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Medical Marijuana and Inflammatory Bowel Disease

By on May 20, 2013

Summary (click to view)

  • Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are the most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease
  • The disorders are caused by inflammation of the digestive tract
  • 50% of Canadians with inflammatory bowel disease have tried marijuana before
  • Animal studies suggest that marijuana can reduce symptoms of frequent bowel movements, abdominal pain and inflammation
  • Results from 3 human studies support the use of medical marijuana as a treatment
  • Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract. Image source – Inflammatory bowel disease affects over 1.5 million individuals in the United States and approximately 0.5% of the Canadian population. And while there are a variety of treatments on the market today, many patients seem to be turning to medical marijuana for relief.

    In fact, a Canadian survey published in 2011 found that 50% of patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease had tried marijuana before. Of these patients, 33% with ulcerative colitis and 50% with Crohn’s disease said that cannabis helped them to deal with a number of symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhea and reduced appetite.

    Likewise, research seems to confirm what many patients have already discovered for themselves – medical marijuana can provide effective relief from inflammatory bowel disease.

    What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

    Inflammatory bowel disease is a broad term used to describe conditions that involve chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The two main types of inflammatory bowel disease are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

    While both diseases involve gastrointestinal inflammation and symptoms of frequent bowel movements, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and weight loss, ulcerative colitis only affects the colon whereas Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere between the mouth and the rectum.

    Treatment of inflammatory bowel disease usually may involve various medications or, in severe cases, colorectal surgery. On the other hand, a growing body of evidence suggests that medical marijuana might be an effective treatment option for sufferers of inflammatory bowel disease that poses a lesser risk of side-effects and even reducing the need for surgery.

    Endocannabinoids and Bowel Regulation

    Cannabinoids are produced naturally by all humans and act on cannabinoid receptors located in various parts of the body. These components, which together make up the endocannabinoid system, are known to play a role in a number of digestive processes, including food intake, protection of the intestinal tract and inhibition of nausea and vomiting.

    Interestingly, studies reveal altered endocannabinoid and cannabinoid receptor levels in patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, especially during flare-ups. Likewise, studies have also identified higher levels of cannabinoid receptors in colon tissues sampled from patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

    Based on these findings, experts believe that the endocannabinoid system could be targeted in the treatment of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease in order to regulate gastrointestinal overactivity, inflammation, abdominal pain and other symptoms associated with the disorders.

    Animal Studies – The Evidence

    Studies conducted on animal models of inflammatory bowel disease have revealed a number of positive results from cannabinoid treatment.

    For example, numerous studies show that cannabinoids can reduce overactivity of the intestinal tract caused by inflammation, helping to normalize gastrointestinal movements in inflammatory disease states. In fact, a study published in 2010 found that treatment with THC alone or a combination of THC and CBD could be more effective at reducing intestinal overactivity than sulfasalazine – a drug that is widely-prescribed for patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

    Cannabinoids are also known to possess strong anti-inflammatory properties, which seem to extend to inflammatory bowel disease. For instance, the same 2010 study demonstrated that both THC and CBD were able to reduce intestinal inflammation and damage in rats. Other studies have explained how cannabinoids act to reduce inflammation by suppressing or even killing inflammatory molecules.

    Finally, a study published in 2006 found that activation of either CB1 or CB2 receptors resulted in a reduction in abdominal pain (measured by number of abdominal contractions) related to intestinal inflammation in rats.

    Human Studies – The Evidence

    Research on humans mostly comes from cell cultures of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, although the results of 2 clinical trials have already been published.

    The first trial, published in 2012 by Tel Aviv University researchers, involved 13 patients with inflammatory bowel disease. The study found that after 3 months of using medical marijuana, patients scored higher on disease activity and overall quality of life assessments. Furthermore, the patients gained an average of 4.3 kg in weight over the 3 month period, suggesting that cannabis treatment could counter the weight loss symptoms that many patients with inflammatory bowel disease are faced with.

    The second trial, published in 2013 by researchers at the Meir Medical Center (Israel), found that smoking cannabis twice a day over an 8 week period helped to relieve symptoms of Crohn’s Disease in 10 out of the 11 patients that were treated, with 5 of these patients achieving complete remission. Patients that underwent cannabis treatment also reported improvements in sleep and appetite with no significant side-effects.

    In addition to clinical trials, the results of an observational study were also published by a group of Israeli researchers in 2011. The study involved 30 patients with Crohn’s disease, 21 of which experienced significant improvements after using medical marijuana. Notably, the average number of bowel movements among the patients decreased from 8 a day to 5. Furthermore, medical marijuana seemed to reduce the patients’ need for other medications and surgical interventions.

    Interestingly, studies involving cell cultures also suggest a protective effect of cannabinoids against oxidative stress, which is believed to play a role in the progression of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease as well as related tissue damage.

    Likewise, a study published in 2005 found that activation of cannabinoid receptors induced wound-closure in human colon cells, suggesting that cannabinoids might be able to counter the delayed healing of intestinal lesions in patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

    • its true

      It does help pain and nausea an appetite and one thing they dont bring up SLEEEP!

    • Larry Hensley II

      I’ve had crohn’s for 27 years, the majority of
      that time I’ve used it for most sysymptoms. It is a godsend, I fully believe it has kept me alive all these years when the medical insurance industry has “forsaken” me! I’ve not seen a G.I. doctor in probably 7 years or more, and I’ve active disease. It should be legal EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!

    • DC Madman

      After two solid years suffering from ulcerative colitis (with prescriptive medical treatment) I figured I’d give MMJ a try. Results were amazing and immediate. I went from 3 to 20 (6 on avg) toilet trips a day to regular in the morning. I say immediate because from the time I started using, it was 40 hours before I needed to go. I may be rare case but it’s effectiveness is stunning.

      • John Jones

        What strain were you taking and how were you taking it ?

        • DC Madman

          It didn’t take much and I don’t think type mattered. It was from a dispensary on the way home. That was over two years ago, still doing fine.

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    • grant

      I have had crohns for 9 years, tried every medication with no positive effect on stopping the crohns (although i seemed to have gained all the negative side effects of each drug along the way) i was about to have surgery to rempve part of my intestines, i stopped all the medication and just smoke, eat healthy and take lots of vitamins. does the trick. amazingly effective for Chron’s disease. People need to face the facts and wake up to this very obvious solution for a debilitating disease.

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      we have top quality marijuana strains for sale text or call (567) 698 8469 or email ..,.

    • JREL

      I think they need to do a study on siblings who one has UC or Chrons and the other doesn’t. In my case I being the oldest and my youngest brother developed UC about 17 or 19 yrs old, both didn’t drink or smoke pot, we both took allot of meds and ended up having our large intestines removed. My middle brother was into pot during those years and slightly before and until recently, and was not impacted with these diseases, additionally when he slowed down on the pot he would start reflecting systematic Chrons but with out the physical evidence, just slight scaring on his intestine. I’m really beginning to wonder if what he was doing saved him unneeded meds and surgery..? This really needs to be looked into and I wonder if there are any other similar cases where one sibling did pot while the other developed UC or Chrons.

    • Steven Finch

      Dr Okojie Herbal Center has found a natural herbal cure to Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.
      I just got cured of Crohn’s disease through the help of Dr Okojie herbal cure for IBD, which i purchased from his herbal center after my many years of suffering without a permanent cure.
      Contact Dr Okojie for your herbal cure to any type disease.

    • Steven Finch

      Dr Okojie Herbal Center has found a natural herbal cure to Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.
      I just got cured of Crohn’s disease through the help of Dr Okojie herbal cure for IBD, which i purchased from his herbal center after my many years of suffering without a permanent cure.
      Contact Dr Okojie for your herbal cure to any type disease.