Updated on January 7, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Treating psoriasis is a bit trickier than you may think. We consider psoriasis a skin condition, but its source often lies in the immune system. So, to take care of psoriasis, we must address both the cause and the effect — and that’s easier said than done!
While we need to relieve the itching and redness on the surface of the skin, we may also have to suppress the immune system so it stops attacking healthy skin cells. Not every medicine works well for a patient, so it takes trial and error to discover the best course of action.
Medical marijuana patients with psoriasis have found the drug helps relieve their symptoms. If we can use it for this skin condition, we can avoid the side effects of pharmaceuticals and use one drug to handle multiple symptoms.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that affects around 7.5 million people in the United States. Its symptoms range from mild to severe, with most patients experiencing only mild symptoms. Patients with psoriasis often get flare-ups, during which they temporarily deal with symptoms.
The signature symptom of psoriasis is red skin patches that burn, itch or hurt. It can also cause cracked, bleeding skin. In some cases, psoriasis also affects your joints, resulting in psoriatic arthritis.
At the time of writing, not many states consider psoriasis eligible for medical marijuana treatment. But, some states accept conditions approved by a certified marijuana doctor. If you work with a physician who can link your psoriasis to your state’s criteria, you can receive cannabis medicine.
Doctors haven’t pinpointed the exact cause of psoriasis, but they do know that the immune system is involved. Psoriasis happens when your T cells don’t work properly.
The T cells protect your body from pathogens and activate skin cell development. Patients with psoriasis have T cells that attack healthy skin cells while creating excess skin cells. These extra skin cells combine with white blood cells to rest on top of the skin, but the body has a difficult time shedding the excess cells. As a result, the patient develops red, scaly patches.
Did you know marijuana can serve as an immunosuppressant? It reduces the immune system’s ability to attack cells, relieving psoriasis symptoms. This phenomenon occurs thanks to cannabinoids and your endocannabinoid system.
Cannabinoids are the components found in marijuana — the two most studied cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). We observe how they interact with the body to figure out how marijuana can work as a medicine.
Our brains have built-in cannabinoid receptors called the endocannabinoid system. When they take in cannabinoids, they change the signals sent to the rest of your body. One type of cannabinoid receptor, the CB2 receptor, regulates the immune system.
So, when you take cannabis medicine, the components in it interact with your brain. The brain then tells your immune system not to work so hard, reducing how much your T cells attack your skin. As a result, you’ll have fewer psoriasis symptoms.
We’d be amiss if we didn’t mention the other benefits of marijuana for psoriasis. In addition to tackling one of its leading causes, weed relieves the symptoms associated with it. It reduces inflammation and pain levels, which especially helps patients with severe, painful psoriasis.
Marijuana is also ideal for patients with multiple conditions since it has the potential to treat all sorts of symptoms. If this piques your interest, contact a doctor open to medical marijuana treatment or a dispensary for medicinal cannabis.