Could Medical Marijuana Help Your Psoriasis Symptoms?

One of the hottest topics of debate in America right now centers around the legality of marijuana or cannabis. While the discussion typically focuses on the recreational use of cannabis, there has been an increase in talk about and laws passed concerning the medical use of marijuana. Right now, 25 states and Washington, D.C. (see below) have specific legislation allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana, with many more considering such legislation. Typically, when we hear about medical marijuana, we think of its pain-relieving properties or effects on eyesight and mood. But what about some of its other effects on body systems?1

What does the research tell us?

Several studies in recent years have investigated the anti-inflammatory and anti-tumorigenic properties of cannabis in relation to psoriasis. These properties can come directly from cannabinoids that are present in cannabis. Receptors for cannabinoids and their related counterparts are located all over the skin. One specific compound that binds to these receptors is called anandamide and is made in the body to stop or slow the proliferation of epidermal keratinocytes (a type of skin cell that is also be involved in psoriasis plaque formation).2,3,4

One of these studies, in particular, investigated the impact several cannabinoid-containing plants had on skin keratinocyte growth and proliferation and found a significant correlation.  All of the plant's compounds affected cell growth, and growth rates increased with increasing amount of cannabinoid plant used. Some plants contained very selective receptor-binding compounds, and these overall had less of an effect on proliferation rates, however, those with less selective components, meaning that they would bind to cannabinoid receptors in the skin the easiest, had a dramatic effect on decreasing proliferation.  These results ultimately suggest that stimulating the cannabinoid receptors could be a means to reducing inflammation and the overproduction of skin cells that leads to plaques.

Knowing that cannabis is a hotly debated substance, these promising results still may steer some away from investigating further. However, one interesting fact about cannabis is that not all cannabinoids cause psychoactive changes.  Not only that but cannabinoids can also be absorbed through the skin and avoid both the bloodstream and the brain entirely, producing effects completely different than the ones we picture of when we think of marijuana use.

These non-psychoactive ingredients, such as cannabidiol, or CBD, can be used topically only, and are therefore more likely to be considered legal everywhere. In fact, many pharmaceutical companies have already started producing products with CBD specifically for psoriasis! Using these legal, non-mind-altering compounds could potentially be a safe and efficient way to treat psoriasis symptoms.5

Access to medical marijuana

While more research needs to be done on this hot topic, it could be an interesting new treatment strategy for individuals with psoriasis who are finding little luck with other generic topical treatments. It also has the potential for helping to regulate skin production, while decreasing pain and itching associated with plaques, and joint pain associated with psoriatic arthritis.

As of September 2016, 25 states and Washington D.C. have laws that allow for the use of medical marijuana.  These laws, however, vary greatly in terms of the possession limit, fees, patient registration criteria, and many other legal intricacies you should be aware of before considering its use for treatment. In each of these states, the regulations are frequently changing so information that may have been true when it was first legalized in your state may no longer be true.  Here is a resource that tracks many of these legal issues and implementation in each state.

Healthcare provider hesitancy

Another complicating issue is whether your healthcare team is aware of this research and/or is familiar with dispensary regulations enough to be comfortable talking to you about this as a treatment option. A recently published statement by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) listed, for the first time, recommendations about medical marijuana for patient care. Yet, there are reports of physicians that are not aware of medical benefits associated with medical marijuana as well as unfamiliarity with dispensary regulations. This often leads to healthcare provider hesitancy to recommend treatment for their patients.6

Some states have initiated provider training and certification programs, but it is too soon to have data regarding the effectiveness of these training programs. FSMB recommendations include the physician completing a written treatment plan that includes a summary of other treatments that were used to ease a patient’s symptoms prior to presenting the option of medical marijuana, and a specific duration for the authorization to obtain marijuana of no longer than 12 months. Another FSMB recommendation is for physicians to check the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, and register with the appropriate oversight agency that monitors medical marijuana in that state.

Let us know what you think about using cannabis to treat your psoriasis, whether you feel your healthcare provider is informed about this issue, or if you have experienced any luck with similar treatments!

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