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Cannabidiol & Skin Health: Exploring Molecular Pathways

Written by Petar Petrov

A recent study has illuminated the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that explain how cannabidiol (CBD) benefits skin health.[1]

To explain these mechanisms, we need to first introduce some terminology:

Oxidative stress caused by reactive oxygen species can damage the skin.[1] Nuclear factor erythroid 2-like 2, or NRF2, is “the master regulator of antioxidant responses.” NRF2 targets different genes that affect antioxidant response, including Heme oxygenase 1, or HMOX1, an important protective enzyme.

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NRF2 positively affects HMOX1 function, while BTB and CNC Homology 1, or BACH1, negatively affects HMOX1.[1]

So where does CBD fit into this picture?

Previous studies showed that CBD stimulates HMOX1 expression in different types of cells. Therefore, researchers wanted to figure out if CBD has the same effect in keratinocytes, which are the cells on the top layer of the skin, and if it also affects BACH1 and NRF2.

Using molecular techniques, researchers found that CBD affects these targets in different ways by:[1]

  • Stimulating HMOX1 expression in keratinocytes
  • Inhibiting and breaking down BACH1
  • Affecting HMOX1 levels by influencing NRF2

The researchers hypothesize that this pathway could explain CBD’s antioxidant properties, meaning that NRF2 activation might be an indirect result of its effects on BACH1.

“We have identified for the first time the major pathways that are regulated by CBD on human primary keratinocytes…which could explain some of the potential beneficial effects of CBD in the skin,” said the authors of the study.[1]

While many people already use CBD topicals for skin conditions, these results indicate how CBD may works on the molecular level to promote skin health:

“Our validation of CBD as a BACH1 inhibitor suggests that CBD treatment would a) protect the skin against external insults: e.g. against UVA-irradiation-induced damage; and b) be greatly beneficial in a variety of skin conditions, e.g. eczema or atopic dermatitis.”[1]

On an interesting and perhaps surprising side note, the scientists point out that CBD could actually do more harm than good when it comes to psoriasis. This is because CBD’s pro-proliferative effects might feed right into keratinocyte overgrowth that defines psoriasis – which means that CBD might be better for certain skin conditions over others.

Image Credit: Aleksandar Pasaric

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  1. Casares L, et al. Cannabidiol induces antioxidant pathways in keratinocytes by targeting BACH1. Redox Biol. 2020;28:101321.

About the author

Petar Petrov

Petar is a freelance writer and copywriter, covering culture, art, society, and anything in-between that makes for a nice story. And as it so happens, cannabis is a great element to add to each of those conversations.