BlogItching for a new treatment? Cannabinoids show potential in psoriasis management

Itching for a new treatment? Cannabinoids show potential in psoriasis management

7 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Itching for a new treatment? Cannabinoids show potential in psoriasis management
Psoriasis is a chronic, autoimmune skin condition that affects an estimated 2.1 million people in the UK, and August marks its month of awareness. This extremely prevalent dermatological issue is currently incurable, and subjects patients to uncomfortable red, itchy patches of skin that can crack and bleed, which can be very painful. 


In 2016, it was found that around 84% of patients with psoriasis have psychiatric comorbidities, and over half are believed to have trouble with their sleep or sleep quality. This can lead to an increase in stress, which can negatively affect skin health, which can in turn negatively affect stress levels,leading patients to frequently feel as though they’re stuck in a vicious cycle.

However, in recent years there has been a growing interest in the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids, the active compounds found within cannabis plants, and what impact they may be able to have on the skin. So, we thought this would be the perfect time to delve beneath the surface, and find out if cannabinoids could be of benefit to patients with psoriasis. 

What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis occurs when there is an over acceleration in the skin’s growth cycle, causing skin cells to develop rapidly, resulting in a build-up of skin cells in one location. These patches appear thick and scaly and can be itchy, inflamed and uncomfortable. 

If the skin cracks, it can be extremely painful and these wounds are prone to infection, giving patients added stress and extra health management requirements – such as wound dressing to avoid contamination.  

Conventionally, topical steroid creams and ointments are prescribed to manage symptoms or flare-ups on the surface, however currently, there is no long term cure for psoriasis. 

In more extreme cases, sometimes patients are prescribed systematic medications to modulate or regulate the immune system’s response, but again this is just a short term ‘fix’ to what is often a lifelong condition. 

In general, patients are advised to keep a healthy, balanced diet and told that sunlight and UV lights can also be helpful in managing their condition so long as the appropriate precautions are taken. 

But now an increasing number of patients around the world, including even Kim Kardashian, are exploring more natural, herbal options or remedies when conventional treatments haven’t proved effective. 

And so, we thought we’d have a look into the role cannabinoids could play in psoriasis symptom management, but first – what are cannabinoids?

What are cannabinoids?

The cannabis plant is made up of an incredible plethora of chemical compounds, including cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. Over 100 different cannabinoids have been identified, although the most thoroughly investigated are cannabidiol, CBD, and tetrahydrocannabinol, THC. 

These chemicals have been particularly studied for their anti-inflammatory, analgesic and immunomodulatory properties, and their interaction with the human endocannabinoid system upon consumption is truly fascinating. 

The endocannabinoid system is an intricate and complex network that sends signals around the body using naturally produced cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, to regulate biological processes. When cannabinoids are consumed, they can disguise themselves as endocannabinoids and essentially sneak into the system. This gives them the ability to interact with its functions and influence pain perception, inflammatory and immune responses, mood, appetite and so much more. 

Cannabis-based medicines and products are now available and can be recommended or prescribed by specialist doctors in the UK to help manage the symptoms of a number of health conditions – including skin diseases like psoriasis. 

These products are designed to identify the issues within the body and then boost the endocannabinoids' natural signals in order to restore balance and homeostasis within the body. 

This can range from influencing inflammatory or pain responses, to lessen the physical severity for the patient, or to relieve anxiety and improve their sleep to help with the patient's quality of life. 

Therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in psoriasis symptom management

Although the regulatory bodies in the UK are considering emerging evidence of a clinical effect of CBD, currently most CBD products are not classed as medicines, which means that they cannot make any medicinal claims. As the evidence continues to build, we have extracted some of the studies and anecdotal evidence that could show several potential benefits associated with full-spectrum CBD.

While a complete cure for psoriasis remains elusive, there has been a surge of interest in cannabinoids' ability to effectively manage and alleviate the symptoms associated with the disease.

One landmark study in 2007 revealed fascinating findings regarding the impact of cannabinoids on psoriasis. This study explored the effects of various cannabinoids, such as CBD, CBG, CBN, and THC, on the growth of a type of skin cell called keratinocytes, and discovered that these cannabinoids had the potential to slow down the proliferation of keratinocytes in the outer layer of the skin. 

This discovery holds immense promise, as it suggests that cannabinoids might act as a defence against the overproduction of skin cells, a primary trigger of psoriasis. In addition to their effects on cell growth, cannabinoids have also shown potential in assisting the healing of psoriasis-related wounds. 

A significant animal study in 2016 provided some evidence that cannabinoids could facilitate the recovery process when psoriasis patches have built up and caused painful cracks in the skin. The researchers suggested that cannabinoid treatments hold the potential to alleviate the discomfort and promote healing in the open sores that characterise this skin condition. 

These positive  findings have sparked optimism among researchers and dermatologists alike, prompting further investigations into the full potential of cannabinoids in the treatment of psoriasis. However, while more extensive clinical trials are required to fully validate these observations, the initial evidence is encouraging.

Beyond the direct impact on psoriasis symptoms, cannabinoids' natural anti-inflammatory and soothing properties are also being investigated for the potential to  the discomfort associated with this condition. Patients suffering from psoriasis often endure itchiness, redness, and irritation, which can sometimes be alleviated through cannabis-based treatments.

And so it is no surprise that due to innovation, the role of cannabinoids in skincare is gaining momentum. Market research reports have shown a growing interest in cannabis-based skincare products, driven by consumers seeking alternative and holistic approaches to address various skin conditions, including psoriasis. 

These over the counter commercial sales are largely driven by the World Health Organisation approved evidence that CBD is a safe chemical, that has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, antiepileptic, antitumour and neuroprotective properties. 

Limitations in investigations and calls for future research. 

With 2 in every 100 people in the UK estimated to be affected by the condition, it is clear that the need for appropriate psoriasis treatments can be felt across Britain, and so further research is essential. 

In the medical cannabis climate, studies into the efficacy of cannabinoids in treating skin conditions and concerns are very limited. There is a lack of large scale, randomised control trials in this field, and the small scale studies involving psoriasis patients that are available do not always share consistent results. 

This is why it is important that medical cannabis applications are explored further and overseen by specialist clinicians who are knowledgeable in both cannabis-based medicines and the conditions they are being used to manage. 

Until the end of August, which is Psoriasis Awareness Month, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence have a research funding opportunity open for applications to specialise in the management of chronic plaque psoriasis. 

Welcoming applications from researchers proposing clinical trials to further investigation into the condition, it is unclear whether NICE will approve funding cannabis-based research in this field or not, however we can remain hopeful. 

Releaf is committed to helping you access the benefits of a medical cannabis service. Our monthly packages are tailored to your cannabis prescription, and we offer specialist consultations for medical cannabis and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

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It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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