A substance found in the cannabis plant helps the body’s natural protective system clear dry, scaly skin rashes caused by allergic dermatitis, according to researchers from the U.S., Germany, Israel, Italy and Switzerland.

Allergic dermatitis commonly causes acne-like rashes on the cheeks, eyelids and neck, as well as on areas of the elbow and the back of knees. Prolonged episodes can lead to facial wrinkles, thickening of the skin and facial pigmentation. The problem begins in youth and can continue through adulthood.

Allergic contact dermatitis affects about 5 percent of men and 11 percent of women in industrialized countries, according to an article published in the journal Science.

A group of domestic and international researchers have found that two naturally occurring cannabinoid (cannabis-like) components found in the body’s endocannabinoid system – one from the brain, named anandamide and another from the intestines named 2-AG provides protection against dermatitis.

These cannabinoids have similar effects to those of the active components in hashish and marijuana, produced from the cannabis plant. Further research using mice has shown that THC – the ingredient in marijuana that produces a “high” in users — significantly decreased the allergic reaction in comparison to untreated mice.

Researchers believe activation of the endocannabinoid system in the skin upon exposure to a contact allergen lowers the allergic responses through modulating the production of this chemokine.

Studies also have shown that mice lacking cannabinoid receptors display exacerbated inflammatory skin responses to an allergen.