Psoriasis can be itchy, painful, and downright maddening. But, can cannabis provide relief? This segment of HERB’s Skin Deep series is all about cannabis and psoriasis. Here’s how the plant can help ease the pain, minimize symptoms, and which forms of cannabis work best.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes itchy, painful red patches on the skin. These red patches develop plaques, built up layers of skin. For some reason, the body begins to grow new skin cells more quickly than it can shed them. This causes irritating scaley patches to compile in various areas of the skin.
There are several different types of psoriasis, and each one features flare-ups on different locations. The rash caused by this condition can begin to crack and bleed, and about 10 – 20% percent of patients develop psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is an intensely painful swelling of the joints near lesion areas. There is no cure for psoriasis.
This condition can be triggered by several different things. Scientists have found 25 different genes that make a person more likely to develop psoriasis, but stress is what is most linked to outbreaks. Stress, in this case, includes all bodily stress, from infection, reactions to medications, to stressful life events and trauma.
The immune system is thought to play a major role in psoriasis. Recent research has shown that those with psoriasis have overactive T lymphocytes, also known as T-cells. It’s the T-cell’s job to hunt down invasive bacteria or other pathogens and destroy them. In those with psoriasis, the T-cell decides to start attacking the body’s own skin as if it were an invader.
Marijuana and psoriasis
There are a couple of different ways cannabis may be able to help ease psoriasis pain, discomfort, and even clear flare-ups. Recent research has shown that THC may suppress the body’s immune system. This is potentially good news for those suffering from conditions related to an overactive immune system. Psoriasis just might be one of them.
THC interacts with two primary cell receptors in the body. The cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB-1) and the cannabinoid 2 receptor (CB-2). The CB-2 receptor is found on immune cells, indicating that it plays a role in immune response. One research review published in 2010 suggested that drugs which target the CB-2 receptor may provide new, effective ways to treat autoimmune diseases and “malignancies of the immune system.”
Since THC binds to the CB-2 receptor and mediates immune response, evidence suggests that it may be extremely helpful in those with autoimmune diseases. This idea goes hand-in-hand with the wealth of research which suggests that cannabis is a potent anti-inflammatory.
Inflammation is what leads to the pain and deteriorated tissue associated with psoriatic arthritis. It’s also partly responsible for the pain and irritation associated with skin lesions themselves. Other research has shown that cannabinoids seem to slow the growth of keratinocytes, which are specific types of skin cells. This could be another major bonus for psoriatic conditions.
There’s a catch, though. If you want cannabis to help treat your psoriasis, you’ll have to use it in the right way. When it comes to skin conditions, not all forms of the herb are equal.
A cannabis topical is a balm, cream, or salve that has been infused with cannabinoids. There are many varieties of topicals, some containing CBD, THC, or a combination of other cannabinoids. Some topicals contain “activated” marijuana, which is cannabis that has been heated and extracted. Other topicals contain THCa, the unheated acid precursor to the psychoactive THC that most are familiar with.
Cannabis topicals do not get you high. Rather, they work wonders for drastically reducing skin irritations and easing pain in localized areas. As explained in our first Skin Deep segment, there are cannabinoid receptors in cells throughout the skin. When you apply topical cannabis, specifically activated topical cannabis, you engage these receptors.
This dampens the immune and inflammatory response in the skin. If you have psoriatic arthritis, topicals can also help relieve some of the pain and inflammation in your joints. For psoriasis of the scalp, it’s possible to pick up cannabis infused shampoo and conditioner at a local dispensary.
In anecdotal reports, patients have found extremely effective relief with cannabis. Take this one example, posted in an International Cannagraphic forum:
I have had psoriasis for 20 years until I tried using a topical cannabis extract this week, and it is almost fully healed within 3 days. I am truly so shocked and elated to see how well this has worked.I stopped treating it years ago when I found out how bad the steroid creams were, and I was never willing to try the self-injected medication that is the leading treatment on the market now, because of the side effects like tuberculosis and lymphoma that are actually quite common with them. Instead, I made bubble hash out of fan leaves and mixed it with coconut oil, and applied it twice daily. – Shmalphy
Like smoke from cigarettes, marijuana smoke can actually irritate conditions like psoriasis. The smoke created via combustion releases carcinogens and other skin-damaging free radicals into the air. While THC may limit some of the impacts of these compounds, the safest option is to choose edibles, a vaporizer, or even a bong over a joint.
Unfortunately, though arthritis is a qualifying condition in many medical marijuana states, psoriasis is not thought of as a condition that can be treated with cannabis. Though, states like California determine medical qualification on a case by case basis.
In other states, severe pain is a qualifying condition. So, if you live in a medical or recreational marijuana region, there may be ways to access the cannabis products you need. It just might be a little tricky.
Most medical cannabis dispensaries have some form of topical available. But, it’s also fairly easy to make your own. Here is a couple of recipes that might interest you:
Topicals just might be one of the most overlooked forms of cannabis medicines. They work wonders, are safe to use, and they’re a great addition to anyone’s first-aid kit.
While it’s always important to talk to your doctor before beginning any new medical treatment, cannabis balms are a must-try for anyone seeking relief for damaged skin.
Have topicals helped you or someone you know recover from psoriasis? Share your story with us on social media or in the comments section below.