New research from the University of Colorado suggests that people suffering from psoriasis and eczema may benefit from using cannabis-based treatments.
A research team led by Robert Dellavelle has been exploring compounds in marijuana to see how they might be able to help people with skin conditions.
Eczema is a genetic condition which can vary from dry skin to weeping and bleeding. One in five children and one in 12 adults in the UK suffer from it.
Psoriasis is another skin condition resulting in red, flaky, crusty patches of skin which normally appear on elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. It affects around two percent of the UK population.
Both are commonly treated with steroid creams, with varying results - however, as reported in Inside Science, Dellavelle said: "There's a large segment of the population that doesn't like using steroids, even if they are topical steroids on their skin.
"This would be an alternative, natural product for them to try."
He added that people who have unsuccessfully tried topical steroids and medicines that suppress the immune system might benefit from cannabis-based treatments which could work 'in a different way'.
Cannabis produces over a 100 chemical compounds (cannabinoids). THC (the psychoactive element in cannabis) and CBD are the most widely known and understood. CBD is non-psychoactive and has anti-inflammatory properties which may aid those suffering from skin conditions.
Speaking to LADbible about how the chemical compounds in the marijuana plant can provide medical benefits such as anti-inflammation, Blair Ilsley - a researcher on Dellavelle's team - said: "The body has a little known system called the 'endocannabinoid system'. This system is found nearly everywhere in the body, from the skin to the digestive system.
"It contains two main types of receptors: CB1 and CB2. These receptors bind endocannabinoids (cannabinoids that the body produces) and phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids that come from Cannabis sativa).
Burkhard Hinz, Director of the Institute for Toxicology and Pharmacology at the Rostock University Medical Center, explaining the chemical structures of cannabinoids. Credit: PA
"This is when the magic happens. When the cannabinoids bind the receptors, all kinds of biological responses happen, including the inhibition of cell division and controlling immune response.
"This is really promising for auto-immune diseases where immune response is totally out of control and detrimental."
He added: "But more research needs to be done to really uncover a possible clinical benefit."
Doctors have warned that more tests need to be done before cannabis-based treatments are put into wider use. In the UK, some cannabis treatments are legal, though the drug itself remains illegal. Medical marijuana is legal in many countries around the world, including Australia and Uruguay, while it's also legal in some US states.
Ilsley continued: "The biggest thing is that we need to have a proof of concept. In other words, we need to show that cannabinoids are worth studying and there is a potential benefit there. We have a decent starting point through understanding the basic chemical properties of cannabinoids, but there is so much more to be known.
"A clinical trial - in which we could compare cannabinoids as a treatment to no treatment - could produce the most powerful, convincing results. We need to clinically show that cannabinoids have the potential to benefit people afflicted with psoriasis and eczema.
"The problem is that CBD and other cannabinoids are still federally illegal and this really complicates things. We hope for the future that running clinical trials with cannabinoids will become easier and more widespread. There is so much more to be known and we hope to get there as soon as we can."
In the US, California was the first state to legalise cannabis for medical purposes in 1996, while Colorado and Washington both legalised it for recreational use in 2012.
"The fact that it's illegal at the federal level, but legal at the state level... leads to a lot of complications in trying to do research on marijuana and its derivatives," Dellavelle told Inside Science.
"They've overcome many years of regulatory hurdles in order to come into works, like that Parkinson's trial that I mentioned. That is actually a trial that is going on. It's randomised, it's controlled, it's the highest standards of evidence to eliminate bias."
Doctors are also keen to investigate whether CBD cannabinoids could help Parkinson's patients, many of whom suffer from facial rashes.
Featured Image Credit: PA