marijuana for dermatomyositis
Dermatomyositis is a rare inflammatory disease characterized by muscle weakness and a rash. As you may know already, marijuana is good medicine for inflammation and the pain that often goes along with it. But did you know the compounds in this plant can regulate immune cell activity too? There’s a lot of science behind the cannabis plant, and researchers are finding more and more of what the herb can do medicinally, including medical marijuana for dermatomyositis.

What Is Dermatomyositis?

Dermatomyositis (DM) has a distinctive rash, which makes it easy to detect. It usually affects adults in their late 40s to early 60s, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD), but it can also affect children as well, often appearing between the ages 5 and 15. Women tend to develop this condition more than men.

Dermatomyositis doesn’t have a cure, but you can experience remission where you’ll have an improvement in your symptoms or will have no symptoms at all. When you’re experiencing a flare-up — meaning your symptoms are back — there are treatment options to help you regain muscle function and strength, clear the rash and help with other symptoms.

Symptoms of Dermatomyositis

Skin changes and muscle weakness are the two primary symptoms you may notice. It’s easy to spot a DM rash because it’s red or purple and patchy. It appears most commonly on your eyelids or in places you use your muscles for straightening joints such as your knees, toes, knuckles and elbows. You can also get it on your chin, cheeks, nose, upper chest and back.

The first sign of DM is typically the rash. You could get other rashes as well that are usually red and appear on your shoulders, face, upper chest, neck or back. It might look like you have a sunburn and your skin will feel dry, scaly and rough.

Other symptoms you might experience are:

  • Low-grade fever
  • Weight loss
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Inflamed lungs

DM is a type of myositis, which is inflammation of the muscles used to move your body. Dermatomyositis is the easiest to diagnose since often the patient will experience the skin rash before they feel any muscle weakness or pain.

Some individuals have calcinosis or hardened bumps under their skin. This symptom might appear one to three years after you develop your first symptoms. Calcium deposits are more likely to occur in children than in adults.

Swelling and inflammation under the skin in the muscles and blood vessels cause weak muscles and the skin rash. The weakness starts with the muscles within and closest to the trunk of your body, including your shoulders, back, neck and hips.

Some people with dermatomyositis also experience muscle pain.

The muscle weakness associated with dermatomyositis can become worse over time. You’ll experience this first in your muscles like your shoulders, neck, upper arms, hips and thighs. You might also experience joint pain, feel weak on both sides of your body and have thinning muscles.

Causes of Dermatomyositis

The exact cause of DM is unclear, but, as with other autoimmune disorders, your immune system attacks the tissues of your body by mistake. Specifically, DM affects the small blood vessels in your muscular tissue. Inflammatory cells begin surrounding your blood vessels and gradually destroy your muscle fibers.

cause of dermatomyositis

Types of Dermatomyositis

There are different types of DM including:

  • Childhood dermatomyositis
  • Amyopathic dermatomyositis
  • Primary idiopathic dermatomyositis

Physical Effects of Dermatomyositis

Besides a rash and muscle weakness, dermatomyositis can lead to other potential complications, including:

  • Calcium deposits: These deposits can occur in your skin, muscles and connective tissues as the condition progresses. Children with DM tend to develop calcium deposits most and earlier in the disease’s progression.
  • Trouble swallowing: If DM affects your esophagus muscles, it can cause dysphagia, or problems swallowing, and lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
  • Aspiration pneumonia: Trouble swallowing can make you breathe in saliva, food or liquids into your lungs.
  • Breathing problems: When DM affects the chest muscles, it can cause you to have problems breathing like being short of breath.

DM could also increase your risk of developing other conditions, including:

  • Other connective tissue diseases: You could develop overlap syndromes where you have DM and develop another condition like lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon: Your toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and nose turn pale with cold temperature exposure with this condition.
  • Cardiovascular disease: DM can cause myocarditis, also known as heart muscle inflammation. Some individuals with DM also develop heart arrhythmias and congestive heart failure.
  • Cancer: Adults with DM have an increased risk of developing cancer, especially of the breasts, cervix, gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, ovaries and lungs.
  • Lung disease: Those with DM can also develop interstitial lung disease. This is a group of conditions causing fibrosis (scarring) of lung tissue and makes the lungs inelastic and stiff.

Mental Effects of Dermatomyositis

Individuals with dermatomyositis often have a reduced quality of life. There’s an increased prevalence of mental disorders in dermatology patients with 17.2 and 10.1 percent of them having anxiety and depression, respectively, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD).

According to some studies, there’s a strong link between major depressive disorder and peripheral inflammation with a higher prevalence of depression in individuals with inflammatory diseases.

Dermatomyositis Statistics

Facts about Dermatomyositis according to American Family Physician (AFP) include:

  • While rare, the prevalence of DM is one to 3.2 cases for every million individuals in kids and one to 10 cases for every million in adults.
  • The average diagnosis age is 40 years old.
  • DM affects nearly twice as many females as males.
  • In younger patients, the average age of DM onset is between 5 years old and 15 years old.
  • The mortality rate has reduced to less than 10 percent from nearly 50 percent with modern therapies.

dermatomyositis stats

Dermatomyositis History

While Unverricht and Wagner receive credit with the first dermatomyositis descriptions in the later 1880s, Unverricht suggested the first one to recognize the disease’s clinical features was Virchow. Virchow already observed a patient in 1866 he described as “spotted with a rash” who made him think of polymyositis.

Current Treatments Available for Dermatomyositis and Their Side Effects

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history and symptoms. DM is fairly easy to diagnose because of its associated rash.

The doctor might also order:

  • Electromyography (EMG) for recording electrical impulses controlling your muscles
  • An MRI to see if there are any abnormal muscles
  • A muscle biopsy with a muscle tissue sample to check for problems associated with the condition like inflammation
  • Blood analysis for checking your levels of muscle autoantibodies — normal cell-attacking antibodies — and enzymes
  • A skin biopsy with a skin sample to check for changes the disease may have caused

There is no cure for dermatomyositis, but treatment can improve your muscle weakness and the condition of your skin. Treatments may include the following:

1. Medication

Corticosteroids, like prednisone, are typical first-line treatment. You apply them to your skin or take them by mouth. They lower your immune system response, reducing the antibodies that cause inflammation. Corticosteroids are not meant to be a long-term treatment since they can produce some serious side effects, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Thinning of your skin
  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Bruising easily
  • Glaucoma and cataracts
  • Increased susceptibility to infection

Corticosteroid-sparing medications help reduce corticosteroids’ side effects. You can take drugs like methotrexate and azathioprine in advanced cases of DM or if you’re experiencing complications from corticosteroids. There are few side effects of these medications, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomachache
  • Diarrhea

2. Therapy

Depending on how severe your symptoms are, the doctor may suggest:

  • Speech Therapy: If dermatomyositis affects your swallowing muscles, speech therapy may help you learn methods to compensate for any changes.
  • Dietetic Assessment: As DM progresses, you can experience swallowing and chewing difficulties. A registered dietitian will help you prepare easy-to-eat meals.
  • Physical Therapy: The physical therapist will teach you exercises to help improve and maintain your flexibility and strength. They’ll also recommend the right level of activity.

3. Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG)

With dermatomyositis, your body produces antibodies targeting your muscles and skin. IVIG blocks these antibodies using healthy antibodies. IVIG contains a mixture of antibodies collected by the donation of blood from thousands of healthy individuals. The doctor administers IVIG to you through an IV.

4. Surgery

Your doctor may recommend surgery to prevent recurrent skin infections and remove painful calcium deposits.

Recent Developments in Dermatomyositis

Researchers supported by Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) are studying the underlying mechanisms causing inflammatory myopathies like dermatomyositis.

A few MDA projects center around learning what causes the immune system to attack muscle tissue mistakenly. The overall goal is stopping these attacks.

Some researchers funded through the MDA are developing cellular models of dermatomyositis-related muscle injury. The researchers are screening the models to get an understanding of the basic mechanisms behind the disease-causing muscle injury.

They’re putting a lot of focus on the role of interferons. These are proteins the immune system cells typically produce when responding to a viral infection in DM. Some evidence shows in DM, type 1 interferons injure muscle and researchers are looking to discover compounds to prevent such injury.

How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Dermatomyositis

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) suppressed the immune systems of rodents in one study. If the same thing occurred in humans, it could improve the likelihood of using medical cannabis for dermatomyositis.

THC uses the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors to mediate its activity. CB1 expresses highly in the brain and peripheral tissues at a lower extent, while CB2 dominates the immune cells. So, aside from THC’s psychoactive effects, it activates immune cell cannabinoid receptors through multiple pathways to suppress inflammation.

Humans have natural cannabinoid receptors, which is one reason the cannabinoids in cannabis work so well. Cannabidiol (CBD) helps support your immune system by allowing the self-defense system of your body to recognize the difference between foreign bodies and normal anatomy.

cbd immune support

Compounds in medical marijuana activate the body’s and brain’s receptors regulating immune cell activity and inflammation.

Since cannabinoids and hemp can help heal dry skin or rashes, skin areas affected by autoimmune diseases like dermatomyositis may be soothed by lotions or salves made with cannabis. Cannabis can also help ease the pain in connective tissues you can experience with an autoimmune disease.

A study found many recognize the cannabinoid system as a regulator of both immune and nervous systems. Evidence shows the THC found in cannabis is immunosuppressive in both in vitro and in vivo. So, marijuana has immunosuppressive properties that may benefit those suffering from autoimmune diseases.

What Side Effects and Symptoms of Dermatomyositis Can Medical Marijuana Treat?

Many individuals mistakenly believe medical weed merely distracts them from the symptoms of their condition. But, marijuana has compounds that engage directly with immune cells, creating real and valuable body changes. This is why marijuana is effective in calming swelling and inflammation and tackling autoimmune diseases. Researchers have found it all involves your endocannabinoid system.

Cannabis can help relieve symptoms of dermatomyositis including:

Marijuana doesn’t just relieve pain and other symptoms of inflammatory diseases like DM, it also works as an effective immunomodulator. This is a chemical agent that modifies the immune response or immune system functioning.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Symptoms of Dermatomyositis

Many medical pot strains will tackle individual symptoms, while others will tackle most if not all symptoms. For instance, some strains to help ease most if not all DM symptoms including anxiety and depression are:

  • Bay II (Sativa)
  • Green Lantern (Sativa)
  • Cream Caramel (Indica)
  • Black Mamba (Indica)
  • Jet Fuel (Hybrid)
  • Electric Lemon G (Hybrid)
  • Orange Dream (Hybrid)

So, while you’re testing out different strains, you’ll eventually find some will work better than others.

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use to Treat Side Effects and Symptoms of Condition

Which delivery method you choose will depend on the symptoms you’re experiencing. Not to worry, there are many options you can experiment with to find the best one. Some include:

  • Smoking
  • Vaping
  • Edibles
  • Juicing
  • Topical
  • Transdermal patch
  • Pure CBD
  • Suppositories
  • Sublingual

You might find a topical in the form of a cream, balm or salve might be the best method to apply cannabis to your rash and find relief. Smoking cannabis is not the optimal choice because of its respiratory effects, particularly if you have compromised lung function.

marijuana balm

More Medical Marijuana Resources for You

Before you begin your medical marijuana for dermatomyositis journey, you’ll want to learn and understand your state laws. Then, if your state approves of medical cannabis for your qualified condition, your next step will be to find an approved cannabis doctor and dispensary. You can find both at

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