Psoriasis is one of those conditions that affects people’s health, confidence and lifestyle; in short, it’s a nasty piece of work.
As an incurable condition with seemingly random triggers and causes, it can feel incredibly distressing to have no real way of dealing with it, other than treating the symptoms.
Could we be using CBD to help treat psoriasis – both its symptoms and its root cause?
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes patches of red, blotchy skin across a person’s body, often on their elbows, knees, scalp and/or lower back.
Psoriasis is an interesting condition in the sense that outbreaks of that red, blotchy skin are precipitated by a specific “trigger”, which can vary wildly. For some people, any kind of skin injury can cause it, whereas others might experience an outbreak after a throat infection, the usage of certain types of medication, or even just changing your local climate.
The reason psoriasis erupts in these itchy patches is to do with the overproduction of skin cells. Most people’s bodies generally replace skin cells every three to four weeks but, with psoriasis, this process can occur in under a week. All those dead and replaced skin cells have to go somewhere, so they become trapped on and under your skin to form these red patches.
Psoriasis is firmly an autoimmune disease, as the reason your body is overproducing these skin cells is due to its natural defence mechanisms erroneously targeting your skin; think of it like an extreme allergic reaction, except your body thinks that some of your skin is the allergen.
Psoriasis is no minor condition either, affecting roughly 3% of people globally (Global Report on Psoriasis, World Health Organization) and exposing millions of people to frequent flare-ups of skin irritations, severe itchiness, or even the development of other medical conditions like arthritis.
Conventional Medications That Treat Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a particularly nasty disease, made all the worse because there is no effective cure. Due to the fact that it’s an autoimmune disease, it is incredibly difficult to change the way your body’s immune system works.
Though there doesn’t (yet) exist a cure for this condition, there are a number of ways to try and deal with the outbreaks when they occur.
These treatments all fall under three distinct categories.
Topical treatments are essentially creams and ointments applied directly to the outbreak so as to deal with the irritations. Most commonly, this treatment involves corticosteroids used to accelerate the healing process and deal with the inflammation and intense itching associated with psoriasis.
Sadly, treating only the blotchy areas during an outbreak does nothing to aid the root cause, as well as the fact that long term use of corticosteroids can cause thinning of the skin, in addition to your body gradually becoming resistant to its effects.
Other options within the topical category include Vitamin D synthetic analogues, used to slow skin cell regrowth.
Even simple options such as commonly bought moisturizers or – surprisingly – coal tar can provide some short term relief from the irritations, but both have their own drawbacks.
Smearing coal on your skin is certainly something you can try, but maybe there are other options?
Light therapy is the use of natural or artificial light to attempt to control your skin’s growth replacement rate.
The most obvious form of this treatment is simple exposure to direct sunlight; the ultraviolet light in sunlight causes your skin cell turnover to slow down.
Carefully monitored, regular sun exposure can help those with outbreaks of psoriasis, but remember that continuous exposure to UV has its own bad effects.
Other forms of phototherapy include more targeted exposure to different forms of light, such as narrow band UVB light (a lower wavelength of UV light than commonly felt from sunlight) through the use of an excimer laser. Some doctors even recommend a combination of UVB light and coal tar to increase the skin’s ability to receive the UVB.
However, all aspects of phototherapy come with the risk of long term damage and conditions such as wrinkled skin, skin sensitivity, and, the worst of them all, melanoma.
For those with severe psoriasis, your only real options with conventional medications are to take systemic medications, or drugs that affect your entire body.
These are typically administered orally or are injected, and all suffer the problem that they fail to target only the specific problem of psoriasis. Like chemo or other medications prescribed to deal with aggressive conditions, the medication can also affect parts of your body you don’t want it to.
There are a plethora of different systemic medications available, mostly related to trying to tackle your body’s immune system.
Some of these options include: retinoids, vitamers of vitamin A that attempt to regulate cell growth; Cyclosporine, which works to entirely suppress the immune system; and, most commonly, biologics that work to entirely alter the immune system.
Anything that attempts to target your immune system has the unfortunate effect of making you more susceptible to other conditions. Similar to the infamous Auto Immune Disorder (AIDs), any weakening of your immune system can massively increase your chance of developing serious infections or other diseases.
So… what else is there? All these types of medications have some sort of serious drawback, whether it be long-term ramifications, increased chance of disease, or just wrinkly skin, there seems to be problems everywhere.
CBD Oil & Psoriasis
CBD, the non-psychoactive component of Cannabis plants, has been demonstrated to have a number of medicinal properties. It is now, slowly, being recognized by governments as an important medicine with a variety of applications. The United Kingdom, for example, a famously strict country when it comes to Cannabis, allows CBD-rich strains of Cannabis to be grown and processed into CBD oils as long as you have a medical license.
CBD works by interacting with the Endocannabinoid system, allowing positive regulation of your health, promoting pain suppression, reduction of inflammation, and more.
However, does this hold true with psoriasis?
Recent Studies on CBD & Psoriasis
Studies published in the last decade have demonstrated a link between the Endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the skin.
Researchers from the International Union of Pharmacology have discovered a functional Endocannabinoid system within the skin itself. This means that medications that affect the ECS system, most significantly CBD, can have an effect on the skin as well.
The ECS within the skin is specifically linked to the growth and replacement of skin cells, exactly the root issue of psoriasis.
Biro et al., among others, have theorized that the use of CBD can help with conditions related to the over- or under-production of skin cells.
However, the benefits of CBD aren’t just linked to the regulation of the skin cells – while the medication is working to help deal with the condition, it also has a number of effects that aid in dealing with the short term symptoms.
For starters, CBD has been demonstrated to have an effect on pain suppression, as well as inflammation.
The National Academy of Sciences, 2006, (Carrier EJ, Auchampach JA, Hillard CJ. Inhibition of an equilibrative nucleoside transporter by cannabidiol: a mechanism of cannabinoid immunosuppression. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006;103:7895–900. [PMC free article] [PubMed] demonstrated that, through the signalling of the adenosine receptor A2A, the body’s natural process of inflammation is reduced.
Your body initiates inflammation and irritation to an infected area as a way of dealing with serious conditions or infections, as well as alerting you to the issue, similar in a way to the body’s natural fever response to a viral infection.
Through A2A, CBD can inhibit this inflammation, which can cause the irritations created by psoriasis to be reduced, or even to stop entirely.
Final Thoughts About CBD for Psoriasis
Psoriasis is the worst type of condition: it’s chronic, it comes and goes seemingly at random and, worst of all, there is no known effective, complete treatment.
When you’re dealing with something as bad as psoriasis – something that we already know affects millions of people worldwide – anything you can do to help mitigate the irritating or downright painful symptoms is incredibly helpful.
However, thanks to studies published in the last decade, we now know that CBD not only helps deal with pain, inflammation and overall body health through the Endocannabinoid system, it can also positively affect the skin replication and replacement process through the very same system.
By taking just one type of medication – CBD oil – rather than the multitude of treatments conventionally available that only aim to treat the symptoms, you can both tackle the irritations and inflammations that psoriasis causes, as well as actually fighting the root cause of the condition.
Not only can you stop yourself from itching, you can try and combat the issue entirely. It’s the difference between dieting to lose weight versus not eating too much to begin with.
CBD oil could definitely help you with psoriasis, both in its effective treatment and in the management of symptoms.
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