmful side effects, try a high-quality CBD preparation, like the ones found in our store. We use hemp—which comes from the same species as marijuana but contains only trace amounts of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive component—for our rigorously manufactured products.
In case you’re wondering—yes, we use our products ourselves!
As far as how you should use CBD for acne, that’s your choice. Transdermal patches are quite effective, but you can also use our salve or CBD drops. If your acne issues are minor, five drops in the morning under your tongue and five in the evening may suffice, but you can up the dosage to 20 drops twice a day if needed. Ease off on the CBD as your symptoms improve. Under such a regimen, your skin and mood will likely begin to clear within a few days, and you’ll see a marked improvement of your acne within a month. Enjoy!
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