Can marijuana treat inflammatory bowel disease?
The short answer is yes, cannabis can be very effective in treating inflammatory bowel disease. It does so in three specific ways: by treating inflammation, by lowering oxidative stress, and by acting as an antioxidant. Cannabis can also treat common symptoms associated with gastrointestinal upset like nausea and lack of appetite. Those who have IBD commonly have trouble eating and often feel sick to their stomachs, so these added benefits ease their condition even more.
While some disorders react better to cannabis strains that are high in CBD and others respond better to high-THC strains, research has shown that inflammatory bowel disease is most successfully treated with strains that have both high CBD and THC. Other treatments of IBD include antibiotics, immune suppression drugs, and, in some extreme cases, surgery. These treatments can cause symptoms of their own, can stop working over time, and can lead to dependence.
How cannabis treats inflammation
One of the major causes of IBD is inflammation in the bowels. This is why those suffering from Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis are often prescribed steroids that reduce this inflammation. Unfortunately, steroids can have a number of side effects including fluid retention, increased blood pressure, and risk of infections. Steroids can also cause dependence in some users.
Marijuana, on the other hand, has an anti-inflammatory effect without the unwanted side effects or risk of dependency. In addition to treating inflammation, marijuana has other positive effects such as reducing anxiety or depression that can be brought on by IBD and by stimulating the appetite.
Lower oxidative stress
Oxidative stress is when an imbalance occurs between free radicals and antioxidants. This reduces the body’s ability to detoxify and repair damage to cells and tissues. Poor diet, environmental factors such as pollution, and certain conditions including IBD can cause oxidative stress in the body and this leads to gastrointestinal damage and symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain.
The cannabinoids THC and CBD in marijuana have an antioxidant effect on the body that can be very beneficial in lowering oxidative stress. When oxidative stress is reduced, damage to the bowels is reduced and healing can occur.
Medical marijuana and neuroprotective effects
Though many people associate neuroprotectiveness with the brain, it actually has a positive effect on the entire body including the bowels and digestive tract. Because IBD increases inflammation, it can damage tissues and kill off neurons located in the intestines and colon. When these anti-inflammatory neurons die off, inflammation is no longer regulated by the nervous system and the symptoms of IBD are exacerbated.
Cannabis is known to have a neuroprotective effect on both the brain and the body. This explains why it can lower anxiety levels, help individuals deal with stress, and relax. It can also help protect the neurons that regulate inflammation and manage symptoms of IBD.
Scientific research on cannabis and inflammatory bowel disease
There have been a number of scientific studies conducted on cannabis and how it treats inflammatory bowel disease. In one 2012 paper, researchers found that dysfunction of the endocannabinoid system was one of the biological causes of IBD. Because cannabis stimulates endocannabinoid signaling, it can significantly reduce IBD symptoms in the gastrointestinal tract.
Another study conducted in 2013 found that cannabis can have a large positive impact on those suffering from Crohn’s disease. Five out of the 11 patients in the study who were given cannabis as a treatment experienced complete remission while only 1 out of 10 patients in the control group had the same results. In addition, three of the patients in the study who were given cannabis as a treatment were able to completely stop their steroid use that they had become dependent on to treat their disease.