Marijuana Skincare: Is Dope Skin In?
Updated: Mar 25, 2019
Now I've seen it all. Last week I was walking past a very reputable salon and saw an advertisement for a facial using a marijuana leaf. My Instagram feed is full of CBD skincare brands with chic names like " inner peace and " skin dope". I even saw an ad for CBD oil in The Observer newspaper. So I figured, why not see what this "budding" industry is all about?
The cannabis plant is a flowering herb native to central Asia and humans have been cultivating it for centuries. Its fibres are used to make clothing, its leaves were used in food, and its psychoactive properties were used by shamans and healers.
Cannabis contains over 100 different chemical compounds called cannabinoids, which have different effects on the human body when ingested or smoked. The most potent of these is called Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. This acts on specific receptors in the brain to induce feels of euphoria, relaxation, anxiety and paranoia- the classic effects of a marijuana high. Another cannabinoid called Cannabidiol or CBD acts on entirely different receptors. Though its method of action is not entirely understood, it is believed to mimic the effects of serotonin- one of our "feel good" hormones.
So why is cannabis being used in skincare?
The Buzz-Kill : Since the early 2000's we've known that Cannabidiol or CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. It does this by dampening down the activity of our immune systems and preventing the release of chemical signallers which are responsible for inflammation. Skincare companies want to harness CBD's properties to treat a common inflammatory condition: Acne. Recent studies have shown that CBD reduces oil production, soothes the skin, and combats redness. Any acne sufferer would like the sound of that.
The Hit: In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD oil is also an antioxidant. During our everyday life, our basic metabolic reactions release waste products. Often these are molecules that have lost an electron and are now unstable. We call these free radicals. These seek out their missing electron from other "healthy molecules". This sets off a chain reaction which ultimately damages our tissues and DNA. This is the route of ageing and many illnesses. Lifestyle choices e.g. smoking, exposure to pollution and a poor diet increase free radical formation and in turn speed up ageing.
Antioxidants give us a fighting chance in this war with free radicals. They provide free electrons which stablise free radicals and halt the destructive chain reaction. Popular antioxidants are Vitamin C, E and CoEnzyme Q1, which we get mostly from our diet.
Studies conducted in the 2000's showed that CBD was also an antioxidant, and in certain instances it was more powerful than Vitamin C and E in preventing cellular damage. When it comes to skin, CBD oil's antioxidant properties amy help combat the tell-tale signs of ageing: wrinkles, dull skin and an uneven skin tone.
High and Dry: CBD's anti-inflammatory properties may also be benefical in conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. In both of these conditions our own immune system becomes over active and attacks the skin. Dry, red, itchy and painful skin is common. CBD oil is believed to reduce inflamm and soothe sensitive skin.
Many of you may be thinking; " That's all well and good, but cannabis is illegal". Not so fast.
The vast majority of cannabinoids are classed as controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and are thus illegal to possess. However CBD is an exception and is completely legal. There are some caveats though:
It must be produced from EU-approved strains of industrial hemp.
It must contain less than 0.2% of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis responsible for the "high".
Any THC it does contain must not be easily separated out from the CBD oil.
It is important to note that a lot of the research done into CBD is in its infancy, with limited clinical data. As a result, CBD has not been licensed in the UK for medicinal purposes and it is illegal to advertise it as a treatment for any medical condition. Whilst reputable stores such as Holland and Barrett are likely to keep to government stipulations, online suppliers are less regulated. This has led to concerns about purity levels and hence legality.
The jury has not yet come back on CBD-derived skincare, though it has certainly captured the public imagination. I'll keep my ear to the ground on this one, but until more clinical evidence is available, I'll be staying off the "grass".