Although it doesn’t get much attention from the media, many patients use marijuana for lupus, in addition to their conventional medications. These patients say that it helps alleviate their suffering by reducing symptoms such as inflammation and pain.
Lupus and its symptoms
Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s tissue and organs. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, around 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide, have a form of lupus. Women of childbearing age are most likely to get lupus and 90% of the people who have it are women. However, it also strikes men, teens, and children.1
There are several types of lupus: systemic lupus erythematosus, cutaneous lupus erythematosus, drug-induced lupus erythematosus, and neonatal lupus.
- Cutaneous lupus is limited to the skin, causing rashes and lesions,
- Drug-induced lupus is a lupus-like disease caused by some prescription drugs.
- Neonatal lupus is not true lupus, but a rare condition where the mother’s antibodies attack the baby while in the womb.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is by far the most common form and is usually what is meant when someone mentions lupus. It can be mild or severe, and the inflammation can affect the kidneys, nervous system, brain and arteries. The latter in turn can lead to coronary artery disease, where deposits on coronary artery walls build up and can cause a heart attack.2
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose, as many of its symptoms are the same as those of other conditions. Some of the symptoms of lupus are fatigue, joint pain, swelling, stiffness, shortness of breath, fever, chest pain, dry eyes, confusion, headaches and memory loss. There are also dermatological symptoms, such as a butterfly-shaped rash on both cheeks and the bridge of the nose, skin lesions brought on or worsened by sun exposure, and fingers and toes that turn blue when cold or the person is stressed.3
Medical marijuana and lupus
There are not yet any completed clinical trials that study the efficacy of marijuana for lupus. However, in one small study, researchers found an alteration in the endocannabinoid systems of lupus patients, and said that their data gave proof-of-concept (verification that a concept or theory potentially has real-world application) for developing cannabis-based medications for use as immune-modulating agents.4
There is a clinical trial in progress that is being done with a new synthetic cannabinoid drug called JBT-101 (lenabasum), a form of cannabis that does not produce a high. Researchers are studying lenabasum in lupus patients to see if it can treat the joint pain and inflammation. There have already been several smaller studies with lenabasum and other immune system conditions that have reported positive results.5
There may not be many completed studies specifically on cannabis and lupus as of yet, but there are many studies that have shown cannabis to be an excellent reliever of the pain and inflammation caused by a wide variety of diseases, as well as an effective sleep aid.
Do you want to try marijuana for lupus?
There are many ways you can try marijuana for lupus besides smoking or vaping, including creams and patches applied directly onto painful joints. In additional, edibles may help achieve a restful sleep.
Some physicians who specialize in medical cannabis say that the best way to use it is by juicing the raw plant. That’s because raw cannabis contains THCA and CBDA, the precursors to THC and CBD, which have been found to be particularly effective in relieving inflammation. Neither of these cannabinoids will produce a high, as THC is formed by the process of decarboxylation which occurs when heat is applied. If you live in a state where growing your own plants is legal, this may be a good option. Some dispensaries even carry cannabis juice.6,7
Work with your current healthcare provider or find one who is knowledgeable about medical marijuana and lupus. If there are none in your area, many of them will schedule telehealth appointments. These providers can guide you in the best ways to use cannabis, which strains might work better than others, and of course, whether there are likely to be interactions with your current drugs.
If you live in a state where cannabis is illegal, you may still be able to try various forms of CBD, which has also been shown in some studies to help with inflammation and pain. Use our map to find out what the laws are in your state.
- Lupus facts and statistics. Lupus Foundation of America
- The four different types of Lupus. Lupus Foundation of America
- Lupus. Mayo Clinic
- Endocannabinoid system in systemic lupus erythematosus: First evidence for a deranged 2-arachidonoylglycerol metabolism, The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology,
Volume 99, 2018, Pages 161-168, ISSN 1357-2725, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocel.2018.04.010.
- Q&A Medical marijuana and Lupus. Lupus Foundation of America
- Can I use medical marijuana to treat Lupus? Inhale MD.
- Medical marijuana treatments for lupus; How cannabis treats lupus