If you’ve visited my medical marijuana blog in the past, you’ve already seen my articles about using Cannabis to fight obesity, diabetes, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction.  Cannabis has numerous medical applications, but here’s one I haven’t covered until now: the treatment of chronic skin conditions, such as eczema (atopic dermatitis) and psoriasis.  If you’re living with a chronic skin disease and haven’t been able to find relief through conventional medications, Cannabis may be able to improve your symptoms and reduce your discomfort.

Cannabis Products May Help Relieve Dry, Itchy Skin Caused by Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

medical marijuana

Marijuana can have major health benefits for patients who have been diagnosed with itchy, painful skin conditions.  According to a recent study published in Pharmacognosy Reviews, which deals with the study of using plants to treat various medical conditions, “Hemp seed oil [which is produced from Cannabis sativus] is useful for treatment of eczema and host of other skin diseases like dermatitis, seborrhoeic dermatitis/cradle cap, varicose eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus and acne roseacea.  By using hemp seed oil, the skin is strengthened and made better able to resist bacterial, viral and fungal infections.”  Mayo Clinic agrees, noting that this effect “is believed to come from the fatty acids in hemp seed oil,” such as linoleic acid (omega-6) and stearidonic acid (omega-3).

A separate study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment further probed the link between the fatty acids in hemp seed oil and the treatment of eczema.  Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema is a common skin condition, often present from childhood, which causes uncomfortable skin rashes that can feel bumpy, fissured, flaky, or prone to peeling.  These rashes can develop anywhere on the body, but most typically appear on the arms and backs of the knees .  The Dermatological Treatment study found that “qualities of both skin dryness and itchiness improved and dermal medication usage decreased after hemp seed oil intervention.”

Cannabis products can also aid the treatment of a similar but separate type of skin rash called contact dermatitis, which, unlike atopic dermatitis, is caused by contact with irritants (such as bleach and detergent) or allergens (such as latex and nickel).  While contact dermatitis is generally mild and short-lived, its symptoms – which can include itching, swelling, blistering, peeling, and ulceration – can be highly unpleasant.

According to a recent study on contact dermatitis published in Allergy, “Topically applied THC can effectively [reduce] contact allergic inflammation by decreasing [skin cell]-derived pro-inflammatory mediators that orchestrate myeloid immune cell infiltration independent of CB1/2 receptors,” or the receptors Cannabinoids like THC and CBD bind to when you use marijuana.  While more research is needed – particularly because Cannabis oils and topical Cannabis creams aren’t well-regulated at present – the Allergy researchers concluded that their findings “ha[ve] important implications for the future development of strategies to harness Cannabinoids for the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases.”  Additionally, smoked or vaporized Cannabis can help to relieve the pain resulting from skin conditions of all types.

There is also a third type of dermatitis that may be eased by Cannabis: stasis dermatitis, a condition typically affecting patients in their fifties or older, which is caused by clogging of microscopic blood vessels in the lower legs from cholesterol, high blood pressure, or most commonly Diabetes.  This can lead to painful inflammation of the skin and accumulation of fluids in the lower legs.  Topical Cannabis applied directly to the skin in the affected area may decrease the inflammation and provide relief from the symptoms of stasis dermatitis.

Treating Lupus, Hives, Psoriasis, and Psoriatic Arthritis with Medical Marijuana

docotor discusses cannabis health benefits treatment options with patient

Similar assessments have been made of the relationship between Cannabis and psoriasis, a dry, scaly skin rash that produces symptoms like redness, itching, peeling, and flaking.  Some psoriasis patients also experience joint pain and stiffness, which are indicators of a psoriasis-related inflammatory disease called psoriatic arthritis, or PsA.

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science found that Cannabinoids, having anti-inflammatory properties, work to inhibit the proliferation of skin cells called keratinocytes, which play a role in causing psoriasis.  Based on these findings, the study concluded that there is a “potential role for Cannabinoids in the treatment of psoriasis.”  In fact, our neighbor Connecticut added severe psoriasis and PsA to its list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana earlier this year after both conditions were recommended for inclusion by Connecticut’s Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians.

While no skin diseases have been explicitly named as qualifying conditions here in Massachusetts – at least, not as of summer 2016 – our state’s medical marijuana legislation includes a provision for “other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.”  If your skin condition is causing you severe, persistent pain or discomfort, you might be able to qualify for medical marijuana in Massachusetts if your doctor thinks the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks.  For instance, Cannabis may be appropriate for treating skin-affecting conditions such as:

  • Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (CIU) – Patients diagnosed with CIU experience ongoing, persistent outbreaks of hives (urticaria), which appear as tiny red or pink bumps on any part of the body. A study from Case Reports in Immunology on Cannabis and angioedema, which involves tissue swelling (edema) beneath the skin’s surface and may be accompanied by urticaria, revealed that “a Cannabis product for the treatment of… angioedema was associated with an excellent clinical response.  The rate of attacks dropped from at least twice a month to nil, appeared again a week after cessation, and disappeared again when treatment was restarted.”  The patient who formed the basis of the study, a 27-year-old male, had a history of mild urticaria.
  • Dermatomyositis (DM) – DM is a rare inflammatory disease. While its exact causes are unknown, DM develops when the body’s immune system acts against itself, leading to muscle weakness and reddish-purple skin rashes.  Though incurable, the symptoms of DM may be alleviated by Cannabis, allowing the patient to experience a better quality of life.
  • Lupus – Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE) is a serious inflammatory disease which can cause symptoms like joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, skin rashes, ulcers, fever, and hair loss. A study in Future Medical Chemistry showed that ajulemic acid (AjA), a synthetic Cannabinoid, “may have a value for treatment of joint inflammation in patients with… (SLE).”
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) – The same study published in Future Medical Chemistry study also found that AjA had therapeutic potential for RA patients. According to the study, “Cannabinoids and their anti-inflammatory properties have been studied… on human cells from RA patients and these studies demonstrate the anti-arthritic properties of these natural plant compounds.”  The study also noted that a synthetic Cannabinoid called HU-320, which doesn’t have any psychoactive (mind-altering) effects, was shown to improve arthritis in mice.

Contact a Medical Marijuana Doctor for Help with Your Skin Disease

To learn more about whether you could be a suitable candidate for medical Cannabis based on your skin condition, call Inhale MD at (617) 477-8886 to set up a confidential consultation.  If conventional medications haven’t been working for you, medical marijuana could be an effective addition to your current prescription.