Is Cannabis an Effective Treatment for Psoriasis?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on January 25, 2018Written by Susan York Morris on January 13, 2016
cannabis

Overview

Cannabis, or marijuana, is now being used to treat pain and conditions such as Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, and nausea from chemotherapy. The evidence is mounting that cannabis may also be effective in treating everything from multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease to schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. But can cannabis be used to treat psoriasis?

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes the rapid build-up of skin cells. The new skin cells are produced so quickly that they reach the surface of the skin before they’re mature. This immature buildup on the surface of the skin forms itchy, raised patches of silvery scales. Parts of your body may also become inflamed, and you may have redness, swelling, and discomfort.

About 15 percent of people who have psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis. This condition causes painful swelling and stiffness of the joints. If left untreated, it can also lead to permanent joint damage.

How psoriasis affects your mental health

Pain, fatigue, and sleeplessness often occur with psoriasis. Psoriasis can also take a profound toll on your mental health.

The National Psoriasis Foundation notes that people with psoriasis are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and suicide. A 2010 study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that people living with psoriasis have a 39 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with depression than those without the disease. They also have a 31 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with anxiety.

Is cannabis a solution?

Psoriasis isn’t curable and can be difficult to control. Although there are a variety of medications and light therapies for treating the disease, some have serious side effects and others lose their effectiveness when your body builds up a resistance to them.

Given the physical and emotional burden of psoriasis, new treatment options are needed. Cannabis is one of the treatment possibilities being explored. Research into the effectiveness of cannabis addresses different aspects of the disease.

Slowing cell growth

Some studies suggest cannabis may be useful in slowing the rapid growth of keratinocytes. These are the immature skin cells found in people with psoriasis. One study suggests that cannabinoids and their receptors may help control and limit the production of immature skin cells. Researchers add that cannabis may be useful in treating several conditions involving keratinocytes, including psoriasis and wound healing.

Controlling pain

Many people use marijuana to control pain. Cannabis may be more effective than opioids in controlling acute and neuropathic pain. It may also be useful in reducing chronic pain, according to an article in Current Rheumatology. An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also suggests that marijuana may be effective in treating pain.

Regulating the immune system

Although more research is needed, some studies indicate that cannabis reduces the severity of inflammation associated with some conditions, including autoimmune disorders like psoriasis. An article published in the journal Pharmacology indicates that cannabis can suppress the immune system.

Most research has focused on forms of cannabis that are taken by mouth. Cannabis is also available as oil. Some people use this oil topically to treat psoriasis, claiming that it controls the speed of skin cell production and reduces inflammation. More research is needed to support these claims.

Treatment of stress

Psoriasis and stress go hand in hand, and THC has been shown to relieve stress. However, researchers note that while low doses of THC can produce stress-relieving effects, higher doses may actually have a negative effect on mood.

Cannabinoids hold the key

Cannabinoids are active chemicals found in marijuana plants. Your body makes cannabinoids, too. These chemical messengers are called “endocannabinoids.” They play a role in some functions in your body, including:

  • inflammation
  • immunity
  • appetite
  • the pressure in your eye
  • mood
  • reproduction

Should you consider cannabis for psoriasis?

Cannabis holds promise for treating the symptoms of psoriasis. It’s well-established that cannabis can be useful in controlling pain. More research is needed to determine if it’s safe and effective, though. The manner in which cannabis is used also needs more testing. Cannabis can be used in a variety of forms, including:

  • pills
  • inhalants
  • vaporizers
  • tinctures

Cannabis hasn’t been better studied because it’s a Schedule I substance under the United States Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I substances are considered to have a high potential for abuse, have no accepted medical use, and may not be safe for use under medical supervision.

These restrictions have posed a significant obstacle to cannabis research. Still, state laws allowing the use of medical marijuana have encouraged more research and efforts to deregulate the drug.

Where is medical marijuana legal in the United States?

Cannabis can’t be prescribed under federal law, but doctors may recommend or provide a referral for its use in place of a prescription. This is legal in the following parts of the United States. Keep in mind that the form of cannabis allowed varies by location.

Speak with your doctor

Should you consider cannabis to treat your psoriasis? This depends on where you live. Some parts of the United States allow the use of cannabis to treat psoriasis. Others allow people to use it to relieve pain. Speak with your doctor to see if it’s advisable for you to use cannabis, given your overall health and state laws.

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