Cannabis Research: Using Medical Marijuana for Lupus Symptoms

image of a doctor prescription pad on a wood background with a vape pen and container of medical marijuana on top of it

The world of medical marijuana is drastically growing as more and more cannabis research becomes available. With the federal government merely a signature away from legalizing industrial hemp, public curiosity in the plant continues to skyrocket. Medical marijuana has been around for quite some time, but we’re just now beginning to understand the plethora of therapeutic applications of medical marijuana. From utilizing cannabis in cancer treatments, to relieving daily chronic pain, medical marijuana is the natural medicine many patients desire. Recently, there has been a focus on understanding the potential effects of medical marijuana for lupus. Lupus affects millions of people around the world and is yet to have a truly effective treatment. Medical marijuana may be the potential treatment lupus patients need.

What is Lupus? photo of an empty doctor's office patient room. it's all white and has a bench to lay on and equipment

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease which affects anywhere from 1.5 to 2 million Americans. Lupus causes hyperactivity within the immune system. In a healthy immune system, our body can determine healthy cells from unhealthy cells. When an unwanted cell is recognized, a healthy immune system should create antibodies to attack the infected cells. In patients with Lupus, the immune system lacks the ability to determine the difference between a healthy cell and an unhealthy cell. In turn, the body attacks all cells, healthy or not.

Types of Lupus:

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Attacks several body organs
  • Drug-Induced Lupus: Caused by a variety of legal prescription drugs and affects multiple areas of the body
  • Cutaneous Lupus: Primarily attacks the skin and is known for causing a rash across the nose
  • Lupus Nephritis: Primarily attacks the kidneys
  • Neonatal Lupus: Occurs in babies born to mothers with lupus

Lupus is a relatively common autoimmune disease and is most apparent in women from ages 15 to 45. The effects of lupus can be very severe and cause significant damage over time. A majority of the symptoms of lupus are the same across all types of the disease. Overall, lupus affects the natural balance of our body’s immune system which can destroy healthy tissue, cause long-term organ damage, create severe chronic pain, and induce stress. The symptoms of lupus vary from patient to patient and tend to come and go over time.

Symptoms of Lupus: black and white image of a woman's knees, she's holding her knee with her hands, her knee has a red dot over it to show joint pain

  • Skin Rashes
  • Mouth Sores
  • Fatigue
  • Mood Changes
  • Chronic Pain
  • Swelling of Hands and Feet
  • Joint Pain
  • Nausea
  • Depression
  • Weight Loss
  • Chest Pain
  • Ulcers
  • Anemia
  • Seizures
  • Hair Loss

The Effect of Marijuana on our Immune System 

All of our bodies contain an endocannabinoid system which is there to help maintain homeostasis throughout all bodily functions. The endocannabinoid system is made up of thousands of receptor sites called CB1 and CB2 receptors. These cannabinoid receptors are throughout the entire body, and each receptor site serves a purpose. Marijuana is made up of a variety of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC. While these are the most well-known cannabis-derived cannabinoids, there are over a hundred different cannabinoids found in marijuana. When we ingest marijuana, these cannabinoids combine with the CB1 and CB2 receptors causing a multitude of chemical reactions. The effects of these reactions depend on the cannabinoid ingested and what receptor site is.

When it comes to our immune system, both CB1 and CB2 receptors play a significant role in the overall function. In fact, the endocannabinoid system is a “central orchestrator” of both innate and adaptive immune systems. When cannabinoids release into our body, they drastically influence immune responses. That said, there’s still an overwhelming need for more research on the direct effects of cannabinoids on our immune system.

Is Medical Marijuana a Potential Treatment for Lupus? photo of a prescription pad with "medical cannabis" written on it, a stethoscope, and a pen, showing that medical marijuana for lupus could be really helpful

Medical marijuana is becoming widely popular for a variety of medicinal uses. When it comes to finding published studies on the effects of medical marijuana for lupus, there aren’t many available. The Lupus Foundation of America strongly supports further scientific research to explain the potential of marijuana as a treatment for lupus. The foundation even recommends lupus patients speak to their doctors about using medical marijuana.

So far, the available cannabis research out today does point towards medical marijuana having a strong potential to help relieve specific symptoms of lupus. In particular, medical marijuana is ideal for assisting with chronic pain and inflammation. Many of the symptoms of lupus are due to severe inflammation induced by the immune system damaging healthy cells. While no information is available regarding cannabis as a potential cure for lupus, there are studies that point to medical marijuana relieving a majority of the symptoms.

Primary Uses of Medical Marijuana for Lupus:

  • Cannabis is an anti-inflammatory which can decrease pro-inflammatory proteins called interleukin-2 and increase the production of anti-inflammatory proteins like interleukin-10
  • Cannabis activates myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) which help to decrease a hyperactive immune system by suppressing specific reactions
  • Cannabis is used widely as a treatment for nausea and abdominal pain which are side-effects of lupus medications
  • Cannabis helps patients with lupus cope with severe stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Cannabis is also commonly used to help patients induce appetite and even assist in the digestive process
  • Cannabis may help relieve certain skin ailments and rashes

Until more published research is made available to the public, it’s impossible to know the extent of medical marijuana’s ability to treat lupus. However, medical marijuana is a viable option for patients with lupus to help relieve primary symptoms. It may not remove the problem, but it certainly has the potential to improve a patient’s overall quality of life. For a lot of people, medical marijuana allows them to get through their daily activities with as little discomfort as possible. Using medical marijuana for lupus is something which should be discussed with a cannabis doctor beforehand.

What Marijuana Products May Help Patients with Lupus? 

There are a ton of medical marijuana products available to patients. For those located in a legalized state, medical dispensaries are the best source of quality marijuana products. Most dispensaries can help guide patients to the best products for their needs. However, it’s still a good idea to have some general product knowledge before going to a dispensary. The most efficient marijuana product available to consumers is tinctures. Marijuana tinctures are available in a variety of dosages, potencies, and cannabinoids. While any tincture with a ratio of THC: CBD is usually more effective, it’s also beneficial to ingest tinctures with solely CBD or THC. Tinctures are absorbed into our bodies faster than any other marijuana product. Plus, it’s a discreet and easy-to-use method of ingesting medical marijuana.

For those patients who do not wish to experience the “high” effect associated with cannabis, CBD products are the best option. CBD is the cannabinoid with a majority of the medical properties found in marijuana. It comes from both industrial hemp and cannabis sativa. Hemp-derived CBD products are available nationwide and even online. While CBD and THC work better together, CBD is still very beneficial on its own. In a brief survey done by Lupus Corner, 281 out of 781 patients with lupus use cannabis as a form of treatment. Of the 281 patients who use medical marijuana for lupus, 40 percent used CBD oil as their go-to marijuana product. That said, CBD oil may be the best initial solution for patients with lupus to try out.

Check out more information on cannabis research, here!