At least five million people in the world—including more than one million Americans—suffer from some form of lupus. Lupus is a complex autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs throughout the body.
Doctors usually prescribe several different classes of prescription medications to try to treat the various types of lupus. But as these drugs can have serious side effects, a growing number of lupus patients are turning to cannabidiol (CBD) for relief of symptoms including:
- Joint swelling
Not much research has been conducted specifically on the applications of CBD for lupus. But studies reveal that CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory, pain reliever and neuroprotectant.
This abundant cannabis compound works on many different systems in the body to promote healing and maintain homeostasis, or balance, among the body’s many interconnected functions. For these reasons, CBD may be able to help relieve lupus symptoms and prevent flare-ups of the disease.
What Is Lupus?
Disorders like lupus aren’t caused by an external source like a virus or bacteria; they’re a result of the immune system swinging into hyperdrive. In autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system treats healthy organs and tissues as if they were foreign invaders.
Lupus occurs in several different forms. But in all of them, the immune system attacks and breaks down tissue, causing pain, inflammation and fever, among other symptoms. Lupus can affect just about anyone, even very young children, but most lupus sufferers are women of childbearing age. Of that group, about two-thirds are non-white women.
The different types of lupus include:
- Systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE): This is the most common form of lupus. In SEL, the immune system attacks organs and tissues throughout the body.
- Discoid lupus erythematosus: This type of lupus causes inflammation, rashes and sores on the skin, as well as extreme sensitivity to the sun.
- Drug-induced lupus: Certain prescription medications cause this condition. Over 40 different drugs for conditions such as depression, heart arrhythmia and rheumatoid arthritis can trigger lupus symptoms in many people.
- Neonatal lupus erythematosus: This affects infants born to women who have SLE.
The exact mechanisms that trigger lupus aren’t clearly understood, but several known factors besides prescription medications are associated with developing the condition, including:
- Environmental factors
Lupus Has Many Symptoms
Lupus has a variety of symptoms, depending on the parts of the body that the immune system attacks. The most typical symptoms for all types of lupus are:
- Extreme fatigue
- Intermittent fevers
- A distinctive rash that appears in a butterfly pattern across the nose and cheeks
Other symptoms can include:
- Inflammation of the lungs or heart
- Problems with blood vessels and circulation
If lupus affects the central nervous system, it can cause depression, seizures, and memory and vision problems. Lupus can also cause serious outcomes such as heart attack, kidney failure and stroke.
How Do Lupus Suffers Treat Their Condition?
Lupus is a chronic condition that, at this point, has no real cure. Treatments for lupus are intended to manage symptoms and reduce flare-ups, and they include a variety of prescription drugs from several different classes, including:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Both over-the-counter medications like Aleve and Advil as well as stronger prescription drugs can relieve pain and inflammation.
- Opioid painkillers: Powerful drugs like oxycontin can also be prescribed for lupus pain.
- Anti-malaria drugs: Hydroxychloroquine, for example, can help reduce flare-ups and moderate immune system responses.
- Corticosteroids: Prednisone is one corticosteroid that can reduce inflammation and suppress immune responses.
- Immunosuppressants Drugs like methotrexate can reduce immune responses and allow tissues to heal.
These and other medications prescribed to treat the various types of lupus can have severe side effects that can include lung, kidney and liver damage. But because CBD affects the underlying systems that drive immune response, pain signaling and inflammation, it may be able to relieve a variety of lupus symptoms without these risks.
CBD Has Systemwide Effects That May Address Various Lupus Symptoms
Many of the health benefits of cannabis derive from CBD, one of the most abundant compounds in the Cannabis sativa plant. Unlike another famous cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD doesn’t cause people to feel high. But it does support the functioning of numerous systems and subsystems in the body.
Relatively recent research has revealed the existence of a bodywide system of receptors called the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that responds to cannabinoids. Cannabinoids produced by the body, called endocannabinoids, and cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, including CBD, activate the ECS receptors.
Researchers are still studying the scope and functions of the ECS, but this system appears to play a major role in maintaining homeostasis, or keeping many of the body’s subsystems in balance.
CBD can activate receptors in the ECS, but it does much more. At least some parts of the ECS are present in almost every type of cell in the body, and CBD can moderate the activity of processes that affect the functioning of many different types of cells. One of these is T-cells, a kind of cell that’s responsible for immune system responses. This means CBD may be able to help regulate immune system functioning and reduce the hyperactivity that causes lupus symptoms.
Because the ECS is connected to nearly all cell types throughout the body, a number of studies show that CBD can have effects that may also help ease other kinds of lupus symptoms like:
- Pain signaling
- Neurological functioning
- Brain processes involving mood, memory and cognition
In a recent survey by the Lupus Foundation, 65% of lupus sufferers cited pain as their most debilitating symptom. A number of studies have documented CBD’s ability to relieve pain by moderating pain signaling to the brain. CBD also has anti-inflammatory properties, so that it can relieve the swelling and other inflammation symptoms that go along with lupus.
CBD has far-reaching effects on cells and processes throughout the body, including those that can trigger the symptoms of lupus. This can explain why some lupus patients are finding more relief for their symptoms from CBD than from prescription medications, with fewer risks and side effects.
Photo credit: tommaso79/Shutterstock.com
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