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What To Know About Medical Marijuana and Eczema

Posted on August 11, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H.

If you are living with eczema (atopic dermatitis), you may be looking for new remedies to treat your skin symptoms. Medical marijuana is an increasingly common therapy for many ailments, including pain and nausea. However, medical marijuana is not currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat any skin disorders.

Your doctor may prescribe medical marijuana in combination with prescribed treatments for eczema, depending on your symptoms. Learn more about the current laws, research, and clinical evidence about medical marijuana and eczema.

An Introduction to Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana, or medical cannabis, refers to hundreds of derivatives of the cannabis sativa plant. The two most well-known active compounds derived from this plant are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These two substances come from different types of cannabis plants: marijuana (THC) and hemp (CBD). They produce different effects, and they are used to treat different health conditions.

THC is known to make people feel “high” due to its cognitive effects. It has been shown to be beneficial for people with conditions like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.

CBD, on the other hand, does not have any effect on cognition and reasoning. As one MyEczemaTeam member described, “CBD has zero psychoactive properties. It will not get you high.” CBD has shown benefits for people with anxiety, sleep disorders, chronic pain, and addiction. This may be due to its well-established anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities.

Medical cannabis products come in many forms. Medical marijuana can come as dry leaves that can be smoked, oil that can be vaporized (vaped), and tablets or capsules that can be consumed in fixed doses. It can even be packaged into topical creams, soaps, balms, or ointments that can be applied to the skin. The same types of products (creams, for example) may contain different ratios of THC to CBD, so they may have different strengths and effects on the body.

The Legality of Medical Marijuana

As of 2022, medical marijuana is legal in 29 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Marijuana is legal for all uses in another 15 states. If your doctor believes marijuana could be beneficial for your health or reduce your symptoms, they may give you a recommendation that will allow you to register for a medical marijuana card through your state. You can use this card to purchase marijuana products in states where medical marijuana is legal. According to the National Eczema Association, CBD is legal federally without a medical marijuana card.

Currently, neither THC nor CBD is approved by the FDA for the treatment of eczema. However, the FDA is undertaking many studies to better understand the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana. In the meantime, your dermatologist or primary care physician can help determine whether medical marijuana could be a useful treatment for you.

Can Medical Marijuana Help Your Eczema?

The National Eczema Association admits that, due to current regulations, it is difficult for doctors or researchers to say whether topical cannabis creams, salves, or lotions could be beneficial for people with eczema. Clinical observations show that topical cannabinoids can have anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, antimicrobial, and itch-relieving properties.

In addition, THC-containing products applied onto the skin absorb minimally into the bloodstream. They require only small amounts of cannabinoids to be effective, eliminating the risk of someone getting a high. Also, topical cannabis cream does not thin out the skin like topical steroids do.

How Medical Marijuana Works on the Skin

The human body has an endocannabinoid system that allows it to detect and respond to cannabis stimuli. This system includes cannabinoid receptors that regulate cannabinoid pathways and how they work in the body. Many of these receptors exist in the skin, making topical cannabis products potentially effective dermatology treatments. Further, some researchers have noted that eczema may result when the endocannabinoid system is unbalanced.

Helps Relieve Itch

Researchers think topical cannabinoids may relieve itch (pruritus) by fighting the bacterial colonies that cause atopic dermatitis symptoms. More research is needed to determine exactly how cannabinoids counter itching. One theory is that cannabinoids bind receptors on skin cells to reduce inflammation and itching.

Helps Address Inflammation

Another way medical marijuana can relieve eczema symptoms is through its anti-inflammatory properties. In studies with mice and rats, cannabinoids inhibited the mast cell activation process. Mast cells are a part of the immune system, and they are crucial to inflammation and pain.

Human trials have tested the effect of cannabinoids on people with eczema. In one study, over half of participants reported improved itch severity and sleep after using a cream with a synthetic cannabinoid for about a month. About one-third of participants who were using topical corticosteroids to treat their eczema were able to stop using them. Participants also reported relief from skin dryness, scaling, and discoloration.

Attitudes Toward Medical Marijuana

People with eczema generally think positively about cannabis use. One small online survey of people with eczema or their caregivers found that all respondents supported medical cannabis use. Nearly all (94 percent) reported that they would feel comfortable seeing a dermatologist who prescribes medical marijuana. Another 94 percent stated an interest in learning about cannabis for eczema treatment.

At the same time, only 6 percent of respondents had ever discussed medical marijuana with their health care provider. As medical marijuana becomes increasingly legalized and accepted in the medical world, education is the first step to bridging this gap.

Medical Marijuana Risks and Side Effects

Medical marijuana can come with some side effects.

Risks of THC Use

Smoking THC, as opposed to ingesting it in other ways, can lead to serious long-term respiratory problems, such as chronic bronchitis. Many people with atopic dermatitis may have asthma or seasonal allergies, so smoking or inhaling THC can negatively affect their breathing. Edible marijuana poses a risk of overdose and poisoning due to high concentrations of THC, which can lead to severe gastrointestinal and cognitive side effects. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant people avoid the use of marijuana due to potential fetal harm.

Due to the temporary cognitive and motor effects of THC, do not operate motor vehicles after ingesting THC. Some individuals report long-term concentration, memory, and coordination concerns when regularly using THC. However, topical cannabinoid products to treat common skin conditions do not pose these risks; they are not absorbed into the bloodstream enough to create a high.

Risks of CBD Use

Side effects of CBD can include fatigue, nausea, and irritability. CBD should not be used with certain medications, such as blood thinners. It can also cause abnormal liver function tests. However, compared to many pharmaceutical options, CBD is relatively safe. Be sure to ask your doctor how CBD could interfere with your current medications and medical conditions before trying it.

Potential for Allergens

Keep in mind that many cannabis topicals (including THC and CBD products) may contain other ingredients that you could be allergic or sensitive to. Be sure to check the ingredients list carefully before trying any new products to prevent an allergic reaction or eczema flare-up.

Given these risks, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor for advice about how to use medical marijuana safely before adding it to your eczema treatment plan. Different strains of cannabinoids may relieve itch and inflammation more than others, so talk with a professional to find your best option.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 44,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Have you used medical marijuana to alleviate your eczema symptoms? Have CBD or THC products improved your quality of life with eczema? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyEczemaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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