Can CBD Help Lupus and Other Disease?

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SEPTEMBER 24, 2019

Yale Medicine doctor investigates ways a popular chemical derived from the marijuana plant could treat diseases.

Lupus is an inflammatory disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues, affecting internal organs, which can start to deteriorate. That’s why one doctor is looking for a cure in what might seem like an unlikely place: the marijuana plant.

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 an unconventional candidate for a new lupus treatment option: CBD—one of 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.

Our bodies produce cannabinoids, but they 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 and is responsible for many of the well-known psychoactive effects of marijuana, such as euphoria, increased heart rate, slower reaction times, and red eyes. CBD, on the other hand, binds only with CB2 receptors, resulting in the production of a series of proteins to reduce inflammation. (These proteins are called “resolvins” because they appear to resolve inflammation.)

Fotios Koumpouras, MD, is researching CBD, one of the cannabinoids in the marijuana plant that is believed to reduce inflammation without producing the psychoactive effects associated with THC. “Reducing inflammation is crucial for patients with lupus,” he says.

Credit: Robert A. Lisak

This is what caught Dr. Koumpouras’ eye in his search for a new lupus medication. 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. Unfortunately, none of the current lupus drugs available are uniformly effective.

In 2018, Dr. Koumpouras joined a multi-site randomized clinical trial that aims to recruit 100 participants to examine whether a drug using synthetically created CBD (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. 


My opinion

I understand that it’s more profitable for these huge companies to make synthetic drugs rather than use a perfectly good God made plant 🌱

I know from personal use of CBD how it’s is helping my body after a three year downward spiral after thyroid removal. That’s my unprofessional opinion just a layman using something that’s works. 😎

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