Cannabidiol ( CBD) has been praised for its robust therapeutic profile. But does this efficacy extend to dermatological conditions like acne, the most common human skin disease? 

Given its low risk of side effects, CBD appears to be a relatively safe acne therapy meriting continued attention from researchers. 

How CBD Treats Acne

A 2014 Journal of Clinical Investigation study by professor Attila Oláh reported novel evidence showing CBD’s potential to be an effective acne treatment.

The study found that cannabidiol had lipostatic, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory effects. 

The same study found that CBD could stop the proliferation of sebocytes, the cells that make up oil secreting sebaceous glands.

formation of acne

The formation of acne. Source: iStock

CBD did not cause existing sebocytes to die, but it seemed to significantly reduce the production of new sebocytes. Finally, the researchers discovered that CBD’s universal anti-inflammatory effects were also applied to sebocytes, an effect that may reduce acne-induced inflammation. 

Best Ways to Consume CBD for Acne

The paucity of scientific research on CBD and acne makes it difficult to recommend one consumption method over another for the treatment of the skin condition. However, Oláh’s research involved the use of a topical ointment.

It seems that directly applying CBD to the sebaceous glands has been the preferred method of researchers.

It is also possible to experience beneficial effects from consuming CBD orally since the cannabinoid’s anti-inflammatory effects have been exhibited post oral consumption as well. 

CBD Ointment Buyers Beware

If you are interested in a topical CBD ointment, purchase one from a reputable brand that uses a third-party laboratory to conduct tests on their products.

An alarming 2017 Jama Network study found that 70 percent of the 84 CBD products evaluated in the study were mislabeled. Some of these products contained THC although they claimed not to. While the risk is small, using a topical cream containing THC could cause intoxication. 

Though unlikely, it is possible to have a cannabis allergy, or an allergy to CBD. Always consult with your doctor before beginning a cannabis therapy. 

Other Cannabinoids Treat Acne

A 2016 report, published in Experimental Dermatology, added to this research by evaluating the anti-acne effects of additional phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids found naturally in cannabis).

The researchers found that phytocannabinoids including CBD, CBC, CBDV, and THCV could be “efficient, yet safe novel tools in the management of cutaneous inflammations.” 

In another published report, a cream containing 3% Cannabis seed extract was applied twice daily to the cheeks of patients for 12 weeks, which appeared to reduce sebum and erythema content

Lastly, a synthetic CBD containing special topical formulation (called “BTX 1503”) has exhibited promising anti-acne potential in a small phase Ib clinical trial, and its efficacy is now being tested in a randomized, double-blind clinical study.

CBD and Wound Healing 

When it comes to healing wounds, there is only scare evidence available, but research is underway. 

In one study, a flax fiber-derived “CBD-like” compound as well as other bioactive substances in the flax fiber extract was shown to promote wound healing, as they exerted anti-inflammatory activity. 

A small 2019 study by Italian researchers analyzed the effect of CBD ointment on chronic skin diseases and their scars. The 20 participants of the study had either psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, or scars from one of these conditions.

The participants applied CBD ointment onto the affected areas of the skin twice a day for three months.

The results were positive: the participants reported improved skin and symptoms without experiencing any irritants or allergic reactions during treatment.

The researchers concluded that topical CBD (without THC) “is a safe and effective non-invasive alternative for improv[ing] the quality of life in patients with some skin disorders, especially [of] inflammatory background.” 

CBD and Other Skin Conditions

In addition to its potential as an acne treatment, researchers are building a case for CBD’s broad utility in dermatology.

Several studies have linked CBD to reducing symptoms associated with:

  • Scleroderma
  • Fibrosis
  • Epidermolysis bullosa

A 2018 Biochemical Pharmacology study examined CBD’s effect on patients with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that can cause skin hardening and other fibrotic aberrations. The researchers found that orally ingested CBD reduced inflammation related to scleroderma and fibrosis.  

A very small 2018 Pediatric Dermatology study by Stanford University researchers demonstrated intriguing results.  They analyzed the effect of CBD on epidermolysis bullosa, a skin condition characterized by fragile skin prone to itching, pain, breakage, and infection.

The discomfort created by these symptoms can also lead to reduced mobility. The study examined 3 patients, each of whom began self-medicating with topical CBD ointments.

In all above cases, the patients reported quicker healing of their wounds, less blisters, and reduced pain. In one case, the patient was able to completely stop taking oral opioids for pain relief. 

How CBD Works 

While the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is most commonly cited as the explanation for cannabis’ therapeutic uses, CBD primarily interacts with molecular pathways beyond the ECS. For example, CBD stimulates receptors that regulate body temperature, pain, and inflammation. These receptors are called vanilloid receptors. 

CBD does not cause psychoactive effects. Its side effects are mild. A 2017 Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research review described CBD’s safety profile as “favorable.” The review found that the most common side effects reported were diarrhea, tiredness, and changes in weight and appetite.