Can Cannabinoids Help Lupus and Other Diseases?
A lupus diagnosis can be devastating. The disease causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues and can affect internal organs—including the brain, heart, and lungs—which can start to deteriorate. Lupus flare-ups can leave patients so fatigued and in pain that they’re unable to do the simplest of things, such as walk, cook, or read. Many can’t go outdoors without layers of sunscreen, because the disease can make them extremely susceptible to sunburn.
Lupus affects approximately 240,000 people in the United States, and yet at present doctors neither know the exact cause nor have a cure. Instead, current treatments focus on improving quality of life by controlling symptoms and minimizing flare-ups to reduce risk of organ damage.
“The landscape for treatment of lupus is a bit bleak,” says Fotios Koumpouras, MD, a rheumatologist and director of the Lupus Program at Yale Medicine. “A multitude of drugs have failed in the last 10 to 15 years. Most of the drugs we use are being repurposed from other conditions and are not unique to lupus. Many of them can’t be used during pregnancy, which is a problem because lupus mostly affects young women. All of these issues create the impetus to find new and more effective therapies.”
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.
What is CBD?
CBD is a form of cannabinoid called “cannabidiol.” Cannabinoids are a type of chemical that binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors found throughout the body. CB1 receptors are mostly located in the nervous system, connective tissues, gonads, glands, and organs; CB2 receptors are primarily found in the immune system, along with the spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands, and reproductive organs. (Collectively this is called the endocannabinoid system.)
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.
So, our bodies have their own endocannabinoid system, but cannabinoids can also be found in nature, most abundantly in the marijuana plant. The two most well-known types of cannabinoids in the marijuana plant are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC binds to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, but the CB1 receptor seems to be responsible for many of the well-known psychoactive effects of marijuana, such as euphoria, increased heart rate, slower reaction times, and red eyes. CB2 receptor binding results in the production of a series of proteins that reduce inflammation. (These proteins are called “resolvins” because they appear to resolve inflammation.) The pharmacology of CBD at cannabinoid receptors is complex and highly variable, but CBD has been shown to activate the endocannabinoid system.
Fotios Koumpouras, MD, is researching a synthetically created cannabinoid molecule that binds preferentially to CB2 receptors (called Lenabasum) to see if it can help ease pain and inflammation in patients with lupus.
Dr. Koumpouras learned from a colleague of ajulemic acid, a side-chain analog of Δ8-THC-11-oic acid, which was designed as a potent therapeutic agent free of the psychotropic adverse effects typical of most cannabinoids. This molecule may help relieve pain and reduce inflammation in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus. “Reducing inflammation is crucial for patients with lupus because it is what causes the buildup of scar tissue in vital organs that can eventually lead to their deterioration and malfunction,” he says. This cannabinoid molecule was already in study for other diseases, including systemic sclerosis and dermatomyositis.
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.
From “miracle drug” to medicine?
Dr. Koumpouras’ excitement over the new drug comes at a time when products containing CBD have flooded supermarkets, labeled with claims that they treat everything from back pain to insomnia. Although CBD is not yet approved by the FDA, the hype around it stems from the popularity of the marijuana plant it is derived from.
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.
But these questions are why Dr. Koumpouras is focusing on a compound that, until recently, few have studied.
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.
“The more data the better,” he says. “The more we’re able to make informed decisions.”
CBD Oil for Autoimmune
Autoimmunity is one of the great mysteries that remains uncracked by modern medicine. There are many diseases that can be categorized as autoimmune diseases, and some of them are easy to treat while others still have very little that can be done about them. Currently, there is no cure for any autoimmune disorder, so it is critical that people with autoimmunity problems find a safe and effective treatment that they can use for their entire lives. With the recent acceptance of CBD treatment into the mainstream, many people have turned to CBD as the answer for this. To find a high-quality CBD product to treat autoimmunity, check out our list of the top 9 CBD oil products for autoimmune disorders.
9 Best CBD Oils for Autoimmune in 2022
Daily Recommended Serving: 1ml per Serving. Take one serving orally up to twice per day or as directed by a medical professional
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View all CBD Oil for Autoimmune
What are Autoimmune Disorders?
Since there are so many autoimmune disorders out there, we should try to understand the principles of autoimmunity as a whole and be familiar with the most common variations in order to understand why CBD for autoimmune disorders is effective.
Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system, which is supposed to protect against foreign invaders like viruses and “bad” bacteria, mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissue. There are dozens of autoimmune disorders that we know of, but some of the most common ones are:
– Type I diabetes occurs because the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas which are responsible for insulin production. The result is that the body cannot produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar. – In RA, the immune system targets the joints, causing them to become stiff and painful. While some types of arthritis generally occur in old age, RA can affect young people in their 20’s and 30’s. – The body damages the protective layer that surrounds nerve cells, slowing messages between the brain and body. Over time, this can cause weakness, numbness, difficulty walking, and other problems. – There are a variety of inflammatory bowel diseases, but they all involve inflammation of the GI tract where there is no infection or injury. IBD can affect any part of the GI tract, and each type of IBD causes different problems.
- Graves disease – This is a thyroid problem in which the thyroid gland is attacked, and as a result it overproduces hormones. The excess of hormones causes many processes in the body to speed up, leading to unintentional weight loss, rapid heart rate, anxiety, and other symptoms.
With such a wide range of disorders falling under the umbrella term of autoimmunity, you would think that one treatment wouldn’t be beneficial for all of them. However, it can be useful to use CBD for autoimmune disorders regardless of which type of disorder it is.
Why is CBD for Autoimmune Disorders so Effective?
CBD offers a wide variety of health benefits throughout the body, but a few of them, in particular, are useful in treating autoimmune disorders:
- Immune system modulation
- Pain reduction
The first and most important benefit that allows us to use CBD for autoimmune disorders is immune system modulation. Some drugs and natural treatments are “immune-boosting”, meaning they increase the activity of the immune system. This can be a useful treatment for people with compromised immune systems. Others are “immune suppressing”, meaning they suppress the activity of the immune system.
It might seem like someone with an autoimmune disorder should use immunosuppressive treatment, but in reality, immune modulators like CBD appear to be the best option. CBD, and other immune modulators, have different effects on immune system activity depending on what the system is naturally doing.
This means that in people with overactive immune systems, like those with autoimmune disorders, CBD will suppress the immune response, while in those with compromised immune systems, CBD will boost immune system activity. Additionally, some research shows that CBD suppresses immune system memory, which could discourage autoimmune attacks in people whose immune systems have mistakenly identified their own cells as invaders.
In addition to treating the problem of autoimmunity, CBD can help with autoimmune disorders by treating the symptoms. The anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties of CBD can relieve stiff and swollen joints, inflamed intestines, and other uncomfortable symptoms that occur with autoimmune disorders.
More choices available
What to Consider When Buying CBD for Autoimmune Disorders
It’s important to research carefully and think about what type of CBD treatment would be best for you before buying CBD oil for autoimmune disorder treatment.
The three main types of CBD available are CBD isolate, broad-spectrum CBD, and full-spectrum CBD. Isolate contains only CBD, while broad-spectrum also contains some other compounds found in cannabis, and full-spectrum contains everything found in cannabis, including THC. Studies have found that THC may have the same immune-modulating effect as CBD, so using a product that contains both may give greater results.
However, full-spectrum products are not legal everywhere. The baseline for the United States is to allow only CBD products, but some states allow other cannabis products, including those that contain THC, and some states ban even hemp-derived CBD isolate. Before you choose which type of CBD you should use, and if you will use it at all, you should make sure you understand what is legal to use in the area where you live. When you know what kind of CBD you want to use, and what’s legal for you to use, you’ll also want to make sure you buy something that is produced by a reputable company. It can be hard to distinguish trustworthy companies from scams because cannabis companies aren’t regulated by the FDA.
This means that the only way to verify the contents of a CBD product is to see test results from a third-party testing company. These companies exist to regulate and verify the quality of cannabis products in place of the FDA. If a product has been tested, the result will be available on the company website, and they are normally advertised on the product packaging, as well. Fortunately, when you choose a product from our list, quality and safety are guaranteed.
CBD can help people with autoimmune disorders by relieving their symptoms and by encouraging their immune systems to behave in healthy, balanced ways. Always discuss treatment changes with your doctor, and choose a CBD product that is made by a reputable company.