Quartzy, an online publication billed as “a guide to live well in the new global economy,” ran an article in November suggesting marijuana is the next “it” ingredient in beauty products.
Researchers are looking specifically at natural components of the Cannabis sativa plant called cannabinoids, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), known as the substance that produces the high, as well as cannabidiol, or CBD, which doesn’t result in feeling high.
While it sounds sexy and trendy, the reality is that the hype is ahead of the research, according to Robert Dellavalle, M.D., Ph.D., MSPH, professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado, in Denver.
Dr. Dellavalle, who was among the authors of a recent Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology paper, “The role of cannabinoids in dermatology,” says there are a few things we do know and a lot that we don’t on the topic.
“What we know is that there are two receptors for cannabinoids in the skin. What we don’t know is what the more than 100 active ingredients in cannabis do when they interact with those receptors,” Dr. Dellavalle tells The Aesthetic Channel.
Before applying cannabinoids topically for skin care, ideally, dermatologists would want to know how gene expression is changed by interacting with the receptors and what combination of cannabinoids might enhance things like collagen production and keratinocytes, which would help reduce wrinkles, for example.
“We’re many years away from having any research that tells us that,” he says.
Why so far away? It’s complicated, says Dr. Dellavalle, who wears two hats as a researcher — one with the Federal government and one at the University of Colorado — a state that has legalized recreational and medicinal marijuana.
The Federal government considers cannabinoids in the same category as cocaine and heroin, so Dr. Dellavalle steers clear of recommending it to dermatology patients in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. At University of Colorado, he’s doing research to figure out where cannabinoids would help patients the most. But even at the university, research is slow because of the regulatory hurdles and fear of crossing the line and losing Federal government grants.
Studies are starting to suggest, however, that cannabinoids are helpful and promising in the realms of itch and inflammatory diseases of the skin, like psoriasis and eczema, according to Dr. Dellavalle.
The lack of research in skin care and age management shouldn’t stop dermatologists from looking into topicals that might contain cannabinoids, according to Dr. Dellavalle.
“Right now, we don’t have the evidence to back up the recommendations,” he says. “You can go into a dispensary, and they can advise you on what type of topical product they think works, based on their experiences with their patient populations.”
The bottom line (for now), according to Dr. Dellavalle is: “If you’re having an inflammation issue with your skin, cannabinoid-containing topicals would be very worth trying. There’s always the risk that they might cause an allergy, because they’re a plant product. So, I think the proof is in the pudding if you have access to them.”
Disclosure: Dr. Dellavalle reports no relavent conflicts.