Marijuana for Lupus: Is It an Effective Treatment?


The marijuana industry is rapidly evolving. Medical weed is on its way to becoming more acceptable. Today, individuals with one of a variety of different diseases use it.

Cannabis is also gaining popularity amongst physicians and is becoming increasingly popular in our modern-day lives. Once, people only talked about marijuana behind closed doors.

However, in the modern era, cannabis is now an option in treating numerous mental and physical challenges. Furthermore, cannabis research is progressing in programs across the globe to provide alternative medicine for a variety of illnesses.

So, what about using marijuana for lupus? Is it a practical option for the hundreds of thousands of sufferers across the US? Let’s take a closer look.

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What is Lupus?

Lupus refers to an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation. It happens when the immune system of the body attacks otherwise healthy, properly functioning tissues. The disease affects roughly five million people around the world, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.

Shockingly, about 90% of patients are women. Significant progress on the treatment of lupus has stalled for many years. However, marijuana treatments could change all of that.

Defining Lupus

Lupus is a long-term autoimmune disease where your body tends to attack and damage other tissues. The complexity of the condition means people often refer to it as ‘the disease of 1,000 faces.’

The symptoms can include inflammation, swelling, and damage to kidneys, blood, heart, and lungs. It is not a contagious disease. However, the exception is neonatal lupus. In this case, women with the condition can give birth to a child that eventually develops it.

The most common form of this condition is known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). With SLE, symptoms can vary from one individual to another in a very drastic manner. Other forms of lupus include:

  • Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus
  • Neonatal lupus
  • Drug-induced lupus
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus

Our immune system protects the body and fights off bacteria and viruses (antigens). It produces proteins called antibodies for this task. White blood cells are responsible for creating antibodies. When someone has an autoimmune condition, their immune system can’t differentiate between healthy tissue and antigens. As a consequence, it directs antibodies against both.

In patients with lupus, the antinuclear (ANA) antibody is the most common type of autoantibody. The ANA reacts with parts of the cell’s nucleus. It circulates in the blood. However, some of the body’s cells allow the ANA autoantibody through. They can then attack the DNA in the nucleus of the cells. This is why the condition affects some organs but not others.

Furthermore, there are probably genetic factors at play with SLE. There are genes in the body that help your immune system to function. If you have SLE, changes in these genes could prevent your immune system from properly working.

Lupus Risk Factors & Symptoms

There are several risk factors to consider.

  • Hormones: Women are up to nine times more likely to have lupus than males. Scientists now believe there is a possible link between estrogen and lupus.
  • Genetics: Your chances of getting the illness increase if a first or second-degree relative has it. You are up to three times more likely to have lupus as an African American than as a Caucasian.
  • Environment: Possible triggers include smoking, excessive sunlight exposure, and viral infections.

The long list of symptoms includes, but is not limited to:

  • A loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands of lymph nodes
  • Pain or swelling in muscles or joints
  • Headaches or fever
  • Arthritis
  • Skin rashes
  • Swelling around the eyes or legs
  • Unusual hair loss
  • Mouth ulcers

Additionally, lupus affects several body systems, including:

  • Lungs: You may suffer from an inflammation of the lining of the chest cavity. The condition is called pleuritis. There is also the possibility of pneumonia developing.
  • Kidneys: You might also experience inflammation of the kidneys. It ensures that the body faces difficulties removing waste. An estimated one-third of lupus patients have problems with their kidneys.
  • Blood: The condition could cause conditions such as thrombocytopenia or anemia.
  • Central Nervous System: Lupus occasionally negatively impacts the central nervous system or brain. Symptoms include problems with vision, depression, dizziness, and seizures.
  • Heart: Inflammation of the heart may result in endocarditis or myocarditis.
  • Blood Vessels: Your blood vessels could become inflamed. The condition is called vasculitis, and it potentially affects blood circulation.

Attempts Made to Treat Lupus

The treatment of lupus often involves the management and control of flare-ups as they appear. Mostly, this involves using drugs that seek to suppress the human immune system. Doctors commonly prescribe hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) but it can cause damage to a person’s eyes.

The FDA approved belimumab in March 2011. However, there are doubts as to its efficacy. Furthermore, a weight-based dosing regimen can cost up to $35,000 a year. A single intravenous powder for injection (120mg) costs $443. The 400mg vial costs $1,477.

In the past, patients with lupus often had a life expectancy of five years. Improved treatment has significantly increased lifespan. Effective therapy can manage the condition to the point where one can live a healthy and active life. Even so, people are looking towards cannabis to see if it can help.

Is Marijuana a Viable Alternative for Lupus?

lupus and marijuana

One reason to try marijuana for lupus is due to drug interactions. Remember, drug-induced lupus is possible as any one of 400 different drug types can cause the condition. Proponents of cannabis claim that it helps relieve pain and reduce inflammation. As such, it is not a surprise to see it become a popular option for individuals with lupus.

However, despite the prevalence of the condition, research into marijuana’s effect on lupus is lacking. The continued federal prohibition continues to impact researchers negatively. But there are a vast number of anecdotal reports of how the herb has helped people living with lupus.

We have a few studies relating to how cannabis affects inflammation. This is relevant because a condition such as SLE can result in inflammation almost anywhere in the body.

A study by Gallily et al., published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in 2018, looked at whether terpenoids have anti-inflammatory properties. The researchers began by saying: “cannabinoids are well known to have anti-inflammatory effects in mammalians.”

Annunziata et al. had a study published in the Journal of Neuroimmunology in February 2017. Its main finding was that the cannabinoid CB2 receptor is a “novel pharmacological target to counteract neuroinflammation.”

A survey conducted in Canada reported that most individuals self-medicate themselves using marijuana for acute, non-cancer related pain. One of the main symptoms of lupus is chronic pain at the joints. In this regard, some now expect marijuana to effectively help in the management of pain, which results from joint inflammation. Controlling joint pain would make it possible for patients to move around. They may even get the freedom to exercise, travel, or relax more comfortably.

Final Thoughts about Cannabis and Lupus

The Lupus Foundation of America is the national charitable health institute involved in fighting the disease. It now supports continued scientific research on the use of medical cannabis to treat lupus. There are a considerable number of drugs on the market designed to treat the condition. However, experts in the field say that a multitude of drugs has failed in the last decade.

Too many of these medications were ‘repurposed’ from other conditions. Overall, the landscape for treating the disease is described as ‘bleak.’ As a result, it is no surprise to learn that some lupus patients are looking at MMJ. The lack of research is a concern. Then again, it matters less to individuals who already feel as if they have nothing to lose.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Leave them in the comments below.

Please note that before using medical marijuana as a treatment for lupus, you should consult with your doctor. This article is not intended to give you recommendations or advice in any way.