Doctor Adam Friedman, Professor of Dermatology at George Washington University on using nanotechnology for delivering cannabinoids to treat skin inflammation
Studying cannabinoids: health and cosmeceuticals
CBD – or cannabidiol, the second most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis – and active cannabinoids are gaining attention in the beauty industry. Despite ongoing claims confusion, complex regulatory hurdles and a lack of consumer confidence due to greenwashing, the popularity is especially increasing within skincare.
Cannabinoids can be broken down into three general categories based on where they are produced: endocannabinoids (ECBs), the cannabinoids compounds biosynthesized within the human body; phytocannabinoids (PCBs), the cannabinoids obtained from plants; and synthetic cannabinoids, synthetically generated using various chemical processes. There are also receptors in the body specific to endocannabinoids, known as CB1, located primarily in the central nervous system, and CB2, present in immune cells. While the marijuana chemotype contains high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), industrial hemp is the chemotype which contains minimal amounts of THC and higher levels of CBD.
Historically, hemp has been cultivated for various uses, including its nutritional seeds as well at its fiber which can be used to produce paper or clothing. More recently, hemp has gained momentum for its beneficial cannabinoid constituents including CBD. While the flowering tops and leaves of hemp have significant CBD levels, its stems, stalks and seeds have little to none. On the other hand, ethanolic and supercritical CO2 extracts of whole hemp plants or tops and leaves can have significant levels of CBD.
Given that the endocannabinoid system – naturally embedded in the human body – plays a regulatory function in the skin, it is plausible that treatments with topical cannabinoids could be efficacious for certain disorders or skin health in general. Since most clinical tests have focused on the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids only when consumed, inhaled, or injected, there is limited research that investigate the therapeutic potential of topical applications.
CBD on curing topical inflammation
On this matter, though there is limited research confirming the purported topical benefits of cannabinoids, it is certain that the receptors from the endocannabinoid system have been identified in the skin and systemic abuse of synthetic cannabinoids. Their analogs have also been associated with the manifestation of dermatological disorders. In particular, preclinical evidence suggests topical application of CBD may be effective for skin disorders including eczema, psoriasis, pruritis, and inflammatory conditions. According to doctor Adam Friedman, Professor and Interim chair of Dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the latest scientific findings about cannabinoids and their effects is as follows: «We have an inherent system on our immune system that when activated, it doesn’t just block inflammation, but it signals for the resolution of inflammation, which also includes signaling for other cells to enter the skin barrier and shut down that high inflammation level». Despite having a lot of cell-based analysis that support the potential beneficial effects of CBD on skin receptors, Friedman specifies that more clinical data needs to be collected. This would confirm the efficiency of such tests on quantities needed, the form of delivery and the making of commercial products. On a practical level, there is also information showing that in a concentration dependent way, cannabinoids can both induce new pigment production or, at higher concentration, signal for melanocytes pigment cells to die. This discovery could create new opportunity for dermatologists which would include choosing a treatment depending on the patient’s needs: repigmentation, in the setting of clear inflammation, or getting rid of the pigment by damaging or turning off the melanocytes. Cannabinoids love fatty environments, so up to this day it has been hard to find an answer to the question regarding the delivery of the ingredient onto the skin. Topical steroids are the most commonly prescribed and effective medication in dermatology, yet our superficial skin barrier – whose duty is to protect the epidermis and the internal sublayers – compartmentalize such fatty ingredient on the top layer so that very little can get through. This is why clinical data is focused more on how to deliver the ingredient and what vehicle will serve said purpose, rather than which cannabinoids have to be administered, whether it’s one or a combination. CBD’s permeation potential is relatively high however, there are currently no clinical trials investigating the topical absorptive capability in humans.
CBD and the use of nanotechnology
During in vitro studies, CBD has demonstrated the ability to induce keratin reparation in the epidermis of mice after topical application. In another in vitro study using human keratinocytes, researchers found that CBD was able to penetrate the cells and balance the oxidative stress response resulting from UVB irradiation and hydrogen peroxide. They also demonstrated that CBD had a protective effect against the peroxide-induced reduction of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the cell membrane, helping to protect membrane integrity. At this point, clinical evaluation has discovered the extent of what CBD could do for skin diseases at a cell level. The Journal of Clinical Investigation published in 2006 specifies CBD functionalities in terms of how it can both prevent the release of inflammatory signals from oil gland cells and the overproduction of the sebum at a topical level. A pharmaceutical version of CBD could replace oral Accutane, to this day the most used anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure treatment against severe acne flares. Even though an Accutane dose is tailored to each person and its administration usually lasts four to five months, Isotretinoin, can cause some side effects: build up of blood cells, pressure on the brain, thinning hair and overall internal damage. «My research has been focused on nanotechnology drug delivery», explains Doctor Friedman when asked about his nanoparticle formulation of endocannabinoid. «What nanotechnology offers are several benefits but the most obvious one is size. Nano refers to a billionth of a meter, and the skin is good at keeping things out of its barrier at the micro millionth of meter scale. You want to get the molecule small enough so it can sit on the skin longer and release the ingredient over time without damaging the skin».
The future of cannabinoids in the skincare scenario
There are a few factors that could slow down the process of cannabinoids entering the market. Science is warning about quality assurance: there have been studies showing that labelling on products doesn’t necessarily match up with the ingredients on cosmeceuticals’ bottles. They are encouraging brands to respect this rule to avoid putting consumers at risk. According to the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA), dermatologically tested products must undergo a clinical trial program followed by a toxicology test and a dose response process before entering the market. When it comes to CBD it’s not about choosing the best type of raw ingredient but finding the one that works. Another issue regards State regulation: brands have to examine the regulatory requirements when exploring possible CBD-driven innovations and routes to market to ensure consumer protection. On the other hand, researchers continue to find out more about the benefits and potential safety issues of CBD. «There are technologies already established that can be utilized to get CBD in a desirable outcome suitable for skincare products», concludes Doctor Friedman, «and the only way to move forward with research is if the interest is maintained at a high level».
Professor and Chair of Dermatology, Residency Program Director and Director of Translational Research in the Department of Dermatology at The George Washington University. Friedman’s current clinical area of interest is the development of novel nanotechnologies with an emphasis on treating infectious skin diseases, wound healing, immune modulation, and correcting vascular dysfunction.