Have a Gut Feeling? Cannabis Can Help Soothe Gastrointestinal Ailments

Cannabis has been a proven treatment for gastrointestinal disorders for centuries. It’s not just a gut feeling among marijuana enthusiasts – it’s science.  

Cannabis for IBS, Crohn’s And Colitis

More than 20 percent of all Americans suffer from some form of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders – including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and colitis. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with a GI ailment. These life-altering disorders are difficult to diagnose and even harder to treat.

Many GI patients are asked to drastically alter their diets, but still suffer from hideous symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, rectal bleeding, intestinal inflammation and uncontrollable weight loss. If dietary changes don’t help, doctors often prescribe powerful pharmaceutical medications that are sometimes not much better than the disorder itself. Patients using these traditional medicines report that the dosage requires constant tinkering.

As more states experiment with medical marijuana programs, doctors are increasingly recommending cannabis as treatment – particularly for Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

The Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization under the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, conducted a study and concluded that “for patients … who suffer simultaneously from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss, cannabinoid drugs might offer broad-spectrum relief not found in any other single medication.”

And a recent study released Aug. 13, 2018 by University of Massachusetts and University of Bath researchers revealed for the first time the physical process by which cannabis affects IBD. The ground-breaking research opens up the possibility of creating a new class of cannabis-based treatment for chronic gastrointestial (GI) ailments.

Cannabis Crohn’s Disease Treatment

Even the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) Patient Education Committee acknowledges the efficacy of cannabis for IBD. According to the foundation’s committee:

“Experimental evidence suggests that endocannabinoids, molecules found in the body that closely resemble compounds found in the cannabis (marijuana) plant, may play a role in limiting intestinal inflammation. IBD patients have been found to have higher levels of cannabinoid receptors in their colonic tissue. Several small studies have shown that a significant proportion of patients with IBD report smoking marijuana to relieve IBD-related symptoms, particularly those patients with a history of abdominal surgery, chronic abdominal pain, and/or a low quality of life index.”

According to data published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, “cannabis use is common amongst patients with IBD for symptom relief, particularly amongst those with a history of abdominal surgery, chronic abdominal pain and/or a low quality of life index.” A 2013 survey data of IBD patients agreed: “A significant number of patients with IBD currently use marijuana. Most patients find it very helpful for symptom control.”

Medical Cannabis For Ulcerative Colitis

In 2017, Pramod Srivastava, an immunologist at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, conducted an unusual experiment with chili peppers and cannabis to assess the medicinal efficacy of the herb. Srivastava’s study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that anandamide, a chemical that the body makes naturally and that is similar to chemicals found in cannabis, helps calm down the immune system — at least in the guts of mice. Srivastava is hopeful that his findings could lead to a cure for ulcerative colitis.

“It was known that there were certain calcium cells that open up in the nerves when they are exposed to high temperature,” Srivastava told Popular Science. “So, if the hand encounters a hot stove, those calcium cells open, calcium falls into the nerve and that nerve impulse goes to the brain, and we know that it is warm or hot.”

Srivastava wondered if the gastrointestinal system would mimic that reaction. If physically hot temperatures activate the immune cells, would capsaicin—the chemical that makes chili peppers feel hot—do the same? The answer was yes. Immune cells exposed to chili pepper in a Petri dish behaved just like cells exposed to higher temperatures, Popular Science reported.

Researchers also have found that patients who treat GI issues with cannabis are able to drastically reduce their dependence on other medications that are much more expensive.

Researchers at the Meir Medical Center, Institute of Gastroenterology and Hepatology examined “disease activity, use of medication, need for surgery, and hospitalization” before and after cannabis consumption among 30 patients with Crohn’s disease. The report revealed “all patients stated that consuming cannabis had a positive effect on their disease activity” and documented “significant improvement” in 21 subjects.

The study found that subjects who consumed cannabis “significantly reduced” their need for other medications. Participants in the study also reported requiring fewer surgeries following their use of cannabis. “Fifteen of the patients had 19 surgeries during an average period of nine years before cannabis use, but only two required surgery during an average period of three years of cannabis use,” authors reported. They concluded: “The results indicate that cannabis may have a positive effect on disease activity, as reflected by a reduction in disease activity index and in the need for other drugs and surgery.”

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