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Marijuana for itching: study says it can help

Does weed help with itching?
Does weed help with itching?

Marijuana skin itch relief? A new report on medical marijuana finds that cannabinoids may have a range of uses in the treatment of skin conditions.

Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the study looks at recent research on the use of medical cannabis to treat dermatological conditions such as pruritus (severe itching of the skin), eczema, psoriasis, atopic and contact dermatitis and skin cancer and finds that not only is there a promising role for cannabis in dermatology but that dermatologists are “already implementing cannabinoid therapy into their practices.”

“Perhaps the most promising role for cannabinoids is in the treatment of itch,” said the study’s senior author Dr. Robert Dellavalle, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in a press release. The anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis are thought to give the drug its effect on skin conditions, says Dellavalle. “These are topical cannabinoid drugs with little or no psychotropic effect that can be used for skin disease,” he said.

One study looked at the use of a cannabinoid-infused cream twice a day for three weeks to treat pruritus and found that the severe itching was completely eliminated in eight of 21 patients. Other studies show that allergic contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis may find a treatment option in cannabis as a protective agent against allergic reactions. And another study showed that mice with melanoma saw an inhibition in tumour growth as a result of being injected with THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana.


itch weed
What can cure that itch? Weed, one study says

Marijuana for skin itch relief? Promising, experts say…

“These studies identify a relationship between cannabinoids and the immune system through both receptor-mediated and receptor-independent pathways,” say the study’s authors, from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “A promising role for cannabinoids in several eczematous dermatoses and pruritus exists.”

The researchers say further clinical research into the anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour effects of cannabinoids is needed.

The investigation of marijuana’s medical uses are still in their early stages, with research centrally concentrating on the treatment of nausea and chronic pain through cannabis. Health Canada, which currently oversees Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes regulations, states that while cannabis is not an approved therapeutic product, health care practitioners are authorizing the use of cannabis to relieve symptoms such as nausea and loss of appetite associated with cancer chemotherapy, pain and muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, chronic pain treatment, symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS and symptoms encountered in the palliative/end-of-life setting.

The University of Colorado School of Medicine has been involved in a number of studies in recent years on the medical uses of marijuana, including trials comparing marijuana to Oxycodone and research into the effects of marijuana on irritable bowel syndrome.

A study released earlier this year from the CU School of Medicine found that medical marijuana can help migraine sufferers. The study involved 121 patients, 103 of whom saw a decrease in number of migraines per month while being treated with marijuana. Researchers believe that along with cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties helping to relieve migraine, the drug also seems to affect neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, believed to play a role in migraine headaches.

One woman had what would have to be described a nearly miraculous results regarding her sking itch problem. The unnamed patient had a condition that affected the production bile, which can cause a buildup of chemicals under the skin. Doctors had been treating the situation but not curing it.

Turning to cannabis as a last ditch approach yielded spectacular results.

“They recommended she use cannabis two nights a week, either by smoking medical marijuana with 18% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, or by taking cannabis in tincture form by placing a liquid extract under her tongue, recounts  Nicoletta Lanese, writing for LIve Science.  “Within 10 minutes after the initial administration, her Worst Itch Numeric Rating Scale (WI-NRS) score improved from 10 of 10 to 4 of 10,” her doctors wrote in the JAMA report. This scale ranges from 0 (“no itch”) to 10 (“worst imaginable itch”). The doctors followed up with the woman after five months of treatment and then again after a full year, and they found that she consistently rated her average daily itchiness as 4 out of 10, a drastic improvement from her previous 10 out of 10. At the 16-month and 20-month follow-ups, her itchiness rating plummeted even lower, falling to 0 out of 10.”

But can marijuana cause itching, too?

But here’s an issue that comes up from time to time with marijuana as a treatment. It has been known to treat anxiety, but also cause it. It has been known to lower high blood pressure but also raise it. And this also seems to be the case with itch. In some cases, cannabis has been known to cause itching.

In this case, the source of the problem is a marijuana allergy.

“Allergists have begun issuing warnings about cannabis allergies now that legal use is becoming more ubiquitous,” says United Patients Group. “According to a study by Thad L. Ocampo, MD and Tonya S. Rans, MD, inhaling cannabis pollen has been linked to certain itch-inducing reactions such as rhinitis (an inflammation of the nasal passages), conjunctivitis (swelling and itchiness of the eyes), and even pruritus (severe itching of the skin). Ocampo and Rans also submit that, on occasion, just touching the plant can cause hive-like reactions on the skin, or puffiness and swelling around the eyes.”

Are you allergic to marijuana?

In fact, itchy skin is one of the most recognized signs that you might be allergic to marijuana. That’s not me, you say. I have had an allergy test. That may be true but keep in mind that new allergies can develop as you age, and they can sneak up on you and in some cases make your life rather unpleasant.

“It’s also worth noting that for some allergens, people aren’t born with the allergic reaction; instead, allergies may develop over time after repeated contact with the allergen,” says Bustle’s Pamela J. Hobart. These encounters may gradually sensitize some people to a potential allergen, although we don’t fully understand why yet. That means even if you’ve had no trouble with marijuana allergies in the past, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that you might have trouble with them in the future. And it’s no laughing matter, because avoiding marijuana particles is actually quite difficult — one sufferer, for example, told U.S. News and World Report in 2015 that she tends to avoid dance clubs, stores, and even entire states where marijuana is legalized in order to protect her health.”

Hobart says breathing troubles, congestion and sneezing, headaches, irritability and fatigue, rashes, conjunctivitis and food allergies all may be signs that you have to put down that joint.

New treatment for chronic itch

Gone down the cannabis route and still itching? There is some hope in the form of a treatment that was originally used for rheumatoid arthritis. A small study at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found immune signaling molecules that caused itching.

Five patients were given tofacitinib (Xeljanz) and all saw improvement over the course of a month.

“These patients often itch day and night, and for some of them, the urge to scratch never goes away,” said senior investigator Brian S. Kim, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and co-director of the Washington University Center for the Study of Itch. “Although this was a small study, the patients taking tofacitinib experienced dramatic improvements in terms of their itch, allowing them to sleep, stop scratching and return to living more productive lives. Obviously, we’ll need to do a larger study, but the early results are very encouraging.”

How common is chronic itch?

According to one recent study, chronic itch affects 22 per cent of the population, or one in five people.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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