CBD and Lupus: New Hope for Autoimmunity

CBD and Lupus

Lupus is a serious medical condition that can affect multiple body systems. This autoimmune disease increases a person’s chances of kidney disease and lung disease, and it can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life. 

The medical community does not entirely understand this condition, but what we do know is that it results in systemic inflammation, which in turn leads to many symptoms. There are medications that may help control lupus symptoms, but many have harsh side effects.

People are looking for alternative approaches to managing lupus symptoms in hopes of increasing their well-being and quality of life. CBD has been in the spotlight recently, and research is optimistic for its use in numerous health conditions.

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD products containing less than 0.3% THC are federally legally throughout the United States. The FDA does not regulate these products, however, so if you want to try CBD to help manage a condition you’re suffering from, always be sure you get solid information about the products you’re interested in, and always make sure they’re tested by a third party for purity and safety.

Let’s explore what we know so far about CBD and lupus.

CBD and Lupus: Just the Facts

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that often causes joint pain, fatigue, brain fog, and skin rashes. Currently, treatments are aimed at reducing inflammation, which is thought to be the cause of lupus symptoms. There are no research studies on CBD and lupus specifically; however, CBD has been shown to decrease inflammation and help reduce joint pain for many people. In addition, anecdotal evidence supports positive results for using CBD to help alleviate lupus symptoms. More research is needed, but the use of CBD for lupus is promising.

Understanding Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means the immune system becomes confused and creates inflammation that attacks healthy tissues in the body. There are hundreds of autoimmune conditions, and each autoimmune disease tends to affect different body systems or tissues. With lupus, it is most common to experience joint pain, skin rashes, fatigue, and memory issues. 

No two people experience lupus quite the same. For some people, the symptoms are mild, and for others, they are life-threatening—like kidney failure. In addition, some people with lupus have periodic symptom flare-ups, while others experience symptoms continuously. While there are a variety of symptoms that differ from person to person, the most common symptoms of lupus include:

  • A malar (butterfly) rash across the mid-face
  • Photosensitivity 
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Brain-fog

Lupus may also cause serious health outcomes such as those that affect the kidneys, lungs, heart, or blood vessels.

People with lupus suffer greatly, and one person describes his experience like this:

“Lupus, and it’s drugs affect just about every aspect of your life, in my opinion. Stress, yes. Depression, yes. In fact, while on the study, their questionnaires focused a lot on your depression levels, so obviously it is very common. It has GREATLY affected my memory. I can barely remember yesterday. Not I can’t remember what I did yesterday, sometimes I don’t remember the previous day HAPPENING! I don’t remember most of my children’s childhoods. Sometimes memories can be sparked with a photo or story, but I can’t recall anything on my own.

This is very distressing. It does affect a lot of people’s diet. Some actually lose tons of weight and are never hungry. I, unfortunately, am constantly HUNGRY, thanks to Prednisone. I gained 130 pounds in 6 months when first diagnosed, and have struggled with weight since. I am down 60 pounds from my heaviest, and still working. Some people can’t go out in the sun. It can make them very sick, it can give them rashes, etc. I was actually lucky on this one, I can spend several days out in the sun, and it may fatigue me a bit more, sometimes it may completely wipe me out for a day or two, but nothing too terrible, which is great since I love to be outside!”

What Causes Lupus?

We don’t know all the reasons a person may develop lupus. For some, lupus may develop after an infection or after taking certain medications. More recent research has found links between imbalances in the gut microbiome and autoimmune conditions, including lupus.

Lupus is more common in women of childbearing age, which suggests estrogen may be involved in some way. Lupus is also found more often in people who have a family history of autoimmune conditions. Furthermore, once a person is diagnosed with one autoimmune disease, they are at increased risk of being diagnosed with another one.

In short, medical professionals believe lupus is likely caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors.

How Is Lupus Diagnosed?

Lupus is diagnosed by your doctor. They’ll order laboratory tests that look for markers of autoimmunity such as an ANA (antinuclear antibody). The doctor will also take a comprehensive medical history to look for common signs and symptoms of lupus. 

Conventional Treatment of Lupus

The conventional approach to lupus treatment is symptoms management. This includes medications to suppress the immune system to decrease inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs are typically recommended to manage joint pain. These pain medications are damaging to the kidneys, which are already at risk in lupus patients.

Prescription drugs like prednisone, which is a steroid, are common for lupus and other autoimmune disorders. These medications suppress the immune system and, therefore, reduce inflammation. Long-term steroid use has numerous side effects, including high blood pressure, weight gain, and an increased risk of infections.

In lupus, it is also essential to monitor the health of the kidneys, lungs, heart, and blood vessels as they are at high risk of disease.

CBD and Lupus

Treatment options are somewhat limited for lupus, and many people with lupus are looking for other strategies to help manage their lupus symptoms. Anecdotal reports of CBD and lupus are promising:

“For me, it [CBD] helps of course with aches and pains but also can help with my fatigue (I’ll take it with coffee in the morning, it helps a bunch) and with going to bed at night. I am usually so tense at night; it just feels impossible to sleep. It [CBD] helps a lot with that!”

While anecdotal reports are valuable, it is also essential to see what research says about CBD and lupus. Here is what we know so far.

What the Research Says

As of this writing, there have not been any studies on using CBD for lupus specifically. However, when we look at the underlying issues in lupus, such as inflammation and joint pain, we do have some insight into how CBD may be helpful.

CBD and Inflammation

CBD has been studied for its ability to decrease the release of inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6 and TNF-alpha. These two cytokines create an inflammatory cascade in the body, which can lead to several symptoms in the body, including joint pain and damage to blood vessels.

CBD activates the CB2 receptors within the endocannabinoid system, which then decrease inflammation in the body. The majority of lupus symptoms are caused by inflammation, and conventional treatments all aim at lowering inflammation. So it stands to reason that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties may be valuable in the management of lupus symptoms.

CBD and Joint Pain

Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are both autoimmune conditions, and inflammatory joint pain is a common symptom of both. Research supports that CBD can be useful for reducing joint pain in rheumatoid arthritis, and early studies support that CBD can decrease joint pain in osteoarthritis as well.

In contrast to many of the medications used for lupus, CBD has very few side effects. In most cases, they are mild and may include fatigue or dry mouth.

A Summary of What the Research Says

To date, there have not been any randomized, placebo-controlled research studies on CBD and lupus.

We do know that CBD activates the endocannabinoid system, which reduces inflammation.

Several research studies have found that CBD can be effective for reducing joint pain in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

A Quick Refresher on CBD

CBD oil, sometimes referred to as hemp oil, is derived from the industrial hemp plant. The industrial hemp plant, like the marijuana plant, is in the cannabis sativa plant family; however, these two plants differ in their composition. 

The industrial hemp plant is high in CBD (cannabidiol) and low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol),  which is the psychoactive component found in marijuana.

CBD products sold in the United States are required to contain less than 0.3% THC. And many  undergo purification to remove all traces of THC, creating CBD isolates which are, basically, CBD in its purest form.

CBD products come in many forms and dosages so anyone who wants to try it can do so safely, and more experienced users can get the dosing that works best for them. Some people prefer to take CBD in capsule form, while others prefer vaping or even eating a tasty treat like gummies. Whatever you decide, as we mentioned before, always buy from a reputable manufacturer.

Final Thoughts on CBD and Lupus

To date, there has been minimal research on CBD and lupus. What we do know is lupus symptoms are caused by inflammation, and CBD has been shown in research to lower the levels of inflammation in the body for many people. In addition, research supports that CBD can help manage different types of joint pain.

If you are living with lupus, and are interested in trying CBD, always speak with your doctor before making any changes to your current health care regime.