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How Cannabis Can Help Manage Lupus

Many people who suffer from the chronic symptoms of lupus treat the condition with cannabis. The drug has a known anti-inflammatory effect that is beneficial for this difficult-to-recognise condition. Better still, there are no long-term side effects.

Many people who suffer from chronic symptoms of lupus turn to cannabis. The plant is being studied in greater depth for its therapeutic potential, and poses little risk of long-term side effects. Can cannabis be used to ease symptoms of lupus?

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease in which the immune system begins to attack its own tissues and organs. Not only does this result in widespread inflammation throughout the body, but left untreated, patients can endure long-term damage.

The good news? Cannabis appears to be a valuable tool in managing this condition. Symptom control is one of the most important parts of living with the disease.

WHAT IS LUPUS?

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that affects roughly five million people globally. That number could be much higher, however, as lupus is often hard to recognise. There are about 16,000 new cases of lupus reported annually. Most of those who develop the condition are between the ages of 15–44.

Direct causes of the chronic condition are still not understood. The disease is not contagious, though it can be transmitted genetically. Moreover, women of colour appear to be significantly more at risk than Caucasians. It’s thought that lupus can also be caused or triggered by too much exposure to sunlight, some medications, and viral infections.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure.

Symptoms range from mild to severe reactions. Most people with lupus, once diagnosed and receiving proper treatment, can live productive, fulfilling lives.

Lupus is caused by a hyperactive immune response that mistakes healthy tissue for harmful agents like bacteria and viruses, stimulating the production of antibodies to attack.

Diagnosis is often the first barrier to treatment. No two cases of the condition are exactly alike. Furthermore, symptoms can sometimes look like those of other conditions, making diagnosis more complicated. Generally, however, patients tend to suffer from multiple symptoms over time. These include:

  • A “butterfly” shaped rash on the face over the bridge of the nose
  • Skin lesions that appear or worsen after exposure to direct sunlight
  • Fatigue and fever
  • Headaches, confusion, or memory loss
  • Joint pain, stiffness, or swelling
  • Fingers and toes that turn white or blue during periods of extreme stress or cold
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dry eyes

You should seek medical attention immediately if you develop an unexplained rash, fever, or ongoing fatigue. The most important thing is to catch and diagnose it early. Undiagnosed, the ongoing damage from inflammation has major downstream health effects. Tissue scarring causes significant damage to organs, muscles, and tendons. However, it can also cause other chronic diseases, like Alzheimer’s. In fact, developing lupus itself is a major risk factor for developing cognitive disabilities later on.

Unfortunately, approved medications for the condition may have undesirable side effects. As such, those looking to manage symptoms while avoiding the potentially adverse side effects of pharmaceutical drugs often turn to cannabis in hopes of experiencing relief.

HOW CANNABIS IMPACTS LUPUS

Inflammation is merely the body’s response to injury; it is a natural way to signal resources to heal an infection. That said, we know that chronic inflammation is bad for the human body.

Given the mounting body of research on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and cannabis in regard to inflammation, it makes the plant a ripe candidate for clinical study.

A 2016 review [1] in _Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences_ explores the role of CB2 receptors in modulating the inflammatory response. As one of the main receptor types in the ECS, CB2 receptors are primarily located on immune tissues—hence why they are assumed to play a role in inflammation. Referencing past research in which “mice lacking the CB2 receptor have [_sic_] an exacerbated inflammatory phenotype”, study authors eventually conclude that, while CB2 activation appears to produce anti-inflammatory effects, the receptor has yet to be targeted to treat human disease.

Another 2016 review [2] , this one published in the _Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology_, references various studies that demonstrate THC’s potential to increase [3] the immunosuppressive protein interleukin-10, while decreasing [4] the proinflammatory protein interleukin-2. Here too, researchers invoke CB2 receptors as the assumed primary target for producing immunosuppressive activity.

MANAGING LUPUS WITH CANNABIS

Like all diseases of the immune system, a healthy lifestyle is the best long-term treatment beyond medication. That includes a balanced diet, exercise, and sleep.

Many lupus patients include cannabis as part of their regimen, and do so in a number of ways. While the effects of smoked or vaporized cannabis come on fast, some patients prefer to dose with edibles.

Asian cuisines rich in anti-inflammatory substances, such as Chinese, Thai, and Indian foods, are very good for combining with cannabinoids in this manner. For example, turmeric, ginger, red pepper, and lemongrass, which are all common ingredients used in these cuisines, boast their own anti-inflammatory compounds and effects. Adding one or more of these ingredients into your edibles may be a good course of action.

THE IMPACT OF CBD ON LUPUS

We’ve examined THC individually and cannabis as a whole, but what about CBD for lupus? In this context, a 2011 review [5] published in _Free Radical Biology & Medicine_ once again points to potential anti-inflammatory actions—this time displayed by CBD alone. Although the researchers recognise a lack of conclusive evidence, they note that CBD “offers promise as a prototype for anti-inflammatory drug development”.

When it comes to ingesting CBD, CBD oil in particular appears to be the method of choice given its ease, discretion, and portability. However, CBD can also be taken in the form of edibles, vapor, creams and balms, etc.

Lupus is a disease where the body literally fights itself. Cannabis can help lower overall inflammation as well as mediate the inflammatory response.

Is CBD Oil for Lupus Safe or Effective?

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Richard N. Fogoros, MD, is a retired professor of medicine and board-certified internal medicine physician and cardiologist.

CBD oil, which is derived from marijuana, has become a trend when it comes to treating diseases involving pain and inflammation. But is it effective for lupus?

So far, we don’t have conclusive evidence that CBD oil can safely treat lupus, but research is currently being conducted to help make this possible.  

Because medical marijuana is still fairly controversial, and the laws are confusing, there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about CBD. That can make people hesitant to try it. Good news though—a new law is simplifying the matter for many of us.

What Is CBD Oil?

CBD is short for “cannabidiol.” While it comes from cannabis, it doesn’t get you high because it doesn’t have psychoactive properties. The high comes from a different chemical in the plant called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).

Marijuana growers focus on strains and techniques that increase THC levels. Cannabis that’s grown for hemp tends to have a lot more CBD than THC.

If you look online, you can find a lot of huge claims about using CBD oil for medicinal purposes. Claims are so glowing, in fact, that you might start to wonder if they can possibly be true. Certainly, when they come from websites that promote marijuana legalization and use, you may be wise to question the veracity.

It’s too early in the research process for us to be able to say “yes” about many of the claims. However, we’re learning enough to be able to say “it’s possible,” or even, “we think so.”

CBD oil is used to treat a host of different conditions, although it’s not approved for any of these conditions, as of mid-2018:  

  • Chronic pain and inflammation
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Glaucoma pain
  • Epilepsy
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disorders, including insomnia and nightmares
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Movement disorders (Huntington’s disease)
  • Assistance with smoking cessation
  • Stopping the growth of cancerous tumors

When it comes to taking CBD oil, you have a lot of options: smoking, taking capsules, drops or sprays under the tongue, and as a topical ointment. Research in the United States is in the early stages,   though, since for decades, legal restrictions made it extremely difficult to study the medical benefits of marijuana.

CBD Oil for Lupus

With a lack of research on CBD oil for lupus, we have to go on what we know about CBD in general and can understand from research into conditions with similar symptoms or pathology. This potential treatment is likely to get attention from lupus researchers eventually, though, for several reasons.

  • Lupus contributes to an epidemic of pain, including untreated and undertreated pain. Current treatments are far from perfect, so drug companies have a sizable financial incentive to find more effective medications.
  • The opioid addiction/overdose epidemic is a huge problem for society and puts a lot of strain on the resources of the medical community as well as law enforcement. Meanwhile, several studies have shown that when marijuana becomes legal in a state, the number of opioid prescriptions—and overdose deaths—drops.   That’s bound to get the attention of doctors who want to protect their patients, law enforcement agencies battling the problem, and lawmakers seeking solutions.
  • A wealth of research suggests that CBD oil is effective against pain and inflammation. In its pure form, it’s generally regarded as safe. Lupus involves considerable inflammation.
  • We have abundant anecdotal evidence from people with lupus who say it’s effective. That can’t substitute for scientific proof, but it’s one more thing that gets doctors interested.

Additionally, a 2018 study published in Cellular Immunology found that CBD may alter T-cell activity after spinal cord injury.   Abnormal activity of T-cells (which are part of the immune system) are believed to be involved in lupus.

Lupus can include pain from neuropathy (nerve damage), and multiple studies suggest that CBD can alleviate that type of pain from diabetes, HIV, and other sources.

CBD Side Effects

We probably don’t yet know all of the possible side effects of CBD. Some side effects that have been reported are:

  • Changes to liver enzymes used to process drugs
  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased tremor in Parkinson’s disease (at high doses)

The World Health Organization says CBD oil may also:  

  • Alter hormonal levels
  • Stimulate the immune system at low levels, and suppress it at higher levels

CBD doesn’t appear to lead to addiction or abuse. It’s also believed to have a low toxicity level, which means it takes a lot to cause an overdose.

Is CBD Legal?

You’d think the question of whether CBD is legal would get a straightforward, yes or no answer, but the legality issue can be confusing.

A lot of pro-marijuana websites have long claimed that it’s legal in all 50 states as long as it doesn’t have more than 0.3 percent THC. They based that argument on the provisions of a specific farm bill. But in 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the old bill didn’t apply to hemp or products derived from it.  

Then came the 2018 Farm Bill. This piece of legislation was wildly popular in both the Senate, where it was passed in June of 2018, and the House, where it was passed in December of 2018 and then quickly signed into law.   It re-classifies hemp as a legal agricultural product, which makes CBD products legal at the federal level.

In states where marijuana and/or CBD is legal, there’s no longer a clash between state and federal law, so the products are legally safe to use. Still, some states have specific laws on the books banning hemp products. So what does the new Farm Bill mean for those states?

Technically, federal law overrules state law. However, that doesn’t mean those states will stop arresting and trying people for CBD use, especially if they want to challenge the new federal law. If you’re in one of those states, talk to an expert about any possible trouble you could get into for using CBD products. The website ProCon.org has information about which states have laws specific to CBD oil. A site called Governing maintains a map of where marijuana is legal in some form.

The only form of CBD that is FDA-approved is Epidiolex, a purified formulation of CBD used for rare forms of epilepsy.   All the other CBD sources being enthusiastically marketed today are unregulated. They often contain amounts of CBD that are substantially different (too much or too little) than the labels indicate, and frequently contain higher levels of THC (the intoxicating chemical found in marijuana) than is permitted in a legitimate CBD product. Anyone electing to use CBD today will need to be cautious and ideally should consult with their physician before doing so.

A Word From Verywell

Treatment decisions should never be taken lightly, and that applies to “natural” treatments like CBD as well—especially when you take the law into account. Consider the pros and con carefully, and be sure to discuss this option with your doctor. Even if you’re taking it illegally, your doctor needs to know—your health could depend on it. As with any treatment, it’s important to watch for side effects.

With legal changes in store and lots of research coming out, we can probably expect a lot of change, and quickly, when it comes to CBD oil.

See what we know about CBD oil as a potential treatment for lupus, what the side effects are, and what you need to know about the legal status.