Lupus is an autoimmune disease that attacks healthy tissues. Although there is no cure for it, the disease is managed with different types of medication (mostly corticosteroids and NSAIDs) which can all cause a number of side effects.
Hence, lupus patients often look for complementary treatments for controlling their symptoms.
Cannabis could prove to be a very helpful treatment for lupus.
The most common symptoms that patients with lupus have to deal with are inflammation and pain, and cannabis is known for being especially effective at fighting pain and inflammation.
However, thanks to medical advances, 80-90 percent of patients diagnosed with this disease live a normal lifespan.
Today we’ll find out if cannabis can help relieve lupus symptoms and improve the general quality of life of lupus patients.
What is lupus?
Lupus (the most common type is systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE, or simply lupus) is an incurable, chronic autoimmune disease.
The term “lupus” dates back to the 13th century and comes from the Latin word for wolf, since its most recognizable symptom (face rash), looks like a wolf’s bite.
Lupus occurs when the immune system becomes overactive and cannot tell the difference between viruses, bacterias and healthy tissues. That’s when it starts to produce large amounts of antibodies that attack healthy organs.
Researchers and medical professionals think that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in this disease.
Women suffer from Lupus nine times more than men. In fact, 90 percent of patients are women. The disease is also more common in those with African, Chinese, or Caribbean heritage.
Lupus usually starts to develop and shows its first signs between the ages of 14 and 45, but it can happen anytime.
Besides SLE, there are other types of the disease: discoid lupus erythematosus, subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus, neonatal lupus, and drug-induced lupus.
What are the most common lupus symptoms?
The illness goes through periods of flare-ups when the disease is more active and periods of remission when only a few symptoms are present.
The most common symptoms include:
- Skin rash, most commonly on cheeks in the shape of a butterfly
- Swollen joint and muscle pain (usually in wrists, ankles, fingers, knees, leading to arthritis)
- Mouth sores
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Hair loss
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mood changes, depression, and anxiety
- Irregular heart rate
Lupus diagnosis and treatment
Lupus diagnosis can be a bit tricky since symptoms vary from person to person and can be mistaken for other conditions. It takes a combination of urine and blood tests, as well as a physical examination of signs and symptoms for lupus to be diagnosed.
When it comes to treatment, there is no cure. The disease is kept in check with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants.
However, these types of drugs tend to cause a lot of side effects such as vomiting, nausea and upset stomach, liver and kidney damage, high blood pressure, bruising and fever.
That’s why many patients are desperate to find other ways of treating lupus.
Can cannabis help in treating lupus?
Lupus causes inflammation. Although inflammation is a natural human response to an internal attack, if it’s not treated properly, or if left untreated, it can cause serious health problems, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and tissue damage.
Research done in 2012 even found a link between untreated inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
And, needless to say, patients living with lupus also suffer from pain, especially when the disease is in its active phase.
This is why cannabis can help because it’s known for having pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
But how exactly does cannabis help you if you have been diagnosed with lupus?
First of all, it’s all about the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Us humans and other mammals produce compounds called endocannabinoids, which are coincidentally chemically similar to substances in cannabis (cannabinoids).
When endocannabinoids are released, they bind to specific receptors regulating many of our body responses, including pain response and inflammation.
However, sometimes we don’t produce enough of these little molecules, so by consuming cannabis we essentially supplement our ECS with cannabinoids and help our body regain its homeostasis or balance.
Simply put, those little molecules in marijuana imitate our own balancing substances and modulate what’s out of order, including inflammation and pain.
The cannabinoid THC binds to CB receptors which are responsible for regulating inflammatory response and pain, and the cannabinoid CBD activates vanilloid and adenosine receptors.
Cannabinoids also stimulate the increase of anti-inflammatory proteins (interleukin-10) while decreasing inflammatory proteins (interleukin-2).
Researchers also believe that cannabis can suppress the immune system, which is beneficial for patients with all types of autoimmune diseases. (1)
From this, we can speculate that cannabis may have positive effects on lupus, as well as other autoimmune diseases.
The best way to consume cannabis for lupus
If you have been diagnosed with lupus, you probably want to avoid smoking. But don’t worry, smoking is not the only way to consume marijuana.
There are other less harmful ways to get those cannabinoids inside your body.
Vaping is always an option. It’s much less harmful than smoking a joint or lightning up a bong.
Vaporizers and vape pens heat cannabis just to the point that it releases cannabinoids, but without combusting the plant and producing smoke.
CBD oils are another alternative. CBD oil is usually made from organic hemp or medical cannabis, and it’s legal and available almost everywhere.
The best CBD dosage for lupus depends on a number of factors such as your body weight and the severity of your disease.
According to Martin A. Lee, the founder of Project CBD and an ex-Harvard lecturer, the optimal starting dosage for most people would be 2,5-5 mg of CBD initially and gradually increase the dosage until you feel the effects.
If oils and vaping are out, then consider edibles. This is also one of the healthiest ways to consume cannabis. You can buy them or make your own.
However, keep in mind that because of the digestion process, edibles need more time to kick in, compared to smoking. So, be very careful with the dosage and the amount of edibles you eat so that you don’t “overdo it” (I’m telling you this from my own experience).
Tinctures and topicals are always a good choice for rashes, swelling and joint pain.
Best strains for lupus
Both THC and CBD have medical benefits for managing lupus symptoms.
If you have decided to try out cannabis for lupus, here are some strains to help you boost your energy, relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
Uncover the best medical cannabis strains for you with Strainblazer™, our tool that helps you search through all strains produced by ACMPR licensed producers.
Created by Stanley Brothers, a Colorado-based family owned business, Charlotte’s Web was first bred to help a little girl named Charlotte Figi, who suffered severe epileptic seizures.
This strain (which is a genetic mixture of industrial hemp combined with regular cannabis), has a very high percentage of CBD, with a very low concentration of THC (<0.3%), causing virtually no psychoactive effects. Since it does not give you a buzz, it’s perfect for daytime use. This is definitely one of the most popular high CBD low THC strains, useful for an extremely wide range of medical issues.
Developed in 2003, this indica dominant hybrid (70% indica, 30% sativa), is a combination of another two famous strains, Big Bud and Purple Urkle, and has a taste and aroma reminiscent of berry and grape. Like most potent indica strains, it’s perfect for a wide variety of conditions. It is known for effectively treating pain and muscle spasms. Expect a powerful couch-lock effect, with a tenacious cerebral buzz, so it’s better for nighttime use.
ACDC contains up to 20% CBD and 1-6% THC which makes it one of the most popular medical strains for all sorts of symptoms. Lupus patients often need an energy boost which is why ACDC is perfect for treating this condition; it energizes and brings back the focus you need while swiping away pain and inflammation.
A sativa dominant strain (75% sativa, 25% indica), it’s a genetic blend of Colombian Gold, Swiss Landrace, and Thai strains. What’s special about Harlequin is its CBD content, with a ratio of 5:2 CBD to THC. Because of the large quantities of CBD, and because of the sativa dominance, you can expect an awake and alert high. Also, the CBD is able to easily counteract the potential paranoia associated with THC while the two cannabinoids work together to provide medical benefits.
A potent sativa strain with both berry and a little bit of a skunky flavor and smell, Strawberry Cough is one of the best strains to help fight fatigue and pain. Lupus is not easy to cope with, so patients tend to suffer from depression, too. This strain will lift up your spirits with happy thoughts.
This strain is named after 1970’s cannabis advocate and professor Lester Grinspoon. However, the strain is not easy to find, so when you get the chance, don’t miss it. This pure sativa is an excellent choice for people doing creative activities and for those who need to concentrate on their work.
Afghan Kush is known for its powerful sedative properties, so be sure to get yourself comfy after a long day before you medicate yourself. It’s one of the most popular strains for lupus patients because it helps people forget about their stress, relieves pain, and induces sleep.
The name comes from the Incredible Hulk’s alter ego, and like the green monster, this strain is very strong. Bruce Banner is rich in THC and works well for pain and fatigue so lupus patients can benefit on multiple levels.
Super Silver Haze
A very uplifting strain and great for suppressing nausea, Super Silver Haze can also help lupus patients overcome muscle spasms and chronic pain. The strain’s effects last long enough to make you feel comfortable for hours.
OG Kush is everyone’s favorite and you can find this strain almost everywhere. It brings patients to a slightly euphoric state while reducing pain and stress. It’s best to use it at night in the comfort of your home since it produces cottonmouth and dry eyes.
Here’s how you can contribute your thoughts on this topic:
Do you have a preferred strain for managing your lupus symptoms? To help other patients, please share your experience of treating lupus symptoms with cannabis in the comment section below.
- Hegde VL, Nagarkatti M, Nagarkatti PS; Cannabinoid receptor activation leads to massive mobilization of myeloid-derived suppressor cells with potent immunosuppressive properties; European Journal of Immunology; December 2010; 40(12):3358-71
- Clayton N, Marshall FH, Bountra C, O’Shaughnessy CT; CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors are implicated in inflammatory pain; Pain; April 2002; 96(3):253-60
- Nagarkatti P, Pandey R, Rieder SA, Hegde VL, Nagarkatti M; Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs; Future Medicinal Chemistry; October 2009; 1(7):1333-49