Learn more about medical marijuana use for those with lupus. 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.
Q&A: medical marijuana (cannabis) and lupus
Medical marijuana is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat lupus or any other condition.
There’s a great deal that we don’t know about whether medical marijuana can help people with lupus. Research is just starting to study how it might help manage or treat lupus.
Here’s what you need to know about medical marijuana.
What is medical marijuana?
The term “medical marijuana” refers to the use of the marijuana plant or herb, also known as cannabis, to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions. People have used the marijuana plant or its extracts for medical purposes for thousands of years. However, there hasn’t been enough research on how marijuana affects people to prove that medical marijuana is safe and effective.
Marijuana contains active chemicals called “cannabinoids.” The main cannabinoid is commonly known as THC, which gives users a “high.” Another often used cannabinoid is known as CBD, which doesn’t produce a high and may relieve pain and inflammation. There are also hundreds of synthetic cannabinoid chemicals – chemicals that are created in the laboratory that mimic natural cannabinoids.
Products that contain natural or synthetic THC or CBD come in many forms. These include the dried plant (herb or flower), edibles (brownies, cookies, candy), drinkables (coffee, tea, lemonade, soda), oils, tinctures (which are taken orally), sprays, and topical creams and gels.
What is medical marijuana used for?
People have used medical marijuana for a variety of health conditions. But the FDA hasn’t approved medical marijuana as a safe and effective treatment for lupus – or for any medical condition or symptoms.
The FDA has approved one drug that contains CBD to treat seizures associated with two severe forms of childhood epilepsy. It has also approved three medications containing synthetic cannabinoids that may help treat cancer symptoms or the side effects of cancer therapies.
The research for medical marijuana uses have steadily increased. That research suggests that medical marijuana may be helpful in these conditions and symptoms:
- pain and inflammation
- epileptic seizures
- diseases that affect the immune system, like HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis (MS)
- substance use disorders
- mental illnesses
Has medical marijuana been studied in people with lupus?
There is only one currently ongoing study of medical marijuana for lupus. That study is looking at whether a potential new drug made from a synthetic cannabinoid can treat joint pain and swelling (inflammation) in people with lupus. The drug, which is called JBT-101 (lenabasum), doesn’t produce a high. Several smaller studies of other conditions involving the immune system have reported positive results with lenabasum.
Until more research is done, we don’t know if medical marijuana can help people with lupus. We don’t know whether it can provide relief from lupus symptoms, if it interacts with drugs used to treat these symptoms, or whether it can lessen the side effects of those drugs.
What should people with lupus do if they’re considering using medical marijuana?
If someone with lupus is thinking about trying any alternative treatments or products – including medical marijuana – they should always talk with their doctor first. Some of these products might not be safe, may interact with medications, or could make symptoms worse.
Is CBD Oil for Lupus Safe or Effective?
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Riteesha G. Reddy, MD, is a board-certified rheumatologist and internist at a private practice in Dallas, Texas.
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 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 pain
- Sleep disorders, including insomnia and nightmares
- Bipolar disorder
- 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 healthcare providers 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, both characteristics of lupus. In its pure form, CBD oil is generally regarded as safe.
- 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 healthcare providers 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% 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 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 choosing to use CBD should be cautious about the product they select and ideally consult with their healthcare provider before using it.
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 healthcare provider. 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.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Bradford AC, Bradford WD, Abraham A, Bagwell Adams G. Association between US state medical cannabis laws and opioid prescribing in the Medicare Part D population. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(5):667–672. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.0266