Cannabinoids can potentially help skin disorders. But can a THC salve help reduce itchiness? And, which cannabinoid works best for pruritus?
The research is still early, but scientific studies are showing us that cannabis can potentially help alleviate hard-to-treat skin disorders, like psoriasis, acne and eczema. These disorders are inflammatory in nature, which is one of the ways cannabinoids are able to help, particularly CBD. But could cannabis — specifically a THC salve — also help with pruritus or itchiness?
While there hasn’t been much research into this topic, there are a few things we do know about cannabis treatment and itch relief. And, coupled with scientific knowledge about the endocannabinoid system itself, we can glean a few ideas on how cannabis could help.
Topical Cannabis Reduces Dryness and Redness
Research has shown that cannabis creams can interact with endocannabinoid receptors in the skin, and that they could also potentially help with acne and redness. THC helps by exerting an analgesic effect when applied to the skin, which in theory, could also help soothe itchy skin.
Science shows that CBD cream may be helpful in relieving dryness — which can often cause itchiness. CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory, which might help treat the underlying cause of itching skin. But this is where the issue of pruritus gets complicated. It can be caused by a number of different things, which makes it difficult to find a one-size-fits-all treatment.
What is Pruritus?
Pruritus is just another term for itchy skin. It can be caused by a number of different conditions — both internal and external. Among them are: psoriasis, eczema, dry skin, allergies, diabetes, shingles, some types of cancer, cosmetics, parasites, and pregnancy.
Along with an itching sensation, symptoms include redness, scaly skin, bumps and/or blisters. Over time, these symptoms can cause a considerable amount of distress. They can impact a patient’s mood, ability to sleep, and can even cause depression. Pruritus is a very uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, condition to endure. And for some, an effective treatment can often prove to be elusive.
What Science Says About Cannabis as a Treatment for Itch
So far, the most recent research on this subject is a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (2017). In this review, scientists found that a cream containing palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) was effective in reducing skin itchiness. And this is where it gets interesting — PEA directly affects cannabinoid type-1 receptors. Because of this finding, researchers concluded that a THC salve could potentially help treat itching skin.
Another study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology (2019), investigated how a mixture of CBD and THC could help treat epidermolysis bullosa — a blistering skin condition. They noted that along with improved pain scores among three subjects, pruritus was also reduced. This study was very small, and therefore considered to be inconclusive. But, it provides clues about how cannabis could potentially provide itch relief.
Along with decreasing inflammation, cannabinoids could also help relieve itching by preventing the accumulation of dead skin cells. This is one of the ways cannabis can help with treating psoriasis — another hard-to-treat skin condition that can cause itching. Signaling through the CB1 receptor can actually slow the production of epidermal keratinocytes, which are a type of skin cell.
Is CBD as Effective as THC?
We know that CBD works as an anti-inflammatory, which can be enormously helpful in treating itchy skin. But does it provide as much relief as a THC salve? The answer is, it depends on what kind of skin issue you’re dealing with. When treating an inflammatory skin condition that causes itching — like psoriasis or eczema, a CBD salve can be effective. But note, the potency of the topical you’re using could also factor in to overall effectiveness.
CBD has shown a marked ability to penetrate the skin, which may or may not be helpful. THC is more hydrophobic, thus able to remain on top of the skin longer. In addition, THC is an analgesic that is helpful in treating pain. This may be helpful in severe cases of pruritus, where skin injury and scarring might occur.
So far, science has yet to tell us if CBD is more effective than THC, or if a combination of the two is best when treating pruritus. However, according to dermatologists, we do know that cannabis creams are safe to use. Just keep a close eye on how your skin reacts to the cannabis topical of your choosing.
And you needn’t spend a lot of money buying expensive cannabis topicals for treating itchy skin. In fact, you can make your own THC salve at home. Check out this simple recipe that uses bees wax and coconut oil to create a soothing cannabis salve.