Lupus – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

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Lupus, which affects 5 million people throughout the world, is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. Studies have shown marijuana effectively improves inflammation and pain in chronic inflammation diseases like lupus.

Overview of Lupus

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs through inflammation. When operating correctly, the immune system effectively fights off bacteria, bacteria and germs to remain healthy. In an autoimmune disorder, like lupus, the body is unable to tell the difference between harmful foreign invaders and healthy tissues and it responds by creating autoantibodies that cause inflammation and attack and destroy the healthy tissue. Lupus can damage the body’s skin, kidneys, blood cells, joints, heart, brain and lungs.

According to the Lupus Foundation of American, flares and remissions characterize the autoimmune disease, as symptoms will continuously flow between worsening and improving. The disease is not contagious.

It can be difficult to diagnose lupus. While it doesn’t occur in all cases, during flare-ups, the most distinctive symptom is a facial rash that resembles butterfly wings across both cheeks. When symptoms flare up, they can include fatigue and fever, joint pain and stiffness, skin lesions, shortness of breath and chest pain, dry eyes, headaches and fingers and toes that turn white or blue.

The disease can range from mild to life threatening and while there is no cure, with treatment, most people can manage their symptoms and lead a full life.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Lupus

Cannabis has been found to effectively improve inflammation and pain, making it beneficial for those diagnosed lupus.

The major cannabinoid found in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been determined to trigger cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, which are primarily found in the brain and on the cells of the immune system, respectively. Triggering these receptors stimulates an immunosuppression response, as cytokine and chemokine production is downregulated and t-regulatory cells are upregulated. A review article analyzing the research of THC’s effect on inflammation concluded that the cannabinoid found in cannabis has demonstrated it can constitute as a potent treatment modality against inflammatory disorders (Nagarkatti, et al., 2009).

Cannabis can also help curtail the pain associated with inflammatory diseases like lupus. Receptors CB1 and CB2 are involved in the mediation of pain caused by inflammation, so as the cannabinoids in cannabis act upon the receptors, pain decreases (Clayton, Marshall, Bountra & O’Shaughnessy, 2002) (Elikottil, Gupta & Gupta, 2009). One study found that cannabis use is prevalent among the chronic pain population and their primary responses for reasons for use included improvements in pain (Ware, et al., 2003).

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana Lupus

Currently, only the states Illinois and New Hampshire have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of lupus.

A number of other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of lupus with the recommendation from a physician. These states include: California (any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended by a physician), Connecticut (other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection), Massachusetts (other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other conditions subject to approval), Rhode Island (other conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any “terminal or debilitating condition”).

In Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.

Other states have approved cannabis for pain, a symptom commonly associated with lupus. Several states have approved medical marijuana specifically to treat “chronic pain.” These states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. The states of Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Montana, Ohio and Vermont allow medical marijuana to treat “severe pain.” The states of Arkansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington have approved cannabis for the treatment of “intractable pain.”

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Lupus
  • Review of studies determines that cannabinoids in cannabis can serve as a compelling treatment modality against inflammatory disorders.
    Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs.


Clayton, N., Marshall, FH., Bountra, C., and O’Shaughnessy, CT. (2002, April). CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors are implicated in inflammatory pain. Pain, 96(3), 253-60.

Elikkottil, J., Gupta, P. and Gupta, K. (2009, November-December). The analgesic potential of cannabinoids. Journal of Opioid Management, 5(6), 341-57.

Lupus. (2014, November 18). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from

Nagarkatti, P., Pandey, R., Rieder, S.A., Hegde, V.L., and Nagarkatti, M. (2009, October). Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future Medicinal Chemistry, 1(7), 1333-49.

Ware, M.A., Doyle, C.R., Woods, R., Lynch, M.E., and Clark, A.J. (2003, March). Cannabis use for chronic non-cancer pain: results of a prospective survey. Pain, 102(1-2).

What is lupus? (n.d.). Lupus Foundation of America. Retrieved from

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