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.
The research for medical marijuana uses have steadily increased. That research suggests that medical marijuana may be helpful in these conditions and symptoms:
Medical marijuana is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat lupus or any other condition.
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.
Has medical marijuana been studied in people with lupus?
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.
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.
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 is medical marijuana used for?
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.
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.
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:
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.
CBD Oil for Lupus
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.
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?
CBD Side Effects
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."
What these cannabinoids do when they bind to the receptors depends on which receptor is activated, and thus can produce effects ranging from the firing of neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers sent from the brain to the rest of the body) that alter mood, to reducing inflammation and promoting digestion.
In 2018, Dr. Koumpouras joined a multi-site randomized clinical trial that aims to recruit 100 participants to examine whether a drug using a synthetically created cannabinoid molecule that binds preferentially to CB2 receptors (called Lenabasum) can help ease pain and inflammation in patients with lupus. Participants will receive Lenabasum or a placebo for almost three months and will continue to be monitored for pain and inflammation levels, as well as lupus disease activity. The study is ongoing, but Dr. Koumpouras anticipates that it will wrap up by early next year.
What is CBD?
His research is one of many new studies at Yale and elsewhere looking at the endocannabinoid system and molecules related to CBD action for use in treating everything from Crohn’s disease to psoriatic arthritis, and he hopes that this new data will be used to help paint a more complete picture about the chemical for future treatment options.
But whether CBD actually provides those benefits in a significant way remains to be seen. Only a few studies—small ones—have definitively proven the effectiveness of medicines that involve the endocannabinoid system. To date, the only FDA-approved medication containing CBD is Epidiolex, a medication used to treat two rare forms of severe epilepsy—Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, both which begin mostly in infancy and early childhood. In a group of three clinical trials, Epidiolex seemed to reduce the number of seizures significantly. And yet, Vinita Knight, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatric neurologist, says her patients who take Epidiolex have had mixed results. Some have had reductions in seizures and others haven’t shown much improvement. “We’re not seeing as much success as what’s been reported on Facebook and Twitter,” she says, but adds that so far it has only been prescribed for children with the most debilitating and difficult-to-treat seizures. In addition, some researchers believe that CBD works most effectively in combination with other cannabinoids and compounds found in the marijuana plant, in what is known as the “entourage effect.” Thus, it would be less effective as an isolated chemical in pill form, but that, too, remains unproven.
From “miracle drug” to medicine?
This is why he’s exploring a candidate for a new lupus treatment option: a molecule with a cannabinoid template structure that binds to cannabinoid receptors, the same receptors involved in the chemicals found in the marijuana plant.