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Cannabis Treats Inflammation of GI Disorders

Emily Robertson
Animation showing areas of inflammation in colon

The GI tract is filled with CB1 and CB2 receptors just waiting to collect those healing cannabis cannabinoids.

Gastro-intestinal problems are some of the worst to deal with, particularly because they seem to have no effective treatment. Health disorders, such as Crohn’s, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac, and Leaky Gut Syndrome vary in severity from patient to patient, but wherever you lay on the spectrum, it’s going to be a challenge.

The primary treatment surrounds the reduction of chronic inflammation and flare ups.  The good news is that anecdotal and scientific evidence is mounting to justify the  recommendation of cannabis for reducing inflammation and even repairing damage to the gut.  Here’s what we know so far:

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s is a condition that is very painful, progressive, and difficult to treat.  It can be dangerous as the disease advances because the gut experiences damage from chronic inflammation, resulting in reduced ability to absorb nutrients; this leads to malnutrition. Current symptom management plans include steroids and cortisone. Unfortunately, these are for short term use only, usually prescribed to bring a severe inflammation (flare up) under control.  Over the long term, steroidal medicines can lead to high blood pressure and osteoporosis, among other dangerous side effects.  In the short term, patients may experience puffing of the face, weight gain, insomnia, and an increase in facial hair.

The cells in the lining of the gut are ripe with CB1 and CB2 receptors. In fact, in response to inflammation, the endocannabinoid system always increases the number of CB1 receptors. This is actually a common body response to any area of injury, and helps elevate the efficacy of cannabis medicine. What is unique about cannabis medicine is that it will treat inflammation by modulating the immune system and stopping the cascade of events that initiates inflammatory response.

A survey in 2005 from Mikuriyia et. al., reported that Crohn’s patients taking cannabis saw improvement in symptoms AND were able to reduce the number of immunosuppressant drugs they took.

As we have discussed in another article, it should be noted that one population survey determined that patients with Crohn’s disease, specifically, had an increased risk for needing surgery when using cannabis. While, the study could not conclusively demonstrate that cannabis was the cause for surgery, it is an indication that we need more research. The data release was precautionary.

Animation showing normal gut villi versus celiac

Celiac Disease

In the gluten-free trend of today, celiac disease is not exactly a hidden illness. The difference between the gluten-free “health” trend and Celiac is that for Celiacs, the exclusion of the gluten protein is not a choice. Celiac disease involves the immune system negatively reacting to gluten by attacking epithelial cells in the small intestine. It is an incredibly painful experience, and those with the most severe Celiac can be ill for days following exposure to gluten. Over time, the damage accumulates and the result is a reduced ability to absorb nutrients, which can become life-threatening. Looking into the future, those with Celiac are at risk of diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

And where does cannabis come in? Well, it seems that cannabinoids can help to target CB2 receptors, which are stressed in individuals with Celiac. A recent study has proven that when people with Celiac use medical cannabis, their symptoms are significantly reduced, or even entirely relieved. They are also able to absorb nutrients more effectively. This ultimately prevents iron, calcium, and protein deficiencies – precursors to further health problems.

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Severe gluten intolerance can cause Leaky Gut Syndrome.  In this condition, an excess of gluten forms ‘zonulin’, which breaks down the binding substance in gut cells. This creates gaps in the cell network, allowing for undigested food particles to seep through the gut into the bloodstream. Though this seems innocent enough, it actually activates the immune system and leads to neurological and behavioral symptoms.

Scientists are now looking at ways to reduce immune response and inflammation using cannabis. Hopefully, this research will help patients with Leaky Gut Syndrome. Anecdotal evidence for relief of GI symptoms associated with LGS while using cannabis is very strong and positive.

We need more research and funding to test these stories. Have you found relief from GI disease or disorder through cannabis?

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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