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Cannabinoids and lupus

September 10, 2017

Are Cannabinoids Beneficial for Lupus? A Look at the Research


Affecting an estimated 5 million people worldwide, lupus is an autoimmune disease that produces autoantibodies that cause inflammation and attack and destroy healthy tissue. While research investigating how cannabinoids may specifically be beneficial to those with lupus is lacking, studies do indicate that cannabinoids possess anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties that have shown to be helpful for other autoimmune disorders.

Lupus is considered a chronic inflammatory disease. The immune system dysfunctions and attacks healthy cells and tissues by creating inflammation that can damage many parts of the body, including the joints, skin, brain, heart, lungs, and blood cells. Patients diagnosed with lupus commonly experience joint pain and swelling, muscle pain, chest pain, red rashes, sensitivity to the sun, hair loss, fatigue, and swollen glands.

Researchers have discovered that cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) interact with the cannabinoid receptors of the endocannabinoid system, a complex signaling network responsible for regulating many of the body’s process, including our immune system. Many of these receptors, particularly cannabinoid receptors type 2 (CB2), are found on cells in the immune system.

Research indicates that the administration of cannabinoids stimulates the receptors of the endocannabinoid system, allowing the system better regulate all of our processes, including the immune system, so that inflammation is reduced and healthy tissues are not attacked. Animal studies have found cannabinoids to reduce inflammation in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. While these immunoregulatory properties of cannabinoids have not been investigated in those with lupus, these findings suggest that cannabinoids could be beneficial.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that cannabinoid receptors… play a crucial role in the regulation of the immune system,” a 2009 research review concluded. “Such observations indicate that targeting cannabinoid receptor–ligand interactions may constitute a novel window of opportunity to treat inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.”

Studies have also found that cannabinoids can reduce the pain associated with inflammatory disorders like lupus. Evidence indicates that cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 are involved in the mediation of pain caused by inflammation. Other studies have attributed the suppression of inflammatory pain by cannabinoids to be related to their interaction with α3 glycine receptors, which regulate the neurotransmitter glycine.

While research into cannabinoids for lupus is desperately needed before it can be determined whether the compounds are effective, findings do suggest that their immunoregulatory, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects could prove to be beneficial for all autoimmune disorders, including lupus.

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