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Eczema is a term that describes a group of medical conditions that cause the skin to become inflamed and irritated. Studies have shown that topical cannabis alleviates the itching, swelling and redness associated caused by eczema and other inflammatory skin disorders.
Overview of Eczema
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that causes the skin to develop red, itchy rashes. The condition can develop at any age, but is most common in children. Rashes tend to develop on the face, behind the knees, inside the elbows, and on the hands and feet.
The appearance of the rash varies from person to person, and can feature red to brownish-gray patches, raised bumps that leak fluid and crust over, or cracked and scaly skin. The itching associated with eczema can at times be severe and scratching the affected skin worsens the rash, causing it to become more raw, sensitive and swollen.
The cause of eczema is unknown, but it is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Stress, sweat, heat and humidity changes, certain soaps and detergents, particular fabrics, air pollution and the consumption of eggs, milk, peanuts, soybeans, fish and wheat have been shown to make symptoms worsen. The condition is not contagious.
Eczema is a long-lasting disease that has no cure. However, new outbreaks can be prevented and itching relief can be provided with medicated creams or ointments. The avoidance of harsh soaps and other irritants can help manage symptoms. Corticosteroid creams or ointments help control itching and inflammation. Additionally, creams that help repair damaged skin can be used to help maintain normal skin. However, these creams have side effects, including skin discoloration and an increased risk of infections.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Eczema
Research has repeatedly shown that cannabis is effective at alleviating symptoms of several skin conditions, including eczema. Cannabinoids have immunosuppressive properties, in turn making them potential therapeutic agents for treating inflammatory skin diseases7.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an important role in several skin regulatory functions. Researchers believe that skin conditions like eczema develop when there’s an imbalance in the ECS2. The cannabinoids found in cannabis can help mediate disruptions in the ECS by interacting with cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), which are found in abundance on the nerve fibers and cells of the skin13. Through these interactions with CB receptors, cannabinoids are able to help reduce skin inflammation, pain and itching3,10,12,13,14. Additionally, studies have found that through the activation of CB2 receptors, cannabinoids help alleviate, and in some cases reverse, skin inflammation damage8.
Studies examining cannabis’ effectiveness on treating eczema and other related skin conditions are vast. One trial found that a group of nearly 2500 patients with atopic eczema experienced significant reductions in skin redness, scaling, itching, chafing and thickening following cannabinoid cream treatments. Additionally, 38.3 percent of those patients experienced a complete resolution of itching4. Another study found that the twice-daily application of cream containing cannabinoids for three weeks completely eliminated skin itching in 38.1 percent of patients and significantly reduced the intensity of itching in 52.4 percent of patients16,17. In an animal trial, a topical containing the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) effectively reduced skin inflammation in mice with dermatitis6. Another cannabinoid contained in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), was found to prevent skin inflammation and swelling9.
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Eczema
So far, no states have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of eczema.
However, in Washington D.C., any condition recommended by DC-licensed physician can be approved for medical marijuana. California allows medical marijuana for “any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician.’” Psoriasis patients in Massachusetts may be able to get legal access, as the state approves “other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.” In Oregon and Rhode Island, “other conditions are subject to approval.”
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Eczema
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema). (2014, July 26). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eczema/basics/definition/con-20032073.
- Bíró, T., Tóth, B.I., Haskó, G., Paus, R., and Pacher, P. (2009). The endocannabinoid system of the skin in health and disease: novel perspectives and therapeutic opportunities. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 30(8), 411–420. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757311/.
- Dvorak, M., Watkinson, A., McGlone, F., and Rukwied, R. (2003, June). Histamine induced responses are attenuated by a cannabinoid receptor agonist in human skin. Inflammation Research: Official Journal of the European Histamine Research Society, 52(6), 238-45. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00011-003-1162-z.
- Eberlein, B., Eicke, C., Reinhardt, H.W., and Ring, J. (2008, January). Adjuvant treatment of atopic eczema: assessment of an emollient containing N-palmitoylethanolamine (ATOPA study). Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology: JEADV, 22(1), 73-82. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/j.1468-3083.2007.02351.x/full.
- Eczema. (2014, June 18). MedlinePlus. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/eczema.html.
- Gaffal, E., Cron, M., Glodde, N., and Tüting, T. (2013, August). Anti-inflammatory activity of topical THC in DNFB-mediated mouse allergic contact dermatitis independent of CB1 and CB2 receptors. Allergy, 68(8), 994-1000. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/all.12183/full.
- Kupczyk, P., Reich, A., Szepietowski, J.C. (2009, August). Cannabinoid system in the skin – a possible target for future therapies in dermatology. Experimental Dermatology, 18(8), 669-79. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0625.2009.00923.x/full.
- Li, S.S., Wang, L.L., Liu, M., Jiang, S.K., Zhang, M., Tian, Z.L., Wang, M., Li, J.Y., Zhao, R., and Guan, D.W. (2016). Cannabinoid CB2 receptors are involved in the regulation of fibrogenesis during skin wound repair in mice. Molecular Medicine Reports, 13(4), 3441–3450. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4805070/.
- Lodzki, M., Godin, B., Rakou, L., Mechoulam, R., Gallily, R., and Touitou, E. (2003, December 12). Cannabidiol-transdermal delivery and anti-inflammatory effect in a murine model. Journal of Controlled Release, 93(3), 377-87. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168365903004152.
- Mounessa, J.S., Siegel, J.A., Dunnick, C.A., and Dellavalle, R.P. (2017, April 14). The role of cannabinoids in dermatology. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, pii: S0190-9622(17)30308-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2017.02.056. [Epub ahead of print]. Retrieved from http://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(17)30308-0/fulltext.
- Oláh, A., Tóth, B.I., Borbíró, I., Sugawara, K., Szöllõsi, A.G., Czifra, G., Pal, B., Ambrus, L., Kloepper, J., Camera, E., Ludovici, M., Picardo, M., Voeta, T., Zouboulis, C.C., Paus, R., and Bíró, T. (2014). Cannabidiol exerts sebostatic and antiinflammatory effects on human sebocytes. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 124(9), 3713–3724. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4151231/.
- Richardson, J.D., Kilo, S., Hargreaves, K.M. (1998, March). Cannabinoids reduce hyperalgesia and inflammation via interaction with peripheral CB1 receptors. Pain, 75(1), 111-9. Retrieved from http://www.druglibrary.org/crl/pain/Richardson%20et.al%2098%20Hyperalgesia%20%26%20Inflammation_%20Pain.pdf.
- Rukwied, R., Watkinson, A., McGlone, F., and Dvorak, M. (2003, April). Cannabinoid agonists attenuate capsaicin-induced responses in human skin. Pain, 102(3), 283-8. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/pain/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2003&issue=04000&article=00010&type=abstract.
- Ständer, S., Reinhardt, H.W., and Luger, T.A. (2006, September). [Topical cannabinoid agonists. An effective new possibility for treating chronic pruritus]. Der Hautarzt, 57(9), 801-7. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00105-006-1180-1.
- Ständer, S., Schmelz, M., Metze, D., Luger, T., and Rukwied, R. (2005, June). Distribution of cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and 2 (CB2) on sensory nerve fibers and adnexal structures in human skin. Journal of Dermatological Science, 38(30), 177-188. Retrieved from http://www.jdsjournal.com/article/S0923-1811(05)00028-9/fulltext.
- Szepietowski, J.C., Reich, A., and Szepietowski, T. (2005, June). Emollients With Endocannabinoids in the Treatment of Uremic Pruritus: Discussion of the Therapeutic Options. Therapeutic Apheresis and Dialysis, 9(3), 277-279. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/j.1774-9987.2005.00271.x/full.
- Szepietowski, J.C., Szepietowski, T., Reich, A. (2005). Efficacy and tolerance of the cream containing structured physiological lipids with endocannabinoids in the treatment of uremic pruritus: a preliminary study. Acta Dermatovenerologica Croatica: ACD, 13(2), 97-103. Retrieved from http://adc.mef.hr/index.php/adc/article/view/47.