This post explores whether medical marijuana is an effective treatment for gut inflammation and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
Is medical marijuana for gut inflammation an effective treatment option?
Chronic inflammation in the digestive tract may lead to a painful condition known as inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD for short.
And over 1.6 million Americans currently suffer from it .
When you have IBD, you may develop :
- Crohn’s disease, which is a condition where the inflammation in the digestive tract is so bad it affects the surrounding tissues as well.
- Or Ulcerative colitis, which happens when ulcers or sores begin to develop in your colon, rectum, and the lining of your large intestine.
The symptoms of each condition are often similar and they’re both quite painful.
People may experience abdominal pain, fatigue or malaise, weight loss, severe diarrhea that’s recurring, decreased appetite, fever, blood or membranes in the stool, rectal bleeding, and a sudden urge to release your bowels, which is known as tenesmus .
Dealing with these unwanted side effects also leads many people to miss work and social gatherings, which means they also experience a poor quality of life.
Because of this, more patients are turning to alternative treatment options, such as using medical marijuana for gut inflammation, which we’ll discuss here.
We’ll also explore several studies, both animal and human, to see what the research shows.
Why Are People Turning to Medical Marijuana for Gut Inflammation?
To treat the uncomfortable symptoms that come with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, doctors often prescribe their patients anti-inflammatory drugs, immune system suppressors, and antibiotics .
Here’s the bad news: all of these have the potential to disrupt the digestive tract, increase gut inflammation, and aggravate your problem further.
This could be why 46.6% of IBD patients studied say they’re actively looking for alternative therapies, such as using medical marijuana for gut inflammation, since they’re not finding relief from the medications being prescribed .
And the interest here is only growing.
Prevalence of Medical Marijuana Usage for Gut Inflammation
Several studies have examined just how common this alternative form of medicine is among IBD patients.
- Older male IBD subjects have the highest occurrences of using marijuana.
- 70% of those studied with IBD reported specifically trying medical marijuana for gut inflammation.
- 45% of IBD patients who used marijuana also used it in conjunction with other treatment options.
- Most participants find marijuana to be “moderately/very helpful” for their symptoms.
Many of these patients also admitted they’re self-medicating with marijuana without their physician’s knowledge.
These participants also rated their symptoms after using marijuana and researchers discovered :
- 29% reported a decrease in abdominal pain
- 37% felt their low appetite improve
- 14% said their nausea disappeared
- 10% reported some diarrhea relief
What’s even more interesting is 98% of IBD patients who have used medical marijuana support its legalization, with 85% stating they would try it again once it becomes legal .
And, as it turns out, these study participants may not be so dazed and confused since emerging research in both mice and human studies are boosting the validity of these health claims.
Here’s What Research in Mice Has Shown
Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School studied the effects of cannabis on endocannabinoid receptors to see if they could treat and prevent digestive inflammation.
They found two distinct and dynamic processes that control gut inflammation in mice, and these can change drastically with disruptions in the intestines .
The first process is responsible for kicking out pathogens that could potentially harm the digestive tract.
Unfortunately, in order to do this, the body struggles to decipher between harmful pathogens and some of its own immune cells and may end up unknowingly destroying both, which can damage the lining of the intestines more .
The second process keeps the first one in check by deactivating this inflammatory response to help the body return back to a state of normalcy and homeostasis.
Researchers learned this process is fueled by endocannabinoids, and without them, inflammation would continue to grow, sometimes to dangerous levels .
So when they cut off the endocannabinoid receptors in mice, inflammation snowballed and, in response, the mice’s immune cells started to destroy its own intestinal lining.
On the flip side, when cannabis was used and the receptors were kept open, the mice had the cannabinoids they needed to turn off the gut inflammation so their guts could properly heal and repair the damage that was done.
So the question then becomes: Are these same results replicable in humans?
While more research is needed, scientists are starting to explore this further and have seen positive results so far.
Observational Studies in People Confirm the Results in Mice
One body of research studied the effects of medical marijuana on 30 Crohn’s patients and saw such positive changes in symptoms that patients were able to successfully cut back their prescribed medications .
Another study, using 21 patients this time, found that 10 out of 11 patients who used medical marijuana also reduced their Crohn’s disease symptoms as compared to only 4 out of 10 in the controlled placebo group .
On top of that, 5 out of 11 cannabis subjects also reported complete remission while only 1 out of 10 in the placebo group saw these incredible results.
However, as stated earlier, more research on a larger number of study participants is needed to confirm these findings. The results are still promising nonetheless.
Trying Medical Marijuana for Gut Inflammation
If you’re curious to see if medical marijuana can help treat your gut inflammation, or you’d like to inquire for a loved one, be sure to check out your state’s legislation first to see if it’s legal there.
And if it is, you should also ask about the types of medicines you can purchase, where you can buy them, and how much you’re legally allowed to have.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease Statistics: Crohn’s disease: https://inflammatoryboweldisease.net/
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/
- Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms: https://www.crohnsandcolitis.com/
- Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/
- Patterns of cannabis use in patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A population based analysis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/
- Prevalence and Patterns of Marijuana Use in Young Adults With Inflammatory Bowel Disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/
- Cannabis link to relieving intestinal inflammation explained: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/
- Cannabis for inflammatory bowel disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/