(Inside Science) -- The skin is the body’s largest organ. It mediates our sense of touch and guards us from the outside world. It’s a protective layer, and our first barrier to fight illness and disease. But it's also the root of problems for many. Millions of people suffer from chronic skin conditions like eczema -- a painful, red, itchy rash that has no cure. There are over-the-counter and prescription medications, but for some people, none of them work. Researchers are now looking into compounds found within marijuana to see how they perform to help some skin conditions.
“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,” said Robert Dellavalle from the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
“So, when we have somebody who has tried topical steroids or topical immuno-modulators that suppress the immune system for psoriasis or eczema and they haven't gotten completely better, there’s a potential of using this new therapy that might work in a different way and help them,” said Dellavalle.
The marijuana plant produces more than 100 chemical compounds called cannabinoids, of which THC and CBD are the most widely known and understood. The CBD cannabinoid does not give the effects of getting “high” -- it is nonpsychoactive. But it has anti-inflammatory properties that may help with inflammation and itching in conditions like eczema, and some products containing these compounds and claiming health benefits are already being sold to consumers. Doctors caution, though, that testing needs to be done.
“All of these dispensary products haven't been controlled, [or] tested in randomized control trials either, but there’s a plethora of companies making topicals and they are available widely and being used widely for pain, for itch and other indications. And the data of how it’s working is not being collected systematically yet, and we’d like to do that. I believe it’s a wide-open horizon with tremendous potential that needs to be investigated, but there are a number of regulatory hurdles that need to be overcome and that’s where we are,” said Dellavalle.
So far, researchers have started a clinical study to look at a certain skin disease that affects some patients with Parkinson’s disease.
“About half of patients with Parkinson’s disease have a rash on their face called seborrheic dermatitis, and it’s like dandruff of the face near the nose,” said Dellavalle.
Doctors want to investigate whether an oral drug containing the CBD cannabinoids can help with the Parkinson’s-related rash. There are 40 patients enrolled now in clinical phase one and two trials, sponsored by the Colorado Department of Public Health, but getting the research up and running hasn’t been easy.
“The fact that it’s illegal at the federal level, but legal at the state level -- it leads to a lot of complications in trying to do research on marijuana and its derivatives, all of the cannabinoids. 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 randomized, it’s controlled, it’s the highest standards of evidence to eliminate bias,” concluded Dellavalle.
The results from the Parkinson’s trial are not complete, but researchers do know that compounds in cannabis have been shown to alleviate pain associated with eczema and psoriasis -- doctors simply caution that more clinical trials need to be done before any reliable recommendations can be made.