A first-of-its-kind study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the University of Bath has found that cannabis helps control and prevent intestinal inflammation in mice. The findings could help explain why some individuals suffering from conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have reported relief when treating the intestinal inflammation symptoms with cannabis.
“There’s been a lot of anecdotal evidence about the benefits of medical marijuana, but there hasn’t been a lot of science to back it up,” Beth A. McCormick, PhD, vice chair and professor of microbiology & physiological systems at UMass Medical School, said. “For the first time, we understand the molecules involved in the process and how endocannabinoids and cannabinoids control inflammation. This gives clinical researchers a new drug target to explore to treat patients that suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, and perhaps other diseases, as well.”
Previous research has found that gut inflammation is controlled by “an aggressive immune response” that destroys harmful pathogens. However, when those immune cells attack discriminately they can damage the intestinal lining.
According to the new research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a second pathway to controlling gut inflammation requires “special molecules transported across the epithelial cells lining the gut by the same process already known to remove toxins from these cells into the intestine cavity.”
This process – described for the first time in this paper – requires endocannabinoids. Without the endocannabinoids, the inflammation caused by this process isn’t balanced while the body’s immune cells attack the gut lining. The study suggests that cannabis users suffering from intestinal diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis find relief because consuming cannabis introduces cannabinoids into the body which help relieve that inflammation.
“We need to be clear that while this is a plausible explanation for why marijuana users have reported cannabis relieves symptoms of IBD, we have thus far only evaluated this in mice and have not proven this experimentally in humans,” said professor Randy Mrsny, from the University of Bath Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. “We hope, however, that these findings will help us develop new ways to treat bowel diseases in humans”.
According to CrohnsandColitis.com, about 700,000 people in the United States are affected by Crohn’s disease.
Medical Cannabis and Crohn’s Disease – Treatment
There are 24 states with medical cannabis regimes – namely: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia – that allow patients with Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel diseases to access the medical cannabis treatment program.
Seven other state programs – Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. – permit patients suffering from severe pain, a symptom of Crohn’s and inflammatory bowel disease, to become registered medical cannabis patients.
This is at least the third study to outline the efficacy of endocannabinoids in relieving the symptoms of. A 2004 study by German researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, also published in JCI, found that “the endogenous cannabinoid system is physiologically involved in the protection against excessive inflammation in the colon, both by dampening smooth muscular irritation caused by inflammation and by controlling cellular pathways leading to inflammatory responses.”
Crohn’s Disease Treatment and Cannabis – Research
A 2011 study by Tel Aviv University researchers – the first paper published specifically focused on Crohn’s disease and cannabis – concluded that cannabis “may have a positive effect on disease activity, as reflected by reduction in disease activity index and in the need for other drugs and surgery.”
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