Is CBD Oil for Lupus Safe or Effective?
Richard N. Fogoros, MD, is a retired professor of medicine and board-certified internal medicine physician and cardiologist.
CBD oil, which is derived from marijuana, has become a trend when it comes to treating diseases involving pain and inflammation. But is it effective for lupus?
So far, we don’t have conclusive evidence that CBD oil can safely treat lupus, but research is currently being conducted to help make this possible.
Because medical marijuana is still fairly controversial, and the laws are confusing, there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about CBD. That can make people hesitant to try it. Good news though—a new law is simplifying the matter for many of us.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD is short for “cannabidiol.” While it comes from cannabis, it doesn’t get you high because it doesn’t have psychoactive properties. The high comes from a different chemical in the plant called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
Marijuana growers focus on strains and techniques that increase THC levels. Cannabis that’s grown for hemp tends to have a lot more CBD than THC.
If you look online, you can find a lot of huge claims about using CBD oil for medicinal purposes. Claims are so glowing, in fact, that you might start to wonder if they can possibly be true. Certainly, when they come from websites that promote marijuana legalization and use, you may be wise to question the veracity.
It’s too early in the research process for us to be able to say “yes” about many of the claims. However, we’re learning enough to be able to say “it’s possible,” or even, “we think so.”
CBD oil is used to treat a host of different conditions, although it’s not approved for any of these conditions, as of mid-2018:
- Chronic pain and inflammation
- Glaucoma pain
- Sleep disorders, including insomnia and nightmares
- Bipolar disorder
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Movement disorders (Huntington’s disease)
- Assistance with smoking cessation
- Stopping the growth of cancerous tumors
When it comes to taking CBD oil, you have a lot of options: smoking, taking capsules, drops or sprays under the tongue, and as a topical ointment. Research in the United States is in the early stages, though, since for decades, legal restrictions made it extremely difficult to study the medical benefits of marijuana.
CBD Oil for Lupus
With a lack of research on CBD oil for lupus, we have to go on what we know about CBD in general and can understand from research into conditions with similar symptoms or pathology. This potential treatment is likely to get attention from lupus researchers eventually, though, for several reasons.
- Lupus contributes to an epidemic of pain, including untreated and undertreated pain. Current treatments are far from perfect, so drug companies have a sizable financial incentive to find more effective medications.
- The opioid addiction/overdose epidemic is a huge problem for society and puts a lot of strain on the resources of the medical community as well as law enforcement. Meanwhile, several studies have shown that when marijuana becomes legal in a state, the number of opioid prescriptions—and overdose deaths—drops. That’s bound to get the attention of doctors who want to protect their patients, law enforcement agencies battling the problem, and lawmakers seeking solutions.
- A wealth of research suggests that CBD oil is effective against pain and inflammation. In its pure form, it’s generally regarded as safe. Lupus involves considerable inflammation.
- We have abundant anecdotal evidence from people with lupus who say it’s effective. That can’t substitute for scientific proof, but it’s one more thing that gets doctors interested.
Additionally, a 2018 study published in Cellular Immunology found that CBD may alter T-cell activity after spinal cord injury. Abnormal activity of T-cells (which are part of the immune system) are believed to be involved in lupus.
Lupus can include pain from neuropathy (nerve damage), and multiple studies suggest that CBD can alleviate that type of pain from diabetes, HIV, and other sources.
CBD Side Effects
We probably don’t yet know all of the possible side effects of CBD. Some side effects that have been reported are:
- Changes to liver enzymes used to process drugs
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
- Increased tremor in Parkinson’s disease (at high doses)
The World Health Organization says CBD oil may also:
- Alter hormonal levels
- Stimulate the immune system at low levels, and suppress it at higher levels
CBD doesn’t appear to lead to addiction or abuse. It’s also believed to have a low toxicity level, which means it takes a lot to cause an overdose.
Is CBD Legal?
You’d think the question of whether CBD is legal would get a straightforward, yes or no answer, but the legality issue can be confusing.
A lot of pro-marijuana websites have long claimed that it’s legal in all 50 states as long as it doesn’t have more than 0.3 percent THC. They based that argument on the provisions of a specific farm bill. But in 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the old bill didn’t apply to hemp or products derived from it.
Then came the 2018 Farm Bill. This piece of legislation was wildly popular in both the Senate, where it was passed in June of 2018, and the House, where it was passed in December of 2018 and then quickly signed into law. It re-classifies hemp as a legal agricultural product, which makes CBD products legal at the federal level.
In states where marijuana and/or CBD is legal, there’s no longer a clash between state and federal law, so the products are legally safe to use. Still, some states have specific laws on the books banning hemp products. So what does the new Farm Bill mean for those states?
Technically, federal law overrules state law. However, that doesn’t mean those states will stop arresting and trying people for CBD use, especially if they want to challenge the new federal law. If you’re in one of those states, talk to an expert about any possible trouble you could get into for using CBD products. The website ProCon.org has information about which states have laws specific to CBD oil. A site called Governing maintains a map of where marijuana is legal in some form.
The only form of CBD that is FDA-approved is Epidiolex, a purified formulation of CBD used for rare forms of epilepsy. All the other CBD sources being enthusiastically marketed today are unregulated. They often contain amounts of CBD that are substantially different (too much or too little) than the labels indicate, and frequently contain higher levels of THC (the intoxicating chemical found in marijuana) than is permitted in a legitimate CBD product. Anyone electing to use CBD today will need to be cautious and ideally should consult with their physician before doing so.
A Word From Verywell
Treatment decisions should never be taken lightly, and that applies to “natural” treatments like CBD as well—especially when you take the law into account. Consider the pros and con carefully, and be sure to discuss this option with your doctor. Even if you’re taking it illegally, your doctor needs to know—your health could depend on it. As with any treatment, it’s important to watch for side effects.
With legal changes in store and lots of research coming out, we can probably expect a lot of change, and quickly, when it comes to CBD oil.
See what we know about CBD oil as a potential treatment for lupus, what the side effects are, and what you need to know about the legal status.
Lupus & CBD Oil: Research on Effectiveness & Finding the Right Product
Written by Jason Brett — Edited by Cathy Rozyczko on February 9, 2021
Affecting an estimated 1.5 million Americans, lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system targets the body’s tissue and organs, sending inflammation responses to the joints, skin, blood and/or major organs. It is said that no two cases of lupus are the same, and with such varied symptoms and widespread inflammation, a lot of trial and error can be involved in its treatment. As a powerful natural anti-inflammatory, CBD oil may offer much-needed relief for lupus patients.
Benefits of Using CBD Oil for Lupus
There are many benefits of using CBD oil for lupus symptoms, especially when you consider the difficulties associated with treating lupus through traditional means.
Because symptoms can vary, and come and go over time, it can be complicated finding the right balance of medications.
More often than not, a person with lupus will be prescribed a variety of medications. A combination of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antimalarial drugs, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants are most common. While effective in different ways, each treatment method carries its own lengthy list of potential side effects.
Cannabidiol (CBD) comes with very few and mild side effects, and is well researched for its ability to reduce inflammation, joint pain, and immune responses. If you’re thinking about trying CBD oil to help manage the symptoms of lupus, either in addition to your current lupus treatment or on its own, reference this chart for a quick breakdown of all the potential risks and benefits to consider. And, more importantly, speak to your doctor—CBD oil can interact with certain medications and may not be the right choice for your specific condition.
|Traditional Lupus Medication||Medication Uses||Medication Side Effects||Potential Benefits of using CBD oil for Lupus||Possible Drug Interaction of Meds + CBD oil|
|NSAIDs (Advil; Motrin; Aleve)||Treats pain; fever; and swelling associated with lupus.||May cause: stomach bleeding; kidney problems; increased risk of heart problems.||CBD oil may reduce pain and swelling associated with lupus without causing any of its own side effects.||When used with CBD oil there may be an increased risk of liver damage. Speak to your doctor before combining.|
|Antimalarial drugs (Plaquenil)||Affects the immune system to reduce lupus flare-ups.||Can cause: stomach upset and damage to the retina of the eye.||CBD oil may also impact the immune system to help reduce lupus flare-ups without causing any of its own side effects.||There are no known interactions between these two substances. Always consult a doctor before combining CBD oil and antimalarial drugs to be sure.|
|Corticosteroids (Medrol; Methapred)||Powerful anti-inflammatory drugs.||Can cause: weight gain; easy bruising; high blood pressure; diabetes; thinning bones.||CBD oil has strong anti-inflammatory properties without causing any of its own side effects.||There are no known interactions between these two substances. Always consult a doctor before combining CBD oil and corticosteroids to be sure.|
|Immunosuppressants (Imuran; Azasan; CellCept; Trexall)||Used to reduce the hyperactivity of the immune system and reduce inflammation.||Can increase the risk of: infection; liver damage; decreased fertility; cancer.||CBD oil may act as a targeted immune suppressant to reduce inflammation without weakening the entire system.||When used with CBD oil there may be an increased risk of liver damage. Speak to your doctor before combining.|
The risk of side effects for traditional lupus medications increase with the frequency of use, and many lupus patients will be on one or more of these medications for decades. It is no surprise that people are looking for a simpler, more natural alternative for relief.
Cannabidiol, a phytocannabinoid, interacts with the body’s cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system. CBD oil is able to reduce pain and inflammation by acting on the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in a similar fashion to the body’s own, naturally produced endocannabinoids.
Effectiveness of Using CBD Oil for Lupus
While there is not yet any definitive research published on the treatment of lupus with CBD oil, there is a substantial amount of other research suggesting that CBD oil may be able to help reduce some of the most common lupus symptoms.
The lupus symptoms that CBD oil has the potential to treat most effectively are neuropathic pain, inflammation, and immune system hyperactivity.
CBD Oil for Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, is an unpleasant lupus symptom. Research has found that CBD oil may be able to relieve this symptom.
CBD oil impacts the CB2 receptors found in the central nervous system. These CB2 receptors are responsible for the regulation of pain and inflammation.
CBD oil has also been shown to change the perception of pain through its influence on glycine receptors. These are inhibitory receptors and are also located within the central nervous system. CBD oil has been found to increase the effect of these receptors, which ultimately helps reduce pain.
Studies conducted on the use of CBD for neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis, another autoimmune disease, found that individuals who had been given a spray containing both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD, reported a significant reduction in pain and sleep disturbances compared to individuals who had been given a placebo.
CBD Oil for Inflammation
One of the areas in which CBD oil has been most studied is its potential for reducing inflammation, which is promising news for lupus patients.
One of the ways CBD oil can reduce inflammation is through its interaction with the neurotransmitter adenosine. CBD oil slows adenosine’s reuptake, affecting the A2A adenosine receptor, which has been shown to play a role in inflammatory responses.
A study by the University of South Carolina School of Medicine investigated the use of cannabinoids as an anti-inflammatory treatment. The research states “overall, cannabinoids have exhibited significant potential to be used as novel anti-inflammatory agents and specific targeting of CB2 receptors holds the promise of mediating immunosuppressive effects without exerting psychotropic side effects.” In other words, cannabinoids hold much potential for people with inflammatory diseases, like Lupus, because of their effect on the body’s CB2 cannabinoid receptors. And, cannabinoids like CBD, won’t produce intoxicating effects, meaning patients may be able to find relief without feeling the “high” that certain medications and THC can bring on.
CBD Oil as an Immunosuppressant
Autoimmune diseases cause the immune system to overreact, attacking perfectly healthy cells. This reaction is what causes the inflammation that can contribute to chronic pain, joint and muscle stiffness, and even organ and tissue damage. CBD oil can reduce this inflammatory response.
CBD oil may prove to be as effective as common immunosuppressant medications used for lupus. While the exact causes of lupus are still not known, it is believed to be linked to the abnormal functioning of the immune system’s CD4 cells, or “T cells”, which is why lupus patients are prescribed immunosuppressants.
When the body is under stress, it produces small proteins called cytokines, which incite inflammation—they are like the body’s first responders. Research has shown that cannabinoids like CBD, THC, and CBN are effective at suppressing proinflammatory cytokine production, essentially stopping inflammation at the source, and upregulating T-regulatory cells, which could help prevent it from happening in the first place.
Because CBD is being studied and showing promise for autoimmune disorders, it’s gaining ground as a potential treatment option for diseases like arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS). In fact, a drug containing THC and CBD was recently made legal in certain parts of Europe for treating MS symptoms.
As more research and clinical trials are conducted, lupus may soon be added to the list of autoimmune disorders that could be treated through the use of cannabidiol and other cannabinoids from the cannabis plant.
How To Use CBD Oil for Lupus
While many lupus patients will find that their condition is well managed with prescription medications, others who have faced unpleasant side effects or have seen no results may consider using CBD oil. If this sounds like you, the first step you need to take is to speak with your doctor. They will have the best grasp of what’s best and safest for treating your symptoms.
If you get approval from your doctor to try CBD oil for lupus, you’ll need to decide what types of CBD products you want to use.
CBD oil tinctures, drops, and capsules are the most common way to take CBD. These delivery formats are easy to work into a daily supplementation routine. Capsules provide a consistent dose every time, while drops and tinctures allow for better dosage control. Because you can control the amount of CBD oil right down to a single drop, many people prefer to start with CBD oil drops or tinctures to find their ideal dose, and then move to capsules for easy daily administration.
CBD tinctures and drops usually take about 30 minutes to set in, and their effects typically last 2 to 4 hours. CBD capsules and other edibles take longer, usually about an hour, to show effects, but can last anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.
CBD oil vapes and topical creams can be useful in particular scenarios. For sudden pain, spasticity, and stiffness, CBD vape oils can provide near-instant relief. Because the cannabidiol is absorbed directly into the lungs, you’ll feel the effects in a matter of minutes; however, the benefits of CBD vapes usually only last an hour at most.
CBD oil topicals, like CBD creams, lotions, and salves can provide targeted relief to the site of pain. If the lupus is causing you to experiencing chronic joint pain, muscle soreness, or inflammation, applying a CBD topical to the area of discomfort could target and reduce physical pain throughout the day.
For an in-depth breakdown of all the different types of CBD products, check out our CBD Beginner’s Guide.
CBD Oil Dosage for Lupus
There is no standard dose for CBD oil. Because everybody is different, no two people will respond to CBD in the same way. It is best to start with the smallest recommended suggested serving listed on the CBD product. Monitor your response and if you do not get the results you desire, you can slowly increase your dose over a matter of weeks until you get results.
If your CBD product doesn’t come with a recommended dosage, we at CBD Oil Review recommend the following:
The CBD Oil Review Serving Standard is 25 mg of CBD, taken twice daily
If you aren’t seeing results, try increasing your dosage by 25 mg every 3 to 4 weeks until you’re happy with the outcome.
For more information on dosages and some useful tips for getting it right, check out our guide here or consult with a naturopathic doctor who can prescribe you a CBD treatment plan specific to your needs and condition.
Best CBD Oils for Lupus
With so many CBD products on the market, it can be hard to know where to start. There are a few things you should consider when choosing a CBD oil to treat lupus.
Before you buy anything, it is important to understand the laws in your state. CBD oil derived from industrial hemp plants with a THC content of 0.3% or less is legal for purchase in most states, but not all of them. To learn more, check out our page on state-specific cannabis laws.
To get the most out of your CBD oil product, you need to be sure that you are buying the best, highest quality products. Here are some tips for how to find the best-quality CBD oils:
- Read the ingredients list: The best CBD oils only contain a handful of ingredients. Typically, these ingredients include the CBD, a carrier oil like hempseed oil or coconut oil, and maybe terpenes or essential oils for natural flavoring. If the product you are considering has a long list of ingredients or includes things you can’t pronounce or identify, it is best to avoid it.
- Look for organic hemp: A CBD product that is sourced from organic hemp will be free of harmful chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides.
- Read the Certificates of Analysis: Reputable brands will third-party lab test their products and post the results in a Certificate of Analysis (COA). This COA will not only show you exactly what is in your CBD oil, it will also help you confirm that the amount of CBD listed on the label matches the amount of CBD in the product. The COA will also reveal if there are any harmful chemicals, bacteria, or heavy metals in the final CBD product.
Before you start any new CBD oil treatment for lupus, consult with a medical professional. Together, you can decide if this is the best path forward in your journey to wellness.
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