Cannabidiol (CBD) is becoming a popular choice for patients suffering from a range of different health conditions. Its proponents claim that it can help with everything from epilepsy to anxiety and insomnia to chronic pain. However, there is a new and exciting area of interest in the world of CBD therapy – scleroderma.
In this article, we’ll explain all you need to know about CBD oil for scleroderma. Read on to find out whether it could play a role.
What Is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a relatively uncommon condition. The National Institutes of Health estimates that it affects between 50 and 300 people per million.
There are several different types of scleroderma, and the symptoms can vary dramatically. Some people will only experience minor skin irritations, while for others, the condition could be life-threatening.
The word scleroderma comes from the Greek language, and it means ‘thick skin.’ The condition occurs when the immune system attacks the connective tissue, causing excess collagen production.
Collagen is a protein, and it is necessary to keep the connective tissue strong and supple. However, when the body produces excess collagen, it can cause a type of scarring called fibrosis.
In mild cases of scleroderma, this fibrosis affects the skin, causing hardened, thickened areas. But in more severe cases, it can affect the internal organs and blood vessels too. The organs that scleroderma most often affects are the heart, lungs, kidneys, and esophagus.
There are several different types of scleroderma. Doctors usually place the condition into one of two categories – localized or systemic scleroderma. It is then possible to sub-divide each of these categories further, depending on the patient’s specific symptoms.
This type of scleroderma only affects the skin. There are two types of localized scleroderma. They are known as morphea scleroderma and linear scleroderma.
Morphea scleroderma tends to cause the following symptoms:
- Discoloured, oval-shaped patches of skin
- Patches can occur anywhere on the body
- These patches are often shiny and hairless
- Affected areas may be itchy
- Symptoms usually resolve by themselves within a few years
Linear scleroderma is more severe. It tends to cause the following symptoms:
- Thickened skin in lines on the face, scalp, arms, and legs
- The condition may affect the underlying muscles and bone
- Symptoms usually resolve within a few years but can cause permanent growth problems
Localized scleroderma is more likely to affect people below the age of 40. It is more common in people of European descent.
This type of scleroderma affects the whole body. There are two primary types of systemic scleroderma. They are known as limited cutaneous and diffuse systemic scleroderma.
Limited cutaneous systemic scleroderma tends to cause the following symptoms:
- Thickened skin on the hands, lower arms, feet, lower legs, and face
- Red spots or hard lumps on the skin
- May affect the lungs causing breathing difficulties
- May affect the digestive system causing heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and diarrhea
- The condition often begins with Raynaud’s disease
- Symptoms become progressively worse over time
Diffuse systemic scleroderma tends to cause the following symptoms:
- May affect the skin of the whole body
- More likely to affect internal organs
- Accompanied by joint pain, fatigue, and weight loss
- Symptoms come on suddenly and progress quickly, but usually stabilize over time
Systemic scleroderma is more likely to affect women between 30 and 50 years of age. It is also more common in African Americans.
Some sources describe a third type of systemic scleroderma called systemic sclerosis sine scleroderma. This condition affects the internal organs but not the skin.
What Causes Scleroderma?
Most experts consider scleroderma to be an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system cannot differentiate between invading pathogens and the body’s healthy tissues. It then begins to attack these tissues, causing damage and inflammation.
In the case of scleroderma, the immune system attacks the connective tissue that keeps the skin and organs in place.
Nobody is 100% sure why some people develop autoimmune disorders. However, most experts agree that there is a genetic factor at play. The involvement of the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes is highly likely. These are the genes that help immune cells distinguish between the body and harmful invaders.
There is no permanent cure for scleroderma, and treatments involve managing symptoms and slowing the progress of the condition. Some conventional scleroderma treatments include:
- Medication to improve the circulation
- Immunosuppressants to slow the course of the disease
- Steroids to manage inflammation
- Blood pressure medication
- Heartburn medication
- Moisturizers for the skin
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Stopping smoking
In severe cases, more drastic treatments for scleroderma may be necessary. These could include surgery or newer techniques such as laser therapy and photodynamic therapy.
Additionally, many people have now started turning to CBD for scleroderma relief. Let’s take a look at why.
Is CBD Oil Good for Scleroderma?
CBD is just one of the hundreds of active compounds the cannabis plant produces. Unlike THC, it does not cause intoxicating effects. However, it does have a significant impact on the body and mind. In recent years, people have begun using CBD to relieve the symptoms of a variety of ailments as well as to maintain general health.
Because CBD has only recently become well-known, there is not a great deal of clinical research on its benefits. However, it does appear to have potent anti-inflammatory effects. This is fantastic news for anyone who has scleroderma or other painful conditions, as inflammation is a leading cause of pain.
However, the potential benefits of CBD for scleroderma don’t end there. CBD is a cannabinoid and, as such, can interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is an essential biological system that governs a range of functions, including movement, memory, mood, sensation, and immunity.
Furthermore, experts now believe that dysfunction in the endocannabinoid system could contribute to scleroderma. Researchers across the globe are conducting clinical trials into how cannabinoids could help.
To date, most of these trials have focused on synthetic cannabinoids like ajulemic acid (also known as lenabasum). However, the results so far are promising.
It appears that these compounds not only reduce inflammation but also suppress fibrosis and tissue scarring. Moreover, they do this without suppressing the immune system like many conventional treatments for scleroderma do.
To fully understand the mechanism behind these effects, we need to take a closer look at the ECS.
How Does CBD Oil Help Scleroderma?
The ECS is present in almost all of the body’s tissues. It is a network of cell receptors and chemicals called endocannabinoids. These are compounds that our bodies produce naturally. They bind to cannabinoid receptors to trigger a variety of beneficial effects. Furthermore, endocannabinoids have a similar molecular shape to plant cannabinoids like CBD and THC.
Thanks to this similarity in shape, CBD and THC can also have a powerful influence over the ECS. However, they work in slightly different ways. While THC binds directly with cannabinoid receptors, CBD does not.
Scientists are still trying to unravel precisely how CBD exerts its effects on the body. It appears that it enhances ECS activity primarily by increasing levels of our natural endocannabinoids.
CBD may also bind with different types of receptors outside of the ECS. One potential candidate is the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). There are three types of PPAR, alpha, beta, and gamma. It is the PPAR-gamma receptors that are of interest when it comes to scleroderma.
Researchers have discovered that synthetic cannabinoids can bind to these receptors as well as those in the ECS. This combined effect seems to be what makes these compounds so effective at reducing fibrosis and collagen accumulation.
Although further studies are necessary, it appears that CBD could work similarly. Research from 2016 suggests that both CBD and THC can influence PPAR-gamma receptors, as can various other cannabinoids. The author of the paper suggests that this is how cannabinoids exert many of their analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
Furthermore, treatments like CBD oil for scleroderma have an excellent safety profile. CBD itself causes very few side effects, which is more than can be said for many of the more traditional treatments for scleroderma.
Final Thoughts on CBD for Scleroderma
Scleroderma is a painful and potentially life-threatening condition with limited treatment options. Therefore, it is no wonder that some patients are turning to CBD for relief.
Although research into CBD for scleroderma is currently lacking, several trials are exploring the action of synthetic cannabinoids. Until these medications become more widely available, CBD oil could be well worth a try.
That said, CBD oil is not a substitute for proper medical care, and you should seek advice from your physician before using it for the first time. Although most people consider CBD safe, it can cause some side effects, including various drug interactions.
Your physician will be able to ensure that CBD oil is an appropriate treatment for you. They should also be able to guide you in finding the correct CBD dosage for scleroderma.
To learn more about how to use CBD safely and effectively, check out our related article: CBD Side Effects: Things You Should Know.