20 November 2017
Psoriasis is a skin condition that leads to a buildup of skin cells that form red patches covered in silvery scales. Could cannabis be an effective treatment for this itchy and painful condition?
In recent years, scientists have investigated the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, which is often thought of as a recreational drug. The active elements in cannabis are known as cannabinoids and are central to its potential health benefits.
This article explores the health benefits of cannabis for psoriasis, as supported by scientific evidence. It also covers the risks a person should consider before using cannabis as a treatment for psoriasis.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an itchy and painful skin condition. A problem with the immune system causes too many skin cells to develop, which build up on the surface before they are mature. These skin cells form red patches covered in silvery scales.
Sometimes the affected skin can crack and bleed. Someone with psoriasis may also experience inflammation and swelling in other parts of their body.
Up to 30 percent of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, which leads to stiff and inflamed joints.
There is currently no cure for psoriasis, but it can be managed with the right treatment. Some treatments have side effects, and others become less effective over time. So, scientists are always looking for new ways for people to manage their condition.
Potential benefits of cannabis for psoriasis
Cannabis contains chemicals called cannabinoids that are also produced naturally by the human body.
In the body, chemical messengers called endocannabinoids play a role in certain functions, including:
- eye pressure
When a person takes cannabis, the cannabinoids may affect some of these bodily functions.
Researchers have found a number of potential health benefits of cannabinoids, including:
Inflammation is a symptom of both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
A 2009 study found that the cannabinoids contained in cannabis could help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Slowing cell growth
In people with psoriasis, skin cells are produced too quickly due to a problem with the immune system. These excess cells build up on the skin's surface in scaly patches.
Cannabinoids may help slow the growth of skin cells and help to reduce their accumulation on the skin's surface.
A 2007 study found that cannabinoids slow the growth of cells called keratinocytes in the outer layer of the skin. For this reason, a review done in 2016 suggested that cannabis may be a useful treatment for psoriasis.
Cannabis may help to reduce pain. A 2015 article in JAMA noted that there is significant scientific evidence of the pain-relieving qualities of cannabinoids.
These qualities may make cannabis beneficial for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, by helping them to manage pain and discomfort.
The cannabinoids in cannabis may relieve the itching associated with skin conditions, such as psoriasis.
A 2017 review that explored the relevance of cannabis in dermatology noted that the relief of itching was one of the most promising roles of cannabinoids.
One of the most painful symptoms of psoriasis is the cracking and subsequent bleeding of the affected skin patches.
A 2016 study, using mice, found that cannabinoid receptions play a role in wound repair. In the future, cannabis may be used to help heal open sores caused by psoriasis.
Psoriasis and mental health
Psoriasis is a long-term condition with no known cure, as yet. Over time, psoriasis can have a negative impact on a person's mental wellbeing.
Stress can be a trigger for psoriasis flare-ups. There are also associations between psoriasis and depression, and between depression and inflammation more generally.
Risks and considerations
It is a good idea for a person to discuss with a doctor the use of cannabis for psoriasis before they start treatment.
It is critical to remember that medicinal cannabis is only legal in some states. Those people looking to use cannabis for psoriasis should check the local laws to make an informed decision about whether to use it.
The best way to use cannabis to treat psoriasis is as a tincture or oil applied to the skin.
Cannabis smoke should be avoided, as it can aggravate skin conditions by releasing skin-damaging chemicals into the air.
Cannabis is also available as an inhaler or vaporizer. There is very little research on the safety of taking the drug in these forms, so they are best used with caution and only with a doctor's advice.
Cannabis shows promise as a treatment for psoriasis. The positive effects of cannabinoids on the immune system and pain receptors mean cannabis might provide relief from psoriasis symptoms.