While “chronic itch” might sound to those who don’t suffer from it like no more than a mild annoyance, it can be debilitating, extremely frustrating, and can lower the quality of life for folks who suffer from it. Now, new research shows that cannabis may be able to help.
Known clinically as chronic pruritus, chronic itch is difficult to treat because there are not many therapies approved by the FDA. Many treatment options just help to relieve itches temporarily. Now, a new study by Johns Hopkins Medicine shows that medical cannabis could be a new and promising treatment for the chronically itchy.
The study, which was published in JAMA Dermatology on April 9, 202, looks at exactly how medical cannabis can help.
“Chronic pruritus is a debilitating symptom that is associated with numerous dermatologic, neurologic, and systemic diseases,” the study’s abstract explains. “It is often resistant to treatment and can cause a severe reduction in quality of life. Currently, to our knowledge, there is a lack of US Food and Drug Administration–approved therapies for pruritus, so treatment can be difficult and relies on off-label therapeutics. In this article, we report a case of successful use of medical marijuana for treating chronic pruritus.”
“Chronic itch can be an especially difficult condition to treat, with off-label therapeutics often utilized,” said Shawn Kwatra, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “With the increased utilization of medical marijuana and our knowledge of the role of the endocannabinoid system [a complex cell-signaling system that regulates a variety of functions in the body] in chronic itch, we decided to try medical marijuana with a patient who failed several therapies and had few options left.”
Chronic Itch and Cannabis
In order to determine whether or not cannabis was helpful, the study looked at an African-American woman in her 60s who suffers from chronic itch. She went to the Johns Hopkins Itch Center to complain of extreme issues with her arms, legs, and stomach. Due to all the scratching, she had raised lesions on her body that compounded her medical issues. She was offered different options for treatment including systemic therapy, nasal spray, steroid cream, and phototherapy, with no luck, so she was ready to try something new.
According to Kwatra, using medical cannabis in smoking or liquid form helped a lot with the itching compared to previous treatments.
“We had the patient rate her symptoms using a numerical rating scale, where 10 is the worst itch and zero is no itch at all,” Kwatra said. “She started at 10 but dropped to 4 within 10 minutes after initial administration of the medical marijuana. With continued use of the cannabis, the patient’s itch disappeared altogether.”
When it comes to why this works, those behind the study believe that THC is actually the reason for the success. Because THC attaches itself to brain receptors that influence the nervous system, inflammation and the nervous system actually decrease in activity, which helps with the skin sensations bothering the person suffering from chronic itch.
According to Kwatra, while more studies need to be done to validate these findings, he believes more trials should be undertaken because the results so far are more than promising and exciting.
“Controlled studies are needed to determine dosing, efficacy and safety for medical marijuana in the treatment of various human itch subtypes, and once those are performed, we will better understand which patients are most likely to benefit from this therapy,” he said.
While more info is still needed to see exactly how effective this treatment is these findings are very exciting for those who have issues with chronic itching.
Addison Herron-Wheeler is co-publisher and owner of OUT FRONT Magazine, and web editor of New Noise Magazine. She covers cannabis and heavy metal, and is author of Wicked Woman: Women in Metal from the 1960s to Now and Respirator, a collection of short stories.