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Can Cannabinoids Help Lupus and Other Diseases?

BY JENNIFER CHEN September 23, 2019

A lupus diagnosis can be devastating. The disease causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues and can affect internal organs—including the brain, heart, and lungs—which can start to deteriorate. Lupus flare-ups can leave patients so fatigued and in pain that they’re unable to do the simplest of things, such as walk, cook, or read. Many can’t go outdoors without layers of sunscreen, because the disease can make them extremely susceptible to sunburn.

Lupus affects approximately 240,000 people in the United States, and yet at present doctors neither know the exact cause nor have a cure. Instead, current treatments focus on improving quality of life by controlling symptoms and minimizing flare-ups to reduce risk of organ damage.

“The landscape for treatment of lupus is a bit bleak,” says Fotios Koumpouras, MD, a rheumatologist and director of the Lupus Program at Yale Medicine. “A multitude of drugs have failed in the last 10 to 15 years. Most of the drugs we use are being repurposed from other conditions and are not unique to lupus. Many of them can’t be used during pregnancy, which is a problem because lupus mostly affects young women. All of these issues create the impetus to find new and more effective therapies.”

This is why he’s exploring a candidate for a new lupus treatment option: a molecule with a cannabinoid template structure that binds to cannabinoid receptors, the same receptors involved in the chemicals found in the marijuana plant.

What is CBD?

CBD is a form of cannabinoid called “cannabidiol.” Cannabinoids are a type of chemical that binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors found throughout the body. CB1 receptors are mostly located in the nervous system, connective tissues, gonads, glands, and organs; CB2 receptors are primarily found in the immune system, along with the spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands, and reproductive organs. (Collectively this is called the endocannabinoid system.)

What these cannabinoids do when they bind to the receptors depends on which receptor is activated, and thus can produce effects ranging from the firing of neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers sent from the brain to the rest of the body) that alter mood, to reducing inflammation and promoting digestion.

So, our bodies have their own endocannabinoid system, but cannabinoids can also be found in nature, most abundantly in the marijuana plant. The two most well-known types of cannabinoids in the marijuana plant are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC binds to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, but the CB1 receptor seems to be responsible for many of the well-known psychoactive effects of marijuana, such as euphoria, increased heart rate, slower reaction times, and red eyes. CB2 receptor binding results in the production of a series of proteins that reduce inflammation. (These proteins are called “resolvins” because they appear to resolve inflammation.) The pharmacology of CBD at cannabinoid receptors is complex and highly variable, but CBD has been shown to activate the endocannabinoid system.

Fotios Koumpouras, MD, is researching a synthetically created cannabinoid molecule that binds preferentially to CB2 receptors (called Lenabasum) to see if it can help ease pain and inflammation in patients with lupus.

Dr. Koumpouras learned from a colleague of ajulemic acid, a side-chain analog of Δ8-THC-11-oic acid, which was designed as a potent therapeutic agent free of the psychotropic adverse effects typical of most cannabinoids. This molecule may help relieve pain and reduce inflammation in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus. “Reducing inflammation is crucial for patients with lupus because it is what causes the buildup of scar tissue in vital organs that can eventually lead to their deterioration and malfunction,” he says. This cannabinoid molecule was already in study for other diseases, including systemic sclerosis and dermatomyositis.

In 2018, Dr. Koumpouras joined a multi-site randomized clinical trial that aims to recruit 100 participants to examine whether a drug using a synthetically created cannabinoid molecule that binds preferentially to CB2 receptors (called Lenabasum) can help ease pain and inflammation in patients with lupus. Participants will receive Lenabasum or a placebo for almost three months and will continue to be monitored for pain and inflammation levels, as well as lupus disease activity. The study is ongoing, but Dr. Koumpouras anticipates that it will wrap up by early next year.

From “miracle drug” to medicine?

Dr. Koumpouras’ excitement over the new drug comes at a time when products containing CBD have flooded supermarkets, labeled with claims that they treat everything from back pain to insomnia. Although CBD is not yet approved by the FDA, the hype around it stems from the popularity of the marijuana plant it is derived from.

But whether CBD actually provides those benefits in a significant way remains to be seen. Only a few studies—small ones—have definitively proven the effectiveness of medicines that involve the endocannabinoid system. To date, the only FDA-approved medication containing CBD is Epidiolex, a medication used to treat two rare forms of severe epilepsy—Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, both which begin mostly in infancy and early childhood. In a group of three clinical trials, Epidiolex seemed to reduce the number of seizures significantly. And yet, Vinita Knight, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatric neurologist, says her patients who take Epidiolex have had mixed results. Some have had reductions in seizures and others haven’t shown much improvement. “We’re not seeing as much success as what’s been reported on Facebook and Twitter,” she says, but adds that so far it has only been prescribed for children with the most debilitating and difficult-to-treat seizures. In addition, some researchers believe that CBD works most effectively in combination with other cannabinoids and compounds found in the marijuana plant, in what is known as the “entourage effect.” Thus, it would be less effective as an isolated chemical in pill form, but that, too, remains unproven.

But these questions are why Dr. Koumpouras is focusing on a compound that, until recently, few have studied.

His research is one of many new studies at Yale and elsewhere looking at the endocannabinoid system and molecules related to CBD action for use in treating everything from Crohn’s disease to psoriatic arthritis, and he hopes that this new data will be used to help paint a more complete picture about the chemical for future treatment options.

“The more data the better,” he says. “The more we’re able to make informed decisions.”

Yale Medicine doctor investigates whether a synthetically created molecule that mimics properties and effects of CBD could treat diseases.

Best CBD Oils for Lupus 2021 – The Most Trustworthy Brands

best cbd oils for lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that takes several forms, the most common of which is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) [1] . This condition is characterized by widespread inflammation and organ damage that occurs when the immune system attacks its own tissues. There is no cure for lupus, but there are treatment options like CBD oils for lupus to help mitigate symptoms and prevent flare-ups and progression of the disease.

Symptoms of lupus range from case to case but can become severe, even life-threatening. With early diagnosis and symptom management, the damaging effects of lupus can be limited but long-term complications are still possible. Proper treatment of lupus is incredibly important when it comes to maintaining function and quality of life.

Read on to learn more about lupus including what it is, what causes it, and what lupus symptoms look like. We’ll also talk about potential therapies including alternative treatments like CBD oil for lupus.

Best CBD Oils For Lupus (April. 2021)

  • Spruce CBD – Best Overall
  • CBD Pure – Best Guarantee
  • Joy Organic – Best THC Free
  • PlusCBD – Best Variety

CBD Oil For Lupus

Though roughly half of the lupus patients use alternative therapies, there are few clinical studies to evaluate their safety, efficacy, or effectiveness. Because the number of effective pharmaceutical agents for treating lupus and reducing co-morbidities is limited (and due to the high risk for side effects), however, further research into alternative options may be warranted.

With the rising popularity of CBD oils for the treatment [2] of everything from pain and inflammation to post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, some lupus patients are turning to CBD. Read on to learn more and to see our top picks for the best CBD oil which may help lupus patients.

Take Spruce CBD

Take Spruce

  • Full-spectrum CBD (free from THC)
  • Third-party lab tested for purity/potency
  • Save 15% with a monthly subscription

Free Shipping and 15% Off Coupon: HEALTHCANAL

The Lineup At A Glance

Best Variety

  • Wide variety of flavors and formulas
  • Wide variety of flavors and formulas
  • Some recipes sweetened with monk fruit

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Best THC Free

  • Test analysis found on the product page
  • Wholesale pricing for chronic pain patients
  • Choose from three concentrations of CBD

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Best Guarantee

  • Generous 90-day money-back guarantee
  • Full-spectrum, organic hemp CBD oil
  • Affordable price, save on larger orders

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Best Variety

  • Wide variety of flavors and formulas
  • Wide variety of flavors and formulas
  • Some recipes sweetened with monk fruit

15% Off Coupon: “HEALTHCANAL”

5 Best CBD Oil for Lupus

Spruce CBD

Take Spruce CBD

When you want the best CBD out there you can trust Spruce CBD. Their products are 100% natural, lab-grade, and made in the United States.

  • Full-spectrum CBD (free from THC)
  • Third-party lab tested for purity/potency
  • Save 15% with a monthly subscription
  • Fairly expensive compared to other options
  • Limited variety of CBD products

Free Shipping and 15% Off Coupon: HEALTHCANAL

If you’re looking for a high-quality CBD product, make sure to check out Spruce CBD. This company may not offer the same degree of variety some companies do, but their products are held to the highest standards for quality and purity. Spruce CBD oils are made from lab-grade full-spectrum CBD in organic, vegan, and gluten-free formulas. These products are 100% natural, free from pesticides, and low in THC (under 0.3% by dry weight).

When you order from Spruce CBD, you know you’re receiving a CBD product made in the USA and shipped from a sanitized US facility. Receive free shipping and a 15% discount on automatic monthly orders.

CBD Pure

CBDPure CBD Oil_1

If you’re new to CBD, it doesn’t hurt to choose a company that offers a generous money-back guarantee. CBDPure has your back for 90 days after purchase.

  • Generous 90-day money-back guarantee
  • Premium organic hemp CBD oil
  • Affordable price, save on larger orders
  • Limited variety of products

Free Shipping and 15% Off Coupon: “HEALTHCANAL”

You don’t have to pay a fortune to use CBD and you should have the peace of mind knowing your purchase is guaranteed if you’re not fully satisfied. CBD Pure checks off both of these boxes with their affordable pricing and a generous 90-day guarantee. Choose from three concentrations of organic hemp CBD: 300mg, 600mg, or 1,000mg. These oils have a natural hemp flavor and come in either 30ml or 60ml bottles.

Joy Organics

Joy Organics CBD Oil

If you want to enjoy the benefits of CBD for your lupus symptoms without the THC, Joy Organics has plenty of options for you to choose from.

  • Four recipes all free from THC
  • Made with USDA certified organic ingredients
  • Choose from three concentrations of CBD
  • Maybe more expensive than other options

20% Off Coupon: “HEALTHCANAL”

When shopping for CBD oil, it’s important to have options. Spruce CBD not only offers three different concentrations (450mg, 900mg, and 1,350mg) but they have three different flavors and an unflavored oil. All four of these formulas are THC-free, but you can also try their full-spectrum Fresh Lime CBD oil tincture which may contain up to 0.3% THC by dry weight. All products are made with USDA Certified organic ingredients and each batch is third-party lab-tested for potency and purity. Plus, you get free shipping and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

PlusCBD

Plus CBD Oil-1

When it comes to variety, PlusCBD has everything. From flavored and unflavored to sweetened and unsweetened, you’re sure to find a CBD product to suit your taste.

  • Wide variety of flavors and formulas
  • Pure hemp CBD, lab tested for purity
  • Some recipes sweetened with monk fruit
  • Made with hemp not grown in the USA

15% Off Coupon: “HEALTHCANAL”

Taking CBD oil can be unpleasant if you don’t like the natural flavor of hemp oil. With PlusCBD, you can choose from a wide variety of unflavored and flavored options, including recipes sweetened with monk fruit extract. Choose from a wide range of concentrations including both broad-spectrum CBD and whole-plant extracts. They even offer raw CBD oil.

Medterra

Medterra oil -2

You shouldn’t have to pay a fortune to relieve inflammation and pain. Lupus symptoms can be a thing of the past with affordable CBD from Medterra.

  • Affordable high-quality CBD oil
  • Full and broad-spectrum options
  • Products are made in the USA
  • Some may be confused by full vs broad spectrum

15% Off Coupon: “OFFER15”

Medterra offers a variety of full and broad-spectrum CBD oils so you can choose the one that is perfect for you. All of their CBD oils are made in the USA with non-GMO organically grown hemp. They are third-party tested for purity and potency, and everything comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you want to fortify your body’s defenses against lupus, consider their CBD Immune Boost drops enriched with natural ingredients that support the immune system.

Using CBD as Treatment for Lupus

The Different Types of Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. In a person who has lupus, the immune system, which normally protects the body against infection and foreign invaders, malfunctions. Instead of attacking outward threats, the immune system attacks the body’s own healthy tissues which can lead to inflammation, tissue damage, and even organ failure. Lupus can lead to serious health complications and, in some cases, can become life-threatening.

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) – The most common form of lupus, SLE is also the most serious because it involves the entire body.
  • Subacute Cutaneous Lupus – This form of lupus is limited to the skin and involves a widespread rash often worsened by sun exposure.
  • Discoid Lupus – Also known as chronic cutaneous lupus, this form involves a specific scarring rash made up of circular-shaped lesions.
  • Drug-Induced Lupus – Often a temporary form of lupus, this type is caused by certain medications including drugs to treat high blood pressure or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Neonatal Lupus – A rare form of lupus that affects infants of women with lupus.

The signs and symptoms of lupus vary from one person to another depending on the type and severity. In many cases, early symptoms include arthritis of the small joints (like the fingers and wrists) and a rash. Other symptoms may include fatigue, fevers, hair loss, swollen lymph nodes, abdominal pain, headache, dry mouth, and mood disorder. In many cases, the first clinical sign of lupus is an abnormal blood test result such as protein in the urine or indication of kidney disease.

Individual lupus sufferers often have their own unique pattern of symptoms and flare-ups which may change over time. The diagnosis of lupus is generally based on laboratory tests.

What Causes Lupus?

The exact cause of lupus is unknown, as is the case for many autoimmune diseases. Researchers believe, however, that it may be linked to various hormonal, environmental, and genetic factors. Others believe factors such as stress and sunlight may be involved.

Though lupus can affect anyone, the newest cases of lupus are seen in women under the age of 45 [4] . Lupus also tends to affect more people of color, particularly people of African, Asian, and Latin descent. When lupus occurs in children, it usually develops after 15 years of age.

How Is Lupus Treated?

Because lupus is a complex condition, treatment varies. Depending on the patient’s symptoms and the organs involved, more than one therapy may be required to help manage the condition. Treatment requirements may change over time as well, depending on how the disease progresses. Many people with lupus experience a normal lifespan but may have some level of disability.

Here are some of the most common treatments for lupus [5] :

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Corticosteroids
  • Antimalarial drugs (like Hydroxychloroquine)
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • Biological agents
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin

Unfortunately, some of these therapies result in adverse effects [6] . For this reason, the search for newer, more effective treatments with fewer side effects is ongoing.

Benefits Of CBD Oil For Lupus

Because pharmaceutical medications often come with side effects, some lupus patients seek alternative therapies to address symptoms including pain, fatigue, and inflammation.

In fact, a 2014 review revealed that as many as 50% of lupus patients [7] with SLE have utilized complementary and alternative treatments to manage their condition. Some of the therapies mentioned in the review include natural remedies, breathing exercises, meditation, and chiropractic treatment as well as dietary supplements. Some lupus patients may even use CBD.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the major plant compounds [8 found in Cannabis. Though the benefits of CBD are still being studied, its effects have been linked primarily to its interaction with cannabinoid receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a cell signaling system in the body [9] that helps regulate function and maintain homeostasis. By binding to or interacting with certain receptors (primarily CB1 and CB2 receptors), CBD oil may offer pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, among other benefits.

Though CBD oil has been tested for a wide variety of conditions, its effects are still being studied. Some studies ]10] have shown that CBD oil may help reduce chronic pain by interacting with neurotransmitters and affecting endocannabinoid receptor activity to lower inflammation and reduce the perception of pain. Other studies [11] support the use of CBD for more serious conditions like epilepsy and even opioid addiction.

Does CBD Work for Lupus Treatment?

Research on CBD for lupus is extremely limited, so there is no scientific evidence to support CBD oil as an effective treatment option. That being said, taking CBD may help with certain symptoms such as chronic pain and inflammation. You should not take CBD without talking to your doctor first, however, because it can interact with other medications you may be taking.

Here are some of the ways in which CBD may help treat lupus symptoms:

Chronic Pain and Inflammation

Though lupus affects each patient differently, pain is a common symptom. According to the National Resource Center on Lupus, more than 90% of people [12] with lupus will experience joint or muscle pain at some point over the course of their illness. In fact, more than half [13] of those who develop lupus mention joint pain as their first symptom. When it comes to lupus pain, inflammation is certainly a contributing factor.

In a 2018 study of CBD use [14], pain was the most commonly cited reason for using CBD oils. Whether CBD oils are studied specifically for pain related to lupus, scientific support does exist for the use of CBD for pain and to reduce inflammation. A 2018 review [15] published in the Journal of Pain Research shows that CBD has significant analgesic effects compared to placebo.

Anxiety and Depression

Lupus is a chronic condition and, as is true for many autoimmune diseases, it often goes through periods of remission and flare-ups. Dealing with the disease may contribute to psychological disturbances such as anxiety and depression, not to mention the effects of the disease on the nervous system itself. One study showed that depression affects as many as 25% of lupus patients [16] and anxiety affects as many as 37%. Another study [17] confirms that several moods and anxiety disorders are more common in women with SLE compared to the general population.

In the study of CBD use [18] mentioned above, the second most common reported reason for taking CBD oil was for anxiety. CBD has been shown to act on the brain’s receptors for serotonin [19] , the neurotransmitter linked to mood. As such, it has shown potential as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders. Studies using animal models have also shown CBD to exhibit antidepressant effects [20] .

Opioid Addiction

Because pain is a chronic issue for many lupus patients, some take prescription painkillers including opioids. A 2019 study [21] revealed that nearly one-third (31%) of lupus patients used prescription opioids compared to 8% of people without them. Of those using opioids, 68% had been taking them for longer than one year and 22% were on two or more opioid medications.
When used as directed by a doctor opioid medications can help control pain but, due to their high risk for dependence, they are generally recommended for short-term use. Opioid addiction is a growing epidemic [22] in the United States and it is a problem that can be difficult to treat. Some studies [23] indicate that CBD has potential as a therapeutic intervention against opioid addiction.

CBD Dosage for Lupus

Though CBD products may help relieve joint pain, inflammation, and other lupus symptoms, it’s important to remember that CBD has not been widely tested as a lupus treatment. When it comes to CBD for lupus, the effective dosage may vary from one person to another. In fact, there is no standard dosage for cannabis, so you may need to try different doses anyway.

If you’re just getting started you may want to start with a lower concentration and work your way up to a higher dose once you see how your body reacts. Keep an eye out for side effects [24] like drowsiness, diarrhea, or changes in appetite, and be sure to double-check with your doctor if you’re taking other medications.

How to Choose the Right CBD Oil for Lupus

If you’re going to use CBD, it’s important to choose a high-quality product. Do your research to find a trustworthy brand and verify the source of their cannabis. Keep in mind that some companies use a CBD isolate while others use the whole cannabis plant – this makes a difference when it comes to THC content. When it comes to CBD, THC can legally comprise up to 0.3% of the dry weight of the product.

In addition to shopping for a reputable brand, make sure to check the concentration of the CBD products you’re considering. Most CBD oil is sold in 30ml glass bottles, but some companies offer larger 60ml bottles. The concentration will impact the dosing recommendations – talk to your doctor if you’re not sure how much you should be taking. Verify as well that the product has been tested by an independent lab for safety, purity, and potency.

Frequently Asked Question

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid compound found in cannabis that may help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. CBD products have not been widely tested for lupus but some patients may experience pain relief or anti-inflammatory benefits.

The cannabis plant is used for both CBD oil and medical marijuana, it’s just a matter of the variety. Some CBD oil contains THC, but it can legally only contain up to 0.3% by dry weight.

There is no standard dosage of CBD for lupus or any other application. Follow the dosing recommendations on the product you choose and refer to your doctor’s advice.

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

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Gleb Oleinik, CBD Journalist

Gleb Oleinik is a CBD journalist from Vancouver, Canada with a passion for educating people about the benefits of CBD. He’s read thousands of research studies about CBD and other supplements, helping him translate complex scientific ideas into plain language. When he’s not writing, Gleb likes to spend his time in the gym, out in nature, and working on his website projects.

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