Chronic itch —clinically known as chronic pruritus — is characterized as an unrelenting sensation to scratch the skin, understandably lowering the quality of life of those who suffer with it.
But in a case report published in the journal JAMA Dermatology dermatologists from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, report that medical marijuana may help the miserable condition when all other medications have failed.
The patient in question was an African American woman in her 60s complaining of extreme pruritus on her arms, legs and stomach. Examination revealed several hyperpigmented, raised skin lesions, but no relief from a barrage of treatments, including several systemic therapies, centrally acting nasal sprays, steroid creams and phototherapy.
However, when the woman was administered medical marijuana — either by smoking or in liquid form — she reported nearly instantaneous improvement.
Assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins, Shawn Kwatra, M.D., and his team report that the patient started out with symptoms rated 10/10 (worst itch possible), but this dropped to 4/10 within 10 minutes after administration of the medical marijuana. After continued use, the patient’s itch disappeared altogether.
The researchers believe that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis attaches itself to brain receptors that influence the nervous system. This appears to cause a decrease in inflammation and nervous system activity, which in this patient led to a significant reduction in the sensation of skin itchiness.
Of course, this is just one report, but the magnitude and speed of the effect, after numerous ineffective treatments, warrants further clinical trials.
“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,” Kwatra said in a press release.