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Medical Cannabis for SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus): Risks and Benefits of Cannabis Treatment

17 January 2023

Word lupus collected of wooden cubes with a doctor in the background

Key Points

  • Lupus is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack its own tissues. Patients with lupus develop a range of conditions like rashes, pain, inflammation, and more.
  • Treating lupus involves a range of therapies and medications. Because of the complexity of treatment, many patients find it difficult to adhere to it
  • Medical cannabis shows promise in treating the symptoms associated with lupus. Studies suggest that cannabinoids show promise as anti-inflammatory agents.
  • When used with traditional treatment, the use of medical cannabis for lupus may also improve the overall quality of life among lupus patients.
  • The research involving lupus and medical cannabis is still in its early stages. Those seeking this alternative option should consult a professional first.
  • Doctors at Lyphe specialise in treating various health conditions, including lupus, with medical cannabis. Our experts can help evaluate your condition and find the right treatment method for you. 

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that affects the body’s immune system, causing it to attack healthy tissue. While most people associate autoimmune diseases with rashes and joint pain, SLE causes more serious symptoms such as kidney damage, lung inflammation, fatigue, and neurological issues.

Currently, there is no single cure for lupus. Instead, doctors must treat the symptoms of the disease to control it. Many patients take various medications, including steroids, immunosuppressants, and antimalarials.

While these medications do help with pain and inflammation, they come with serious side effects such as osteoporosis and infection risk. That’s why many patients are looking for safe, more effective alternatives. Medical cannabis is one of these options.

A growing number of studies have shown that cannabis can be used to treat many of the symptoms associated with lupus. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the plant can help patients manage pain, inflammation, and anxiety associated with the disease.

In this article, we’ll discuss how cannabis can be used to treat lupus and its potential risks and benefits.

Lupus: symptoms, diagnosis, causes

Doctor performing blood test on a medical sample while wearing blue latex protection gloves in lab and holding glass tube with the text lupus erythematosus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues. It can affect many body parts, including the skin, joints, and kidneys.

It is generally classified as follows:

  • SLE or systemic lupus erythematosus – This is the most common type of lupus characterised by symptoms such as skin rashes, joint pain, and inflammation.
  • Discoid lupus erythematosus – This is a type of lupus that causes lesions on the skin.
  • Medication-induced lupus erythematosus – This condition is caused by certain medications, such as hydralazine and procainamide.

In the UK, it is believed that around 50,000 people are affected by the disease. Women are more likely to develop the disease than men (9 to 1 ratio). About 1 in 1000 people develop lupus each year.

The disease is usually mild and rarely fatal. In some cases, however, it can cause serious complications like lung clots or heart attacks. Lupus is especially dangerous for pregnant women because it can lead to premature birth or stillbirths.


The name lupus comes from the Latin word for “wolf.” The disease is often compared to being bitten by a wolf because it causes painful, raised red patches on the skin that are similar in appearance to claw marks.

The most common symptoms of lupus include:

  • fatigue
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • painful joints
  • rashes on the skin
  • hair loss
  • chest pain


Diagnosis can be difficult because lupus often manifests itself differently from person to person. There is no specific test for lupus, so doctors must rule out other diseases with similar symptoms.

The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical examination. Common laboratory and clinical tests to rule out a lupus diagnosis include the following:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) – This test measures the number and size of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in your blood. It will also show if you have anaemia (reduced number of red blood cells), a common symptom of lupus.
  • Urinalysis – This test checks the urine for signs of infection, inflammation or kidney damage. The urine is often tested for protein and blood, which may indicate kidney disease. Urine tests for sugar may also be performed to check for diabetes.
  • Blood tests – These can help your doctor rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. They include antinuclear antibody (ANA) and lupus anticoagulant (LA) tests, which look for antibodies in your blood that are linked with lupus.
  • Chest X-ray – This test may be done to check for signs of lung inflammation or fluid around the lungs. 


The cause of SLE remains unknown. Researchers suspect that it may be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as:

  • Stress
  • Sunlight and ultraviolet radiation
  • Vitamin D deficiency

Some cases of lupus are induced by medication. If so, these cases are usually reversible following standard treatment. Over 30 substances are known to induce lupus – including ACE inhibitors, statins and antimalarial medications.

How is lupus treated?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease, meaning that the body mistakenly attacks its tissues. Though there are currently no medications that can cure lupus, treatment options can help manage symptoms and prevent complications over time.

Treatment plans will vary depending on your type of lupus, but most include medication and lifestyle changes. An important thing to note about lupus is that there are periods of illness called flares.

Flares can be triggered by a number of things, including stress, infections, and certain medications. There are times when your lupus symptoms worsen, and you may feel more tired than usual. Flares typically last for a few weeks, but they can also last for months at a time.

A lupus treatment plan may include the following:

  • Pain relievers
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Medications to help prevent flares and reduce how often they occur. These include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like methotrexate or hydroxychloroquine sulfate.
  • Immunosuppressants

Complementary treatment for SLE

Lupus can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes, but sometimes complementary treatments are used. These alternative therapies aim to aid in stress and pain management. They are not meant to replace treatment with medications but rather to enhance it.

Complementary treatments for SLE may include:

  • meditation and mindfulness
  • exercise
  • movement therapy
  • acupuncture
  • massage therapy

Medical cannabis: What you need to know about this potential treatment

Medical cannabis is a term used to refer to products derived from the cannabis plant used for medical purposes. These products range from cannabis in flower form, to extracts, to synthetic compounds created in laboratories that mirror the effect of cannabinoids, the active chemicals in cannabis.

There are two main cannabinoids found in cannabis:

  • THC is the cannabinoid in the cannabis plant that is known for giving users a “high” feeling. It also has been show to help to reduce inflammation and pain in the body.
  • CBD, on the other hand, is also psychoactive, but not intoxicating. Clinical studies have found that CBD can effectively treat pain and inflammation. In fact, research has shown that CBD may be beneficial in treating various conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, and more.

Cannabinoids have been used as medicine for centuries. They act on the human body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).

As a network of receptors, the ECS influences various physiological processes (e.g., mood and immune function. Studies have shown that an imbalance in the ECS could be a precursor to chronic illness and disease.

Can medical cannabis for lupus help?

Closeup woman suffering from hand and finger pain caused by lupus

While there are few studies on the use of medical cannabis for lupus, there are many documented cases of people using it to treat their symptoms. There’s also a growing body of both preclinical and clinical research suggesting that cannabis can improve the quality of life of those with SLE.

The primary aspect of cannabis being explored for the treatment of lupus is its anti-inflammatory properties. Lupus, as a medical condition, is closely tied to the immune system. The immune system attacks its cells, joints and organs. This attack on healthy cells causes the inflammation associated with lupus.

Aside from treating inflammation, cannabis is known to have analgesic (pain relieving) properties. Pain is one of the most common symptoms of lupus. It can be caused by inflammation in the body, but it’s also a side effect of taking some medications used to treat lupus.

Lastly, medical cannabis for lupus might be beneficial in terms of the overall quality of life of the patient. Many people who suffer from lupus experience a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Moreover, those experiencing these symptoms often suffer from sleep issues.

Cannabis and lupus inflammation

A 2010 review published in Future Medical Chemistry highlights the potential of cannabinoids (i.e., THC and CBD) as anti-inflammatory agents. The researchers note that cannabinoids have been shown to regulate the production of key inflammatory mediators in immune cells, including T-cells and macrophages. Additionally, they state that these compounds may also suppress inflammation by blocking certain pathways (i.e., COX-2).

These complex actions may explain why cannabis can be effective at treating a variety of inflammatory disorders, including lupus. A 2015 study published in Pharmacological Research found that administering THC to mice with induced lupus reduced joint swelling and inflammation.

Cannabis and lupus pain

Cannabis can help reduce pain from lupus flares and is believed to reduce the side effects of medications used to treat SLE. Because cannabis is anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, it may help reduce joint inflammation and muscle spasms that are common with lupus.

Medical cannabis for lupus may not be an all-in-one painkiller. Still, it can act as an adjunctive treatment to reduce inflammation caused by other factors (like autoimmune diseases). It can also reduce the need to use other prescription medications, thus making it easier for patients to stick with their prescribed treatment plans.

Can cannabis oil improve the quality of life of lupus patients?

Because depression and anxiety are associated with lupus, cannabis has been studied as an alternative treatment option for those affected by these conditions. Several clinical studies have shown that patients who use medical cannabis have lower levels of anxiety and depression compared with those who don’t use medical cannabis.

In a 2016 online poll, patients with SLE reported feeling less depressed, anxious and stressed when they use medical cannabis. They also find that their symptoms are easier to manage. 83% of those surveyed said they would recommend medical cannabis oil to another person with lupus.

The use of cannabis oil is also associated with improved sleep quality – a common problem in people with SLE. This is because cannabis has been shown to have sedative effects and can help patients fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

The future of cannabis for lupus

The role of cannabis in treating lupus is still being explored, and more research is needed to determine whether it can help. However, the potential benefits may outweigh the risks for those who don’t respond well to conventional treatment options.

There are still many ongoing studies of medical cannabis for lupus as doctors and scientists want to learn more about its potential as a treatment. One study is looking at whether a potential new medication made from synthetic cannabinoids can treat joint pain and swelling (inflammation) in lupus patients.

A new medication that does not produce a “high” has been successful in treating other immune system illnesses (e.g., systemic sclerosis and dermatomyositis). This medication is currently being tested in an ongoing clinical study involving 100 participants.

Is medical cannabis safe for lupus patients?

If prescribed by a doctor who has considered the patient’s treatment plan, yes. Medical cannabis has not been shown to cause adverse effects in patients with lupus, nor does it appear to trigger a “lupus flare.” While evidence remains limited, it’s so far been shown that it is unlikely that medical cannabis will interact negatively with other medications typically prescribed for lupus.

Studies have also shown that medical cannabis can help people reduce the amount of prescribed opioids or other prescription painkillers they need to take. 

How to access medical cannabis as a treatment option for lupus

Person hand in support of nursing family caregiver care

A specialist doctor on the UK’s specialist register can prescribe cannabis as a treatment option for lupus if it is considered in the patient’s best interests, provided that the patient has tried at least two previous treatments without success in order to access it as a treatment option. Some people get a referral from their GP or NHS specialist but this is not necessary.

Here at Lyphe, we have worked with hundreds of patients to determine if they are eligible for medical cannabis. If you live in the UK, we can help you get started on your application today.

Risks and potential side effects of medical cannabis for SLE

While medical cannabis may provide some relief from symptoms, your doctor will advise you on the best treatment plan for your needs and circumstances.

Cannabis is not a cure for lupus, but it may help reduce symptoms associated with this condition, including inflammation, pain and anxiety. In addition to the benefits of medical cannabis, patients should also be aware of potential side effects before using this treatment option.

The most common side effects associated with medical cannabis are:

  • drowsiness or dizziness in some patients
  • dry mouth (cotton mouth)
  • increased appetite
  • nausea or vomiting
  • mild itching in some patients

These effects often subside after continued use over time. Cannabis may also interact with other medications, so patients should always speak with their doctor before beginning a treatment regimen that includes the use of medical cannabis.


We hope this article has provided valuable information about the safety and efficacy of cannabis as a complementary therapy for lupus. While still early in the research process, this treatment has much promise.

If you have any questions or concerns about using cannabis to treat SLE, please speak with your doctor or trusted physician, who can provide further guidance on how it might be right for you.

Our trained healthcare provider at Lyphe can also help you determine if cannabis is right for your specific condition. If you would like to learn more about how medical cannabis can help manage your lupus symptoms, please contact us today and schedule your consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is cannabis good for autoimmune disease?

There is strong evidence that medical cannabis can help reduce pain, inflammation and fatigue associated with lupus and other autoimmune diseases. Cannabinoids show anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to be effective in treating symptoms of autoimmune diseases like lupus.

What should lupus patients avoid?

Those with lupus should avoid sunlight and stay out of the sun. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause a flare-up of symptoms in those with lupus, which can be dangerous if left untreated.

Can CBD treat lupus?

While CBD cannot treat lupus, it’s been shown to help manage symptoms to some degree. More research is needed to determine exactly how CBD interacts with lupus and other autoimmune diseases.



Author: Bojan
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Bojan Ambrus, Head of Marketing & Digital Product at Lyphe Group, is a data-driven growth marketing professional with over 15 years of rich experience. His background includes roles such as Head of Marketing at and growth marketing roles in various enterprises, startups, and scale-ups. His expertise in building and positioning businesses is particularly valuable in the cannabis sector, where he navigates its complexities and regulatory challenges. His strategic marketing insights make Bojan a key player in shaping Lyphe Group's marketing and digital product strategies.

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