Cannabis exerts many of its medicinal effects by interfacing with the endocannabinoid system. This system has been found to exist within the skin, allowing cannabinoids such as THC and CBD to achieve anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and analgesic effects on burns and wounds.
Cannabis has many applications and has penetrated almost every branch of medicine since being re-embraced for its medicinal qualities. It’s a common misconception that the only way to experience the effect of cannabis is through smoking it. Yes, this mechanism is useful for some, but the herb's application spans far beyond this method.
Cannabis can be applied to the skin, where it improves the health of this huge organ. THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system, where they have a modulating effect of physiological systems. Research suggests that the endocannabinoid system exists within the skin, where it is heavily implicated in proliferation, growth, differentiation, apoptosis, and hormone production.
What’s interesting is that cannabis is now showing promise for the treatment of burns and wounds when applied as a topical. Cannabinoids exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, potentially assisting in the healing process and pain management of these conditions. Some cannabinoids have also been found to possess antibacterial properties, making them a potential first aid treatment when such injuries arise.
The endocannabinoid system has been shown to play a direct role in the physiological process of wound healing. Research performed at the China Medical University investigated the occurrence of cannabinoid receptors at wound sites in mice.
Wounds were inflicted on the mice by researchers via small incisions. CB1 receptors were found at the site of injury on mononuclear cells and fibroblastic cells. CB1 positive cells were found at the wound site from 6 hours to 14 days after the injury occurred. This finding led the researchers to state that the CB1 receptor is activated during the course of wound healing, concluding that it is involved in the process of inflammation.
The presence of CB1 receptors at wound sites could act as binding sites for THC to exert possible painkilling, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic effects.
CANNABINOIDS AS ANTIBIOTICS
One of the main concerns when a wound occurs is keeping it clean. Preventing bacteria from getting a foothold on the injury site is key to preventing infection. This is another area where cannabinoids may play a role in wound healing.
Cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, CBN, CBC, and CBG all display antibiotic action. A 2008 research paper states that all of these cannabinoids have shown potent activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Staphylococcus aureus is a dangerous human pathogen that is known to infect wounds. The bacteria can cause soft tissue infections such as impetigo, cellulitis, cutaneous abscesses, necrotising fasciitis, and pyomyositis.
Malignant wounds are the result of cancerous cells invading the epithelium (cells that line the outer surfaces of organs) and penetrating the epidermis (the outer layer of skin). When this occurs, blood flow to the affected areas of the skin is reduced. Because the blood transports nutrients, the lack of it can lead to tissue death as cells are starved of their building blocks.
Many anecdotal accounts exists that confirm the effectiveness of topical cannabis on malignant wounds. Rick Simpson is a well-known case.
A 2017 paper published within the Journal of Pain and Symptoms Management states that malignant wounds affect approximately 15% of cancer patients. The authors of the paper describe that cancer cells express higher levels of CB1 and CB2 receptors, adding that tumour cell apoptosis occurs by way of cannabinoid receptor activation.
The paper documents a case study involving a 44-year-old man experiencing a wound on his right cheek area, having been diagnosed with squamous cell cancer three years previously. The man's wound was growing rapidly. After the application of cannabis oil, a regression in the malignant wound was seen. Pain management was also achieved with the use of cannabis. The researchers state that the pain-relieving effects could have been achieved through the absorption of THC and CBD, and how these cannabinoids interact with peripheral nociceptors (sensory neurons that respond to damage), immune cells, and cancer cells.
CANNABIS FOR BURNS
Burns are classified by their depth and placed into the categories of first, second, or third-degree burns. All three classifications are associated with pain. Third-degree burns may need to be treated using skin grafts. However, first and second-degree burns may be treated with topical applications such as antibiotic cream and aloe vera cream. Cannabis is well-known to effectively treat pain, with both CBD and THC showing potential in this area.
Cannabis also contains a class of compounds known as terpenes. These chemicals are found in many plant species and are responsible for the pleasant smells associated with particular cannabis strains. Some terpenes have shown potential in the treatment of burns, displaying antimicrobial activity on animal models. The terpene linalool is also associated with cooling and painkilling properties, making it a potential complement to treatment.