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Cannabis for Psoriasis: Can It Help?

Posted on May 31, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Marnie Willman

As cannabis becomes legal in many states in the U.S., you may wonder if it could help treat your psoriasis symptoms. In recent years, there has been an increase in over-the-counter products that contain substances like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Although potential benefits of cannabis products may seem promising for people with psoriasis, it’s important to know that the safety and effectiveness of these products is not clear.

Some members of MyPsoriasisTeam, the online social support group for people with psoriasis, have expressed curiosity around using medical cannabis products along with their doctor-prescribed treatments. Some members have experimented with medical cannabis products, with varying results.

One MyPsoriasisTeam member said, “I apply a cannabis salve whenever I find a new little spot.” Another member responded saying, “Now that I’m using the right dose and strain [of cannabis], it’s quite effective for when my pain levels increase.”

Several factors should be considered when evaluating whether a cannabis product might be right for you. This article will discuss medical cannabis, the potential effects on your psoriasis symptoms, and possible risks and side effects.

Always talk with your doctor before trying new complementary or alternative therapies like products that contain cannabis. Alternative or natural treatments may help relieve your psoriasis symptoms, but they also pose the risk of harmful side effects or drug interactions.

What Is Cannabis?

Medical marijuana, or medical cannabis, refers to any product derived from the cannabis plant. The two best-known of these compounds are tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, both referred to as cannabinoids. When consumed or inhaled, these substances produce different effects, and they may be used to help different health conditions.

THC is the substance known to affect mental state, reasoning, and cognition, making a person feel “high.” CBD produces different effects in the body and does not affect a person’s ability to think and reason.

Cannabinoids THC and CBD have been experimented with and used as treatments to reduce chronic pain, nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy, and symptoms of conditions such as HIV and multiple sclerosis. However, many questions remain regarding how cannabis derivatives work and what exactly they do. Clinical trials and studies continue to look for the answers, but many of the research results to date are anecdotal, based on reports or observation rather than scientific evidence.

Medical cannabis products come in many forms, such as oils, tinctures, tablets, and capsules, as well as dry leaves that can be smoked. A cannabis skin care product might be available as a topical oil, lotion, cream, or spray.

If you’re interested in learning more about cannabis products, be aware of several issues. Cannabis products may contain varying amounts of active cannabinoid ingredients, which makes them tricky to evaluate as a medication or treatment.

Furthermore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only some medications that contain CBD or THC, and these are approved only for people who have severe epilepsy or HIV or are undergoing chemotherapy. No cannabis-containing medications have the FDA’s OK to treat psoriasis.

Can Medical Cannabis Relieve Psoriasis Symptoms?

Since few controlled trials have explored the effects of cannabinoids for psoriasis, it’s not clear how cannabis may affect symptoms. Some members of MyPsoriasisTeam have found cannabinoid products to be beneficial, while others have reported that cannabis has no effect on their psoriasis symptoms.

One member said, “I haven’t had a flare-up since I started using CBD oil with THC in it.” Another shared, “My medical marijuana helps me sleep — I swear by it!” Experiences vary greatly — another member said regarding cannabis: “I tried it … but it had no effect on me.”

Clinical studies have found that topical cannabinoids may have immunosuppressive, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving effects on the skin.

Autoimmunity and Inflammation

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition — the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. The condition is characterized by systemic and skin inflammation and faster production of skin cells, leading to symptoms like discolored, scaly patches of skin.

Research studies have found mechanisms through which CBD might affect activity of immune cells and inflammation. A systematic research review published in 2020 looked at existing findings and suggested that CBD may help improve inflammation. One study included in the review found that CBD reduced the activity of several types of immune cells that stimulate or worsen inflammation in psoriasis.

Pain

Psoriasis can be a painful condition. Many people use cannabis to manage pain from other medical conditions, but it’s not clear if cannabinoid products offer similar benefits for those living with psoriasis.

CBD affects the body’s endocannabinoid system — it binds to receptors that are responsible for itching, pain, and inflammation. This means that CBD could potentially be used to address these symptoms in psoriasis, but more research needs to be done on humans with psoriasis to show whether CBD could truly relieve pain and itching.

Plaques and Lesions

Some researchers have looked into the effects of topical cannabinoid products on psoriasis skin symptoms like plaques and lesions. For a small 2019 study, 20 people with skin conditions, including five who had psoriasis, applied a topical CBD-infused ointment twice daily for three months.

After the treatment period, participants’ skin was better hydrated and psoriatic plaques had improved, based on their Psoriasis Area and Severity Index scores. Researchers also reported improvement in people’s quality of life after using the CBD product for three months. However, more research on larger groups of people with psoriasis is needed.

Potential Risks and Side Effects of Medical Cannabis

While there are potential benefits to using cannabinoid products for psoriasis, there’s also the risk of side effects and drug interactions.

Smoking cannabinoid products can lead to serious respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia. Edible marijuana products pose a risk of consuming too much or overdosing, which can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms and cognitive side effects. Some people have reported long-term impacts on memory, coordination, and concentration with regular use of THC.

Fatigue, nausea, and irritability are potential side effects of using CBD. If you take certain medications, such as blood thinners, you should not use CBD. People who are pregnant should not use any cannabis products.

THC or CBD products may contain other ingredients that you’re allergic or sensitive to. Before trying any new product, read the ingredients list carefully to make sure you don’t further irritate your skin. Also, ask your regular health care and dermatology providers if cannabis products could interfere with your current medications and medical conditions.

The therapeutic benefits of cannabinoid products may sound promising, but it’s important to remember that these substances are not FDA-approved for the treatment of psoriasis. Without regulation and oversight of these products, you can’t be entirely certain about their ingredients and how your body will react to them.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 110,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.

Have you tried cannabis products to treat your psoriasis? What was your experience like? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Marnie Willman is a Ph.D. candidate in medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. Learn more about her here.

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