Can we get high on beauty products?

This blog post is an answer for @_jess_stranger_ ‚s question regarding the use CBD (Cannaboidol) oil in cosmetic industry, which is a big boom in USA, since nine states and Washington legalised the use of recreational marijuana. Jess is worried that the industry pulls our leg advertising the amazing effects of CBD-based oils creams or lotions, while in reality chopping the plants off for no reason. This is a very important and valid question, thus I decided to do a little research to answer this question from a scientist’s point of view.


By the way –  Jess is a documentarian with an amazing writing style and great photography skills. She presents interesting places and people showing their stories and what can we learn from them. There is many bloggers out there, but only a few great content creators and Jess is definitely one of them. Check out her blog and get immersed into her world. Learn from strangers!


This post may not apply to all readers since most of the European countries ban the use of marijuana. Nevertheless, its legalisation is probably going to be an inevitable process in future, so don’t worry – I will remind you about this post when this time comes!

CBD what’s that?

CBD is one of maaaany (113) ingrediencies of cannabis which binds to cannabinoid receptors in our brain affecting the neurotransmitter release. It does not have psychoactive effects like THC [=does not get you high], but may have an impact in relieving stress and anxiety, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, however research has not proven any significant positive influence yet. Last year’s review (1) shows, that CBD also affects hormones but not enough clinical trials have been conducted to asses the effective does, it’s administration and possible toxicological side effects. It appears that the chemical is much more potent in mice than humans too. It’s difficult to find the right drug concentration, since CBD may bind to other receptors in our brain showing completely different psychological outcomes, thus generally it is not a well-researched medical substance to date.


New celebs trick

Scientists are still checking drug-like abilities of cannabidiol when beauty industry already jumped on this topic calling CBD a miracle ingredient! They advertise CBD oil as a painkiller, mood improver, anti-inflammatory and anti-acne substance. They are sold as oral tablets – for indigestions or stomach aches or topical creams and lotions – for skin problems and inflammation. Obviously, celebrities have been hooked already and swear by it as much as by vitamin IV drips (which also should be taken with a pinch of salt). Should we follow new trends, or shall we look at dry facts? Let’s look at the facts first.


Apparently, CBD oil is brilliant for the red-carpet events because it relieves the pain from wearing high heels. People also use it for sore muscles after gym workouts or chronic joint pains. That could be true, nevertheless isolated CBD was shown to be a weak pain-reliever and the amount of the active ingredient needed for it to work exceeds what you could find in a CBD lotion. The anti-acne properties were studied only in cannabis as a whole, so it may be that many cannabis ingredients combined reduce sebum production making our skin less inflamed. Nobody knows and it hasn’t been studied whether CBD itself is going to do anything.



Cannabis mainly consists of CBD and THC and those two substances combined are potentially a very good psychotherapeutic drug and a pain killer. The downside is THC makes you get high which is not what you want from a lotion, thus beauty industry is limited to CBD oil usage only. CBD itself may not give you any skin care or fitness soreness benefits because most likely it needs a company of THC to be fully activated. There are studies showing uselessness pure CBD (2) and most importantly there are no studies testing the effects in beauty industry [check THIS out], thus nothing that the companies are promising is backed up by scientific experiments. They can only rely on theory and medical research, which is also not detailed enough to form any meaningful conclusions.

What if…

If you look at the main advertised effects of CBD – helps indigestion, inflammation, anxiety, pain and soreness – these all effects are very often correlated with a placebo effect. Human brain is a very complicated machinery and placebo is still a big question mark in many drug development processes, because it’s extremely difficult to differentiate the effects of a drug from placebo in digestive or anxiety problems and pain management. Cannabis has been a hot topic for years, some communities stigmatise it, other worship, so we were exposed to the magic word “cannabis” many times in the past. Sorry for bursting the bubble, but it may well be that the socio-political tension and semi-legal status of cannabis adds to the placebo effect of CBD oil. Our perception of hardly attainable product unconsciously primes us to believe in its sophisticated properties it may never even have.  (If you want to learn more about placebo effect, I recommend this book.)


Final conclusion

In order to asses efficacy of CBD in medical treatment and beauty products we need more clinical trials and more research showing measurable evidence. The current status is vague, pointing out on potential uses but no dosage and side or long-term effects. Let’s wait few more years before buying things which may not work. There are many beauty products which have been proven effective already.  If you want to find out more about skin care products, read my post on anti-ageing creams.


If you found this post interesting, hit like button and share it with your friends. By doing so you will help to promote my blog and allow me to reach wider audience. Thank you!



P.S.  For more on this topic and many more – visit Seeking Science blog created by passionate scientists like me 🙂

11 thoughts

  1. After two very interesting conversations in Spain last week, I’m now ‚negotiating’ importing CBD oil for personal use, but the stronger stuff Ewilena! Will do my own ‚clinical trials’ to see if it relieves rheumatic pain as much, or better than NSAID’s – which I can no longer take. Will give you an update as and when…


    1. It sounds really interesting, my mum has some sort of rheumatic pains too. It would be great to talk about it when me and Ellis are next time in Cambridge 🙂


  2. Thank you for your kind words, Jess!
    Your welcome, I’m happy I helped you to shed some light into this topic. I very much appreciate that you reach out to me with this question. I tried to make the topic as accessible as possible because the trend will come to Europe sooner or later.

    I guess the government’s game is a never-ending story and what people should do it actually read about what they are buying or using, so they are indeed fully aware of the pros and cons. The celebs are not helping, since they get excited about anything they are paid for, thus it leaves us (educators) little room to wave informational leaflets saying „heeeeyyy it’s not that n=1 is a right experimental sample size, we need more research!”. Anyways, I’m also curious about the future of CBD and whole cannabis-related industry because it has been on the verge of legalising in so many countries for years now.


    1. So many good points here, Ewelina. I especially like the one about celebrities as culture changers. We can point the finger a lot at policy changers (politicians) but let us not forget the role of idols and pop culture figures. 100%


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