CBD Oil for Lupus: Benefits, Dosage, & How to Use?

an illustration of a doctor and a woman with lupus at the back
Written by Nina Julia | Last updated: July 29, 2021

This article covers everything there is to know about lupus and CBD oil — from the involvement of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to CBD’s efficacy in treating lupus to finding the best dosage for your individual situation.

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that can take several forms; the most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It is marked by general inflammation of the immune system, causing it to attack its own tissues.

Although there’s no cure for lupus, it has a range of treatments, including CBD oil, which can help mitigate symptoms, prevent flare-ups, and improve the quality of life of those living with the disease.

Read on to learn more about the potential benefits of using CBD oil for lupus and how to tackle the condition for the best results.

Does CBD Help with Lupus?

CBD becomes the go-to alternative to pharmaceutical medications for people living with lupus due to its much better safety profile. CBD has remarkable anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, but it doesn’t come with the dangerous side effects associated with prescription drugs.

According to a review of different treatments for lupus patients, 50% of people with lupus use complementary and alternative treatments for symptom control. The therapies highlighted by the review include natural remedies, meditation, chiropractic treatment, breathing exercises, and health supplements such as CBD.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the major botanical compounds found in cannabis plants. It is extensively studied regarding its effects on human health through endocannabinoid modulation and interactions with over 65 molecular pathways.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the master regulatory network that maintains homeostasis throughout the body by sending its own endocannabinoids to bind to cannabinoid receptors type 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2).

CBD indirectly interacts with the ECS receptors through certain enzymes and hormones that optimize the release of endocannabinoids by the body and the time they circulate in one’s system.

Medical researchers have investigated the therapeutic potential of CBD in a range of physiological and mental ailments, including anxiety and depression, epilepsy, chronic pain, sleeping disorder and insomnia, and autoimmune diseases.

The last category involves lupus, which — as mentioned — is characterized by widespread inflammation.

How Does CBD Work for Lupus Treatment?

While direct research on CBD use for lupus is in the early stage, many studies are underscoring the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of CBD. Since chronic inflammation is the root cause of lupus, researchers hypothesize that it can be an effective treatment for its symptoms.

Let’s take a look at what science says about the most prominent areas of lupus treatment with CBD oil.

CBD for Pain and Inflammation

While there’s no universal course of illness regarding lupus, the National Resource Center on Lupus reports that more than 90% of patients experience inflammation and pain in the joints or muscles. As a matter of fact, more than 50% of people with lupus mention joint pain as their first symptom. Lupus pain is certainly triggered by inflammation.

A 2018 study on CBD use identified pain as the most commonly cited reason for using CBD oils. While CBD hasn’t been directly studied concerning lupus, there’s a solid scientific ground suggesting its use for pain and inflammation. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Pain Research shows that CBD has significant benefits for pain management compared to placebo.

CBD blocks the release of inflammatory proteins by acting on adenosine receptors. It can also mitigate pain signaling to the brain by interacting with TRPV-1 cells.

CBD for Anxiety and Depression

Depression is a comorbid condition in many autoimmune diseases. Lupus often goes through periods of remission and flare-ups, which can take a toll on your mental health. Dealing with any chronic disease can cause psychological distress manifested by episodes of anxiety or depression — not to mention the destructive impact of the disease on the nervous system itself.

According to one study, 25% of lupus patients experience depression, while anxiety affects 37%. Another study confirms the prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders in women with SLE compared to the general population.

Learn more about CBD and anxiety here.

One study examining the reasons for CBD use identified anxiety as the second most common cause of taking CBD oil. CBD has been shown to interact with serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter linked to mood and emotions. Given this, CBD can modulate the functioning of serotonin receptors and thus be used as a potential treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorders. Studies on animal models have also demonstrated the antidepressant effects of CBD.

CBD for Opioid Addiction

Chronic pain is a common issue for many lupus patients. Doctors usually recommend opioid-based painkillers for severe lupus pain, which may not be the best solution considering the dangerous side effects of long-term opioid use.

A 2019 study showed that 31% of lupus patients use prescription opioids. Of them, 68% had been taking opioids for more than one year, and 22% used a combination of two or more opioid medications.

When used as prescribed by a doctor, opioid medications can help in short-term pain control, but they aren’t recommended for long-term use due to the high risk of dependence and severe withdrawal. Opioid use is a growing epidemic in the United States that can be challenging to treat. Meanwhile, some studies suggest that CBD has the potential to intervene against opioid addiction and withdrawals.

THC and CBD Effects on Lupus (The Entourage Effect)

Hemp oil extract in a bottle and hemp leaves on a table with THC and CBD formula

CBD isn’t the only anti-inflammatory compound in cannabis. THC, the other major compound, is a potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic agent too.

When you take THC and CBD together — either in a herbal extract or by inhaling vapor from the flowers or concentrates — they work synergistically to produce the entourage effect. This phenomenon has been identified in 1988 and presumes that the sum of all active ingredients in cannabis is more effective therapeutically than each of them alone.

Cannabis has long been used to reduce inflammation in the body in patients with autoimmune diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers have found that cannabis lowers levels of a compound called interleukin-2 and increases the concentrations of interleukin-19, which is an anti-inflammatory protein. These are the driving factors behind marijuana’s analgesic effects; they’re also the reason why people with lupus turn to the combination of THC and CBD for effective symptom control.

If you’re afraid of getting too high from using cannabis for lupus, you may opt for selectively-bred high-CBD strains, which often come with ratios like 20:1, 12:1, 10:1, 5:1, or 2:1. Such strains provide the anti-inflammatory and painkilling benefits of cannabis but without an overwhelming buzz in large doses.

Learn more about CBD and THC, head over to our comprehensive post on the topic.

Best Type of CBD for Lupus

Proponents of the entourage effect suggest full-spectrum CBD oil as the best type of CBD for lupus. That’s because the aforementioned synergy between the botanical compounds in cannabis leads to a greater therapeutic effect.

This, in turn, translates into more effective symptom control on top of reaching the underlying cause of lupus — chronic inflammation.

The only federally legal type of CBD that evokes the entourage effect is full-spectrum CBD oil from hemp. This type of CBD contains all cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that naturally occur in hemp plants — including trace amounts of THC.

The THC in full-spectrum CBD oil is only at 0.3% or less due to federal regulations ruled out by the 2018 Farm Bill.

If you’re concerned about the trace amounts of THC in your product, there are also broad-spectrum extracts and CBD isolates.

Broad-spectrum CBD is very similar to its full-spectrum counterpart — but it doesn’t have any THC. The intoxicating compound is removed from the end product after initial extraction.

CBD isolate exactly what it sounds like — pure, isolated cannabidiol. This type of CBD ensures the highest dose per serving for people with lupus and is free of any aroma and flavors. While these are obvious advantages for people fussing over the natural taste of CBD oil, isolated CBD has one serious drawback: the lack of the entourage effect.

People typically choose isolates over other formats when they have a job that requires drug testing for THC.

CBD Dosage for Lupus

Though CBD oil may help reduce joint pain and inflammation, as well as other lupus-related symptoms, it’s important to note that CBD hasn’t been widely examined as the treatment for lupus. Therefore, there are no established dosage guidelines or charts for people with lupus who would like to start taking CBD.

The effective dosage may vary between individuals based on several factors, including age, weight, gender, metabolism, unique body chemistry, and more. Trial-and-error is inevitable if you want to find the best dosage for lupus in your case.

If you’re new to CBD, you may want to start with a low-potency oil and take small doses to see how your body responds to CBD in the first place. From there, you can adjust the dosage as needed; you’ll know you’ve found your optimal dose when the pain will start to go away along with other symptoms — but without causing drowsiness or lethargy.

The side effects of taking CBD oil include dry mouth, dizziness, sedation, changes in appetite, or diarrhea. That being said, it’s impossible to overdose on CBD lethally; the WHO has acknowledged its safety profile, claiming that people can use even 1,500 mg daily and go on without any dangerous side effects.

Read our full list of CBD’s side effects

Since CBD interacts with many pharmaceutical medications, it’s important to consult your doctor before buying CBD oil for lupus if you had been prescribed any medication. Doing so will help you fit CBD into your existing routine to avoid negative interactions.

What Is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. The immune system of a person with lupus starts to malfunction, attacking healthy cells instead of the malignant ones because it treats them as foreign invaders. So, instead of protecting you against pathogens, it turns against the body by killing normal cells and creating widespread inflammation. 

Chronic inflammation can lead to tissue damage and even trigger some serious complications that can be life-threatening.

Different Types of Lupus

There are 5 identified types of lupus:

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) – the most prevalent form of lupus, SLE is also the most severe type because it affects the entire body.
  • Subacute Cutaneous Lupus – this type of lupus only affects the skin and is characterized by a widespread rash often worsened by exposure to sunlight.
  • Drug-Induced Lupus – as the name suggests, this form of lupus is caused by certain medications, including hypertension drugs and pills for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Neonatal Lupus – a rare type of lupus that occurs in infants of women who have lupus.

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, lupus symptoms may vary from one person to another depending on the type and intensity of symptoms.

In many cases, people with lupus also experience arthritis of the small joints and a rash. Oftentimes, these symptoms are accompanied by fever, hair loss, abdominal pain, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, dry mouth, and mood disorders.

The first clinical sign of lupus is an abnormal blood test result such as protein in the urine, indicating kidney disease for many patients. The pattern in which the flare-ups occur may change over time; the diagnosis of lupus generally relies on laboratory testing.

What Causes Lupus?

word Lupus on wooden blocks and a stethoscope with EKG test results as background

Similar to many autoimmune diseases, the exact cause of lupus is unknown. That being said, researchers believe that it may involve a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. Others attribute the onset of lupus to severe stress and excessive exposure to sunlight.

Although anyone can have lupus, the newest epidemiological reports point to women under 45 as the most affected group. Lupus also tends to develop more often in people of color, particularly Asian, Latin, and African. Children forms of lupus usually develop after 15 years of age.

How Is Lupus Treated?

As a complex condition, lupus has various treatments whose effectiveness may vary depending on the organs involved and the patient’s symptoms. Sometimes, more than one therapy may be required for effective symptom control. The treatment may also change over time depending on the progress of the disease.

Many people with lupus live a normal lifespan but may experience some level of disability.

The most common treatments for lupus include:

  • Biological agents
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin
  • Antimalarial drugs (like Hydroxychloroquine)

Unfortunately, most of these treatments entail the risk of severe side effects, some of which can be life-threatening. For this reason, although not extensively studied, CBD oil has become an appealing alternative for patients with lupus. It exerts potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects without posing a threat to your life.

Final Thoughts on Using CBD Oil for Lupus

Every year records an estimated 16,000 new cases of lupus. It is a life-changing autoimmune disease that has no cure and can significantly worsen the quality of your daily life. 

Living with a compromised immune system can be difficult. However, knowing the right way to take alternative treatments such as CBD oil may be a significant step towards a better life. Finding the right type and dosage of CBD for lupus takes time and isn’t as obvious as some go-to therapies, but it’s definitely much safer.

CBD can reduce certain lupus symptoms, such as pain and inflammation, skin infections, hypertension, anxiety, and photosensitivity.

Because of the possible interactions with certain drugs, people with lupus should consult their doctor before adding CBD oil to their regimen.

Reference links:

  1. Greco, C. M., Nakajima, C., & Manzi, S. (2013). Updated review of complementary and alternative medicine treatments for systemic lupus erythematosus. Current rheumatology reports, 15(11), 378. [1]
  2. Leweke, F. M., Piomelli, D., Pahlisch, F., Muhl, D., Gerth, C. W., Hoyer, C., Klosterkötter, J., Hellmich, M., & Koethe, D. (2012). Cannabidiol enhances anandamide signaling and alleviates psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia. Translational psychiatry, 2(3), e94. [2]
  3. Olesińska, M., & Saletra, A. (2018). Quality of life in systemic lupus erythematosus and its measurement. Reumatologia, 56(1), 45–54. 
  4. Corroon, J., & Phillips, J. A. (2018). A Cross-Sectional Study of Cannabidiol Users. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 3(1), 152–161.
  5. Darkovska-Serafimovska, M., Serafimovska, T., Arsova-Sarafinovska, Z., Stefanoski, S., Keskovski, Z., & Balkanov, T. (2018). Pharmacotherapeutic considerations for the use of cannabinoids to relieve pain in patients with malignant diseases. Journal of pain research, 11, 837–842. [3]
  6. Liou, G. I., Auchampach, J. A., Hillard, C. J., Zhu, G., Yousufzai, B., Mian, S., Khan, S., & Khalifa, Y. (2008). Mediation of cannabidiol anti-inflammation in the retina by equilibrative nucleoside transporter and A2A adenosine receptor. Investigative ophthalmology & visual science, 49(12), 5526–5531. 
  7. Muller, C., Morales, P., & Reggio, P. H. (2019). Cannabinoid Ligands Targeting TRP Channels. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience, 11, 487. 
  8. Figueiredo-Braga, M., Cornaby, C., Cortez, A., Bernardes, M., Terroso, G., Figueiredo, M., Mesquita, C., Costa, L., & Poole, B. D. (2018). Depression and anxiety in systemic lupus erythematosus: The crosstalk between immunological, clinical, and psychosocial factors. Medicine, 97(28), e11376. [4]
  9. Bachen, E. A., Chesney, M. A., & Criswell, L. A. (2009). Prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders in women with systemic lupus erythematosus. Arthritis and rheumatism, 61(6), 822–829. 
  10. Corroon, J., & Phillips, J. A. (2018). A Cross-Sectional Study of Cannabidiol Users. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 3(1), 152–161. 
  11. Somers, E. C., Lee, J., Hassett, A. L., Zick, S. M., Harlow, S. D., Helmick, C. G., Barbour, K. E., Gordon, C., Brummett, C. M., Minhas, D., Padda, A., Wang, L., McCune, W. J., & Marder, W. (2019). Prescription Opioid Use in Patients With and Without Systemic Lupus Erythematosus – Michigan Lupus Epidemiology and Surveillance Program, 2014-2015. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 68(38), 819–824. 
  12. Nagarkatti, P., Pandey, R., Rieder, S. A., Hegde, V. L., & Nagarkatti, M. (2009). Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future medicinal chemistry, 1(7), 1333–1349.

Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.

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