Does Medical Marijuana Work for Psoriatic Arthritis?

by Casey Nilsson Patient Advocate

Before she began using medical marijuana, Cynthia Covert, a writer based in California and the woman behind the Disabled Diva blog, was what she describes as a “chronic corpse.”

Plagued with psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia, Covert was confined to a wheelchair.

“Up until that point, I was treated with pharmaceuticals,” she says. “The doctors were always happy to give me all of the pills I wanted.” She used opioids and muscle relaxers for pain, valium to help her sleep, and, for a spell, biologics to treat her psoriatic arthritis. The biologics worsened her nerve pain associated with fibromyalgia.

“Over the course of twelve years, I never got better. I felt I had a choice: end my life or try something wacky and out-there,” she says.

A new approach

In 2013, a friend with cancer suggested Covert try medical marijuana to alleviate her arthritis and fibromyalgia symptoms. Covert registered for a medical marijuana card in California, one of 29 states where medical marijuana laws have been enacted. She began taking pot, in edible form, before bed.

“I was terrified the first time I entered a dispensary,” Covert says. “It was so bizarre, especially for a middle-aged woman.”

Within three weeks, Covert regained use of her left thumb and pointer finger, two digits that had been severely inflamed with arthritis. In five years, Covert went from using a wheelchair full-time to using it about 20 percent of the time.

Additionally, the most persistent patches of psoriasis along Covert’s spine had faded and completely disappeared. When a psoriasis patch erupted on her scalp during a period of great stress, Covert treated it with cannabidiol (CBD) cream, available at her local medical marijuana dispensary.(CBD is one type of cannabinoid, containing a chemical compound found in cannabis that’s also produced naturally in the human body.)

“It took three weeks to clear up, which is longer than pharmaceuticals took, but unlike before, it hasn’t come back,” she says.

Covert says the disappearance of the psoriasis from her skin was a welcome side effect–one that she didn’t notice right away. For her, psoriasis was an annoyance compared with her arthritis-related mobility issues.

While psoriasis is not a qualifying condition in states with medical marijuana programs, arthritis patients—including those with psoriatic arthritis—can apply. A 2012 report out of California found that 92 percent of medical marijuana patients, including those who use it to treat chronic pain and arthritis, attest that it alleviates their symptoms.

Hoping for approval

The FDA, however, has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective treatment for any condition. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, a Drug Enforcement Agency categorization for substances with a high potential for abuse.

But in 2016, President Barack Obama removed a major roadblock to marijuana research. Since then, institutions across the country have initiated clinical trials testing the drug’s efficacy, with researchers in California, Philadelphia, Arizona, Colorado, New York, Maryland, Utah, and other states studying its viability for patients with chronic pain. Research on marijuana is ongoing.

“The dispensary is a one-stop shop for me,” Covert says. “It’s where I get my arthritis med, my psoriasis med, my anxiety med, my muscle relaxer, and my sleep med.”

The only downside of medical marijuana, Covert says, is the rift it’s created between her and her doctors, who she says do not object to medical marijuana, but will not track her progress.

“I really want them to be tracking my condition,” she says. “It cracks me up that for twelve years they were documenting everything that didn’t work but they don’t record what does.”

Casey Nilsson
Meet Our Writer
Casey Nilsson

Casey Nilsson, an award-winning journalist and magazine editor based in Rhode Island, writes about autoimmune disease for HealthCentral. Casey is a 2018 Association of Health Care Journalists fellow, and her reporting on unfair labor conditions for people with disabilities was a finalist for the City and Regional Magazine Association Awards. Diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2016, Casey enjoys digging into rheumatologic news, research and trends.