Ever since Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use in 2012, the topic has been hot in the news. Other states soon followed suit, for a total of 29–plus the District of Columbia is now boasting laws that broadly allow for marijuana consumption in some form, which means that once-strict statutes are relaxing as the public’s view on marijuana continues to evolve.
Beauty is likewise keeping pace with the turning tide. Many of today’s top brands, like Lush, currently use CBD as a key active ingredient. Short for cannabidiol, a naturally occurring compound of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, CBD is garnering praise for its range of dermal benefits. “More and more research is being done with CBD, and the results are incredible,” reports Mollie Twining, founding partner of CBD For Life, an innovative line that uses 99 percent pure CBD extract in pain-management and beauty products. “Its qualities are beneficial for all skin types when applied in various formulations.”
BREAKING IT DOWN
Examine the compounds present in Cannabis sativa, and you’ll find a class of molecules called cannabinoids. CBD is only one of them, though it was the first to be scientifically identified in the 1940s. Since then, others have been discovered, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 1964 and the lesser-known cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabidivarin (CBD-V). “Scientists have pinpointed cannabinoids in other botanicals as well,” reports Erica Ragusa, founder of Ambika Herbals, a Colorado-based herbal apothecary. “For example, cannabigerol (CBG) is present in the helichrysum species, which are part of the sunflower family.”
CBD interacts with our bodies in an interesting and unique way. It works through what’s called our endocannabinoid system (ECS), sometimes jokingly referred to as a human’s Goldilocks system, as it’s responsible for ensuring, among other things, that body temperatures don’t spike too hot or drop too cold and blood sugar levels don’t plummet too low or shoot too high. The ECS wants conditions to remain just right, and thus it helps maintain optimal balance–aka homeostasis.
The ECS is made up of receptors, of which two have been identified to date: CB1 (abundant in our central nervous systems) and CB2 (typically occurring on immune cells and in gastrointestinal tracts). More are believed to exist, but those were the first observed in the early 2000s, and remain the most studied. CB1 is the receptor that interacts with THC to produce a psychotropic high. Its mellow CBD sister, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive. “CBD binds to the CB2 receptors, which are not the receptors that result in hallucinogenic effects,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the Department of Dermatology at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Further, CBD oil is naturally low in THC.
“In fact, in order to be considered legal hemp, there must be a concentration of 0.3 percent THC or less present in the oil,” Ragusa explains. Though numbers vary depending on item, most high-quality CBD oil-based products fall well below that mark, averaging a total of 0.1 percent THC. In other words, CBD oil found in skincare and beauty products cannot get users high. (Side note: Because THC is known to have some medicinal value, products containing this cannabinoid are also currently being investigated for use on skin. “In states where medical marijuana is regulated and sold legally, THC-based skincare offerings are already available at dispensaries,” explains Kristi Blustein, founder of botanical skincare line KHUS+KHUS.)
“I like to incorporate CBD into my products because, like so many botanicals, it bears countless interesting qualities.”
—Erica Ragusa, founder, Ambika Herbals
We owe much of our current knowledge on the topic of THC versus CBD to Raphael Mechoulam, PhD, an Israeli organic chemist who in the 1960s pioneered groundbreaking cannabis research to help combat 20th-century stigmas against its use. Though to many the idea of ingesting marijuana for its health and beauty benefits remains a tough pill to swallow, due to Dr. Mechoulam, we do now unequivocally understand that different cannabinoids affect us in different ways.
THE BENEFITS OF CBD
Potential health boons linked to CBD seem nearly too numerous to count. Herbalists have long prescribed it as a remedy for anxiety, insomnia and headaches. Current scientific studies suggest that it might help suppress muscle spasms and convulsions, and even control epileptic seizures. It has properties that help to slow inflammation, reduce blood sugar levels, reduce the risk of artery obstructions and stimulate bone growth. Current research is being conducted into CBD’s ability to control certain cancers.
Its incorporation into beauty products is relatively new. “Recently discovered skin benefits mean more companies are now trying to jump on the CBD bandwagon, but that’s not easy,” Twining reveals. “CBD’s highly specific formulations must be researched and perfected in order to achieve a luxurious finished product.”
A 2014 report in The Journal of Clinical Investigation found that CBD’s anti-inflammatory and sebum-reducing properties were a win for acne-prone skin. Applied topically, it has been shown to help diminish localized pain, thus among the first items to hit markets were those formulated for sore muscles and arthritis. “I stand by its power to reduce soreness when my body experiences aches,” Twining enthuses.
Today, CBD is cropping up in everything from body salves to eye serums to bath salts to hairsprays, and it’s not hard to see why. Its high concentration of fatty acids fill cracks between skin cells to keep dermis looking plump and hydrated, and those same omega-rich fatty acids also thicken hair follicles. Vitamins infuse moisture, helping to balm dry skin plus calm rashes like eczema. Its antimicrobial properties fight bacteria to promote clear pores, and with its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD oil helps reduce redness and may even help reverse the appearance of acne scars. An antioxidant, it further nixes hyperpigmentation, along with other signs of aging. “These are the most important factors for counteracting damage that causes skin to look and feel aged,” says Twining.
"CBD’s highly specific formulations must be researched and perfected in order to achieve a luxurious finished product.”
—Mollie Twining, founding partner, CBD For Life
Many early adopters consider CBD a veritable panacea. “Cannabinoids are received synergistically by the body, so that is more akin to using the plant in its whole form, rather than isolated compounds, which behave more like a drug in the body,” Ragusa notes. “I like to incorporate CBD into my products because, like so many botanicals, it bears countless interesting qualities.” Yet despite these undisputed therapeutic perks, the oil has yet to hit mainstream dermatology. This might be due in part to sticky legalities surrounding sativa.
Current federal and state laws pertaining to the medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids might be described as confusing, at best. “It’s a gray area, given today’s political climate,” Ragusa shares. Cannabis is legal for medical use in 50 percent of states, while another 17 of them allow products high in CBD and low in THC for medical purposes, though none have been officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In December 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published a statement asserting that it considers all cannabis extracts, including CBD oil, illegal. “This code will allow DEA and DEA-registered entities to track quantities of this material separately from quantities of marijuana,” wrote DEA acting administrator, Chuck Rosenberg.
Hemp producers retaliated instantly by filing suit in court. “The DEA cannot create a statute,” stated Bob Hoban, managing partner at pro-cannabis Colorado-based law firm Hoban Law Group. “That can only be done by Congress.” And CBD retailers didn’t pull stock from shelves. Online, websites did not go dark.
Because CBD (unlike THC) has no psychoactive qualities, it can legally be sold in all 50 states, as long as it’s specifically derived from industrial hemp. Thank former President Obama for that beneficial piece of legislation. On February 7, 2014, he signed back into law the Farm Bill, also known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, allowing for the legal planting of hemp on all American soil. Yet six states–Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana and West Virginia–still frown so heavily on this crop’s cultivation that within those borders, use of CBD might as well be banned. “I’ve heard of certain problems in some states or towns,” Twining discloses.
Nevertheless, the future of cannabis glows bright. “Here is a plant with 500- plus known constituents and counting,” marvels Blustein. That translates to 500 chemicals with potentially beneficial medicinal effects on skin, the body’s largest organ. Ragusa agrees: “As an herbalist, I don’t want to limit myself or shut out any plants labeled ‘taboo,’ and I believe many consumers likewise demand the personal freedom to benefit from natural herbs.” ■
[Photo by gettyimages/Fudio]