Cannabis is Kicking Irritable Bowel Disease in the Gut
Cannabis is a promising new medicine for the treatment of Irritable Bowel Disease, Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.
Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel conditions are becoming increasingly prevalent in Western countries, and the conditions are often treatment resistant. Irritable Bowel Disease is one of the most diagnosed GI conditions.
Chronic inflammation in the bowel characterizes IBS. The inflammation causes many distressing symptoms, such as: frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and loss of weight. The treatment of IBS usually involves a combination of drugs because we don’t fully understand the root causes. It also means that current treatments often fall short in providing relief to patients. Recently, research is relying heavily on cannabis as an alternative, and the results thus far are very promising.
Treatment of Cannabinoids for GI Diseases
Studies have approved cannabinoids for combating symptoms of IBS, including pain, nausea, and loss of appetite. We also know cannabinoids have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Interestingly, the GI tract is perfect to take advantage of all of this, as it is rich in cannabinoid receptors.
Cells in the GI tract are potential targets for cannabinoids because they express both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Also, inflammatory cells like B cells and monocytes express the CB2 receptor. We believe that activating this receptor triggers the anti-inflammatory action of cannabinoids.
Another important discovery made in animal models and human clinical studies are changes to the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in patients with IBS. Diseased bowels reveal decreased endocannabinoid levels and increased expression of the CB1 receptor. This is typical of patients with chronic pain and inflammation.
These, and other differences in ECS components between healthy subjects and patients with IBS, suggest that the ECS plays a role in either the progression of the disease or at least in the body’s attempt to respond to it. Before we say anything with surety, we need more ECS studies. Once those happen, we will know ECS’s exact relationship to gut health. However, scientists believe that these differences suggest cannabinoids are useful in managing IBS.
Up until now, we have used Animal models of bowel inflammation to study the effects of cannabinoids in pre-clinical trials. Most of these studies have found that inflammation was reduced when the cannabinoid concentration in the gut was increased either by administering cannabinoids (THC and CBD) directly or by inhibiting the enzymes that break down naturally occurring endocannabinoids.
Human Clinical Trials Promising So Far
Human clinical trials provide promising results, primarily showing that cannabis use helps patients reduce the symptoms of their IBS and improves quality of life. For example, one study found that after several years of using cannabis, the majority of the participating patients were able to stop using steroid medications. As a result, they declared dramatic improvements in their quality of life.
In another short-term study, participants taking THC showed significantly improved symptoms. After they went off THC, symptoms returned to original levels.
Anecdotal data and surveys of IBS patients report that cannabis effectively controls symptoms, especially abdominal pain and appetite loss.
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. The study could not show that cannabis was the cause of needing surgery, but it is an indication that more research is needed to understand the role of cannabis in Crohn’s disease.
Research has shown that cannabis use for treating pain and inflammation in the bowel is successful. Up to now, we have not performed full-scale human clinical trials on cannabis use for IBS. However, the field of study is promising as patients report improved symptoms as a result of using medical cannabis. It is worth talking to your doctor to see if cannabis can help you.