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CBD and Lupus: Does It Help or Hurt?

Posted on August 30, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Joan Grossman

Many people with lupus have questions about the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) and whether it will help or hurt their condition. CBD is a compound that is derived from cannabis, a plant that is commonly associated with marijuana. But the cannabis plant, which has a long history of medical use, also produces many other substances, and CBD is one of them.

MyLupusTeam members have frequently asked about CBD for lupus. “Has anyone tried CBD oil for lupus?” a member asked. “Can CBD help with lupus pain?” another member inquired. “Does anyone have experience with CBD products?” wrote someone else.

Some types of medical cannabis, such as medical marijuana, contain the psychoactive chemical known as THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) that many people associate with marijuana. However, CBD does not produce responses that make people feel high or euphoric. CBD is considered a medically active substance found in the Cannabis sativa plant, a strain of cannabis, and has been found to have antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. However, research is still limited on the effects of CBD on lupus.

CBD and the Immune System

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells throughout the body. Lupus can cause inflammation in blood cells, skin, and organs. This inflammation results in tissue damage, as well as a variety of painful and debilitating symptoms such as joint pain and skin rashes that vary considerably from case to case and can negatively affect quality of life.

CBD affects the body’s complex endocannabinoid system, which regulates numerous functions, including sleep, pain, immune response, emotions, and appetite. The body produces endocannabinoids, which are molecules that resemble the cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis plants.

Cannabinoid receptors — CB1 and CB2 — can activate the endocannabinoid system. The CB1 receptor is linked to feelings of intoxication, and the CB2 receptor is linked primarily to regulating the immune system.

Along with CBD, other less common cannabis compounds are also available and are being studied for their medicinal properties, although there is little research at this time. These substances include:

  • Cannabidiolic acid synthase (CBDA)
  • Cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabigerolic acid CBGA
  • Cannabinol (CBN)

Treating Lupus Symptoms With CBD

Studies have shown that CBD may be effective in regulating dysfunctions in the immune system that affect autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE — the most common type of lupus), rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes. CBD may provide relief from the symptoms of lupus without the risk of serious side effects that are associated with other current treatment options for lupus, such as steroids.

Researchers are beginning to explore mechanisms in CBD that have the potential to reduce chronic pain, inflammation, flare-ups, and disease activity specifically in lupus, but data on the impact of CBD on lupus is still limited and contradictory. One study indicated that lupus disease activity and progression accelerated with CBD treatment. However, another study pointed to CBD’s potential to reduce disease activity.

Despite a lack of definitive research, many people with lupus report that CBD helps relieve their symptoms. The Lupus Foundation of America has not yet endorsed the use of CBD as a lupus treatment, but it has suggested that CBD may reduce pain and inflammation in those with lupus and indicates that more research is needed.

Many MyLupusTeam members have discussed their positive experiences with CBD. “Three weeks ago, I started taking CBD oil. It has really helped the inflammation in my joints. Consequently, I’ve been sleeping better! Life is good,” a member wrote.

“No high feeling, but pain relief, anxiety, and muscle spasm control seem much better. I have been doing drops under my tongue,” said another member. “I also used cream on my back and that was really good. It comes in a roll-on.”

“I have used it more for relaxation (I have lots of spasms), and it works better than any meds I’ve been prescribed,” wrote one member.

But some members report no effects from CBD. “I work in a medical marijuana dispensary. CBD has done nothing for me,” said a member.

Risks of Taking CBD With Lupus

As of 2022, only one CBD product has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical purposes. Sold as Epidiolex, this prescription drug is a pure form of CBD that is used to treat severe epilepsy seizures.

Over-the-counter (OTC) CBD is legal and is sold as a supplement in many different forms, including capsules, topical creams, lotions, oils, edibles such as gummies or cookies, and tinctures or sprays that are taken under the tongue. CBD is generally categorized as full-spectrum CBD, with a concentration of THC that is less than 3 percent, broad-spectrum CBD with traces of THC, and isolate CBD, which is pure CBD.

However, no OTC forms of CBD are currently regulated for purity, contamination, or proper dosage. Studies have shown widespread mislabeling in which the contents of CBD products vary widely and are not accurately conveyed. At least one product was found to have lead and was recalled. Many CBD products were found to have much higher concentrations of THC — the psychoactive agent — than indicated, which could cause unwanted and unexpected intoxication. Some labeling made medical claims that had not been proved.

One MyLupusTeam member wrote, “If you decide to try it, buy it from the store. The one time I ordered some in the mail, it made me sick.”

Members have described other adverse reactions to CBD as well. “Unfortunately, I have a paradoxical reaction to all cannabis. It causes me pain all over,” a member said. Another member wrote, “Unbearable rashes … uuuggghhh!” about her experience with CBD.

Toxicity and Drug Interactions

CBD has been found to pose a risk of liver damage when taken with other drugs, including teriflunomide, leflunomide, and lomitapide, among others, which some people with lupus may be taking. CBD can also cause unwanted drowsiness and sedation.

If you are thinking about trying CBD, be sure to get medical advice and discuss it with your rheumatologist first.

“CBD oils are not for everyone,” one member wrote. “I also make sure I check everything with my doctor and pharmacy so I don’t create a problem that I am not aware of.”

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLupusTeam is the social network for people with lupus and their loved ones. On MyLupusTeam, more than 216,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lupus.

Do you have questions about using CBD for lupus? Have you tried CBD to treat your lupus symptoms? What were the effects? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
    Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
    Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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