Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Raynaud’s disease, also called Raynaud Syndrome and Raynaud’s Phenomenon, is a medical condition where a spasm of the arteries causes episodes of reduced blood flow. The smaller arteries that supply blood to the skin narrow, limiting circulation to affected areas (called vasospasm).
The result is cold fingers or toes, pins and needles, color changes in the skin, pain, migraines, numbness, and prickly pain when the hands or feet are warmed. Skin sores and, in rare instances, developing gangrene is possible.
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What Is Raynaud’s Disease?
Raynaud syndrome affects around 4% of the population, and, in many instances, the symptoms are mild enough that most people find it to be a minor inconvenience. However, not all cases of Raynaud’s are mild, and in many cases, can be related to rather serious autoimmune disorders and connective tissue diseases.
There are several triggers of Raynaud’s disease:
- Cold weather
- Handling cold objects
Primary Raynaud’s Disease
Primary Raynaud’s describes the idiopathic version of the disease in which the symptoms of Raynaud’s occur on their own and are not the result of another underlying condition. The primary form of the disease primarily affects women and develops in teens or young adulthood.
Primary Raynaud’s is thought to be partly hereditary, although the precise cause is not fully known yet. Caffeine, nicotine, estrogen, non-selective beta-blockers, and birth control pills can all be aggravating factors as well.
Secondary Raynaud’s Disease
Secondary Raynaud’s is also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon and, unlike primary Raynaud’s, occurs due to an underlying health problem. Secondary Raynaud’s can cause complications with other conditions and potentially be more dangerous, and Raynaud’s phenomenon can be one of the first presenting symptoms of another condition. Causes of secondary Raynaud’s include:
- Connective tissue & autoimmune diseases – Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, dermatomyositis, polymyositis, cold agglutinin disease, mixed connective tissue disease, and Sjogren’s syndrome are all associated with secondary Raynaud’s. Most people with scleroderma, which causes skin hardening, develop Raynaud’s. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can also cause Raynaud’s.
- Diseases of the arteries, such as atherosclerosis, Buerger’s disease, and primary pulmonary hypertension, can all cause Raynaud’s.
- Repetitive actions and vibrations which result in overuse injuries can cause Raynaud’s.
- Multiple sclerosis is linked to secondary Raynaud’s.
- Hypothyroidism could lead to Raynaud’s phenomenon.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome is associated with Raynaud’s.
- Injuries such as fractures or frostbite may precede Raynaud’s.
The above is a partial list of the conditions that can cause secondary Raynaud’s syndrome. Other conditions may also lead to the development of secondary Raynaud’s.
Physicians currently use the following treatment methods for Raynaud Syndrome.
Avoiding extreme cold temperatures and refraining from handling cold objects (like ice cubes) are two preventative measures against Raynaud’s Disease.
Calcium Channel Blockers/Agonists
In some cases, prostacyclins (vasodilators used for hypertension) such as iloprost or epoprostenol are used.
Viagra is sometimes used as a vasodilator (meaning that it promotes the dilation of blood vessels).
Using Cannabis to Treat Raynaud’s Disease
There are few studies into the use of cannabis for Raynaud’s disease. Still, there are anecdotal reports and an underlying logic as to why cannabis and cannabinoids can be used to treat Raynaud’s disease (in particular secondary Raynaud’s).
Here are three primary benefits of using cannabis for Raynaud’s Disease:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) acts as a vasodilator, helping open up the arteries. The terpene pinene is also potentially helpful for its vasodilatory effects.
- Raynaud’s is often associated with other autoimmune conditions. It seems that cannabidiol (CBD) can help regulate the immune system and control the inflammation associated with various autoimmune diseases.
- Both THC and CBD in small amounts can help relieve stress and anxiety – two common triggers of Raynaud’s.
Further benefits of using cannabis for Raynaud’s are similar to using medical marijuana to treat other conditions. Unlike many prescription drugs, marijuana comes with few and generally mild side effects, and cannabis is also not addictive in the same way that many prescription drugs are.
Potential Drawbacks and Risks
Little is known about the interactions between cannabinoids and NIFEdipine, and prostacyclins. However, although we do not know if there is an interaction, we do know that cannabinoids do interfere with some types of beta-blockers. CBD also affects calcium channels, so while there has been no contraindication yet discovered between cannabis and calcium channel blockers, there could possibly be some.
There is also a rare case of cannabis arteritis, where a heavy cannabis smoker with progressive Raynaud’s phenomenon had arteriography revealing corkscrew-shaped vessels. Whether cannabinoids themselves caused this is unknown because there is only one reported case, but it is known that smoke of any kind may potentially trigger a Raynaud’s episode. Vaporizing ( to allow THC and pinene into the lungs and the bloodstream quickly) and tinctures (for longer-term relief from any pain and stress) may therefore be a better choice for the treatment of Raynaud’s.
Should you use cannabis to treat Raynaud syndrome? A physician can help you determine if cannabis is an appropriate course of treatment for Raynaud’s and any other condition. Contact the experienced doctors at Leafwell today to apply for your medical marijuana card.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is marijuana a vasodilator?
Some studies have shown that the cannabinoids found in cannabis may act as vasodilators. Vasodilation is a natural process but can be harmful in certain individuals, especially people with hypotension or severe allergies. Consult your doctor before using cannabis for Raynaud Syndrome or any other medical condition.
Does marijuana affect blood flow?
Research has demonstrated that smoking marijuana affects blood flow in the brain. Changes in cerebral blood flow can be problematic, especially for people who frequently and heavily smoke cannabis.
Do cannabis topicals help Raynaud’s Disease?
Cannabis topicals may help stimulate fresh blood flow in people with Raynaud’s Disease. Warming CBD topicals, especially heated CBD oils, could provide extra benefits, but more clinical research is needed.