Crohn’s disease is a severe form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease that affects up to 600,000 people in North America and many more around the world. It is characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract and a variety of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, frequent bowel movements, stomach pains, and more.
As the research into medical marijuana continues, evidence suggests that cannabis may help alleviate the inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease and lessen some of its symptoms.
UNDERSTANDING CROHN’S DISEASE
Unlike other types of IBD, Crohn’s disease produces widespread inflammation that can affect the entire digestive tract. It usually penetrates deep into the bowel tissue and produces a wide variety of symptoms.
Crohn’s disease is caused by a malfunction of the immune system, which begins attacking healthy tissue in the digestive tract and ultimately causes inflammation. What causes this immune malfunction isn’t clear, but and medical researchers claim it could be due to environmental and genetic factors, as well as bacterial imbalances in the gut.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CROHN’S DISEASE?
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease vary from one patient to another and the severity of the condition. However, some common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe diarrhoea
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight loss
- Frequent and unpredictable bowel movements
- Loss of appetite.
Some patients may also experience flu-like symptoms, including fever and night sweats. Many patients will experience Crohn’s “flare ups,” which are times of severe symptoms, followed by periods of remission with few to no symptoms at all.
What really sets Crohn’s disease apart from other types of IBD is that it causes large patches of inflammation throughout the digestive tract. It can also cause ulcers and a thickening of the wall of the intestines, which can make it hard for food to pass through the intestines after digestion.
Crohn’s disease and other types of IBD can also cause inflammation in other parts of the body, including the eyes, skin, liver, and joints. In sever cases, Crohn’s disease can cause such deep ulcers that are able to break through the walls of the digestive tract. This usually happens in the intestines, causing infection outside of the bowel that can easily spread elsewhere.
It’s important to recognise that Crohn’s disease can be a crippling and debilitating disease, which goes far beyond the physical symptoms listed above. Dealing with these systems chronically and juggling them along with other life commitments can have a huge affect on patients.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease are usually so severe that they can affect a person’s life at home, in the workplace, and at school, as well as their relationships with friends, family, and loved ones.
As is often the case with patients dealing with chronic conditions, patients with Crohn’s disease are at a higher risk of developing mental health problems as a result of their condition, including anxiety, depression, and more.
TREATING CROHN’S DISEASE
Treating Crohn’s disease generally involves managing the severity of symptoms as there is no cure for the condition yet.
Crohn’s disease is typically treated with anti-inflammatory and other drugs. These drugs generally include:
- Corticosteroids and immunosuppressants: Generally used to manage inflammation throughout the digestive tract.
- Biologics: Use antibodies to block the effects of the parts of the immune system causing the inflammation.
At some point, most patients with patients undergo surgery to remove parts of the inflamed digestive tract. Dietary changes are also an important part of managing the disease, and patients are encouraged to follow a balanced diet and pay special attention to foods that worsen their symptoms.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA AND CROHN’S DISEASE:
There isn’t a huge body of research into medical marijuana and how it may affect patients with Crohn’s disease. Some studies have been done on IBD and cannabis in general, and usually involve either animals or human tissue from biopsies. However, the limited research into this field has provided some promising results.
Some cannabinoids have been found to have anti inflammatory effect, which is promising for Crohn’s patients as the disease is characterized by chronic inflammation. The main cannabinoids involved in recent research into this field are THC and CBD.
In 2010, a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that THC was the most effective at treating intestinal inflammation in rats compared to CBD and sulphasalazine, a long used anti-inflammatory medication.
THC was found to be more effective at fighting the inflammation in the rats than both sulphasalazine and CBD. In fact, CBD was found ineffective at treating the inflammation on it’s own but was able to improve the effectiveness of THC when the two cannabinoids were combined. THC was also found to protect the rats cholinergic nerves, which neither CBD nor sulphasalazine were able to do.
In 2011, researchers at the Department of Experimental Pharmacology at the University of Naples, Italy, looked at CBD and how it could help with Crohn’s disease. They found that administering CBD after inducing inflammation reduced it and that administering CBD before inducing inflammation prevented it from occurring at all.
Finally in 2013, a study by scientists at the Meir Medical Center in Israel further explored the effects of cannabis on Crohn’s disease. The study comprised of 21 patients with severe Crohn’s disease, 11 of whom consumed two cannabis joints daily for 8 weeks while the remaining 10 were given a placebo.
Out of the 11 patients taking cannabis, 5 entered remission. They also reported improved appetites and sleeping patterns. Clinical responses were noted in 10 out of the 11 patients in the test group.
The researchers concluded that “THC-rich cannabis produced significant clinical, steroid-free benefits to 11 patients with active Crohn’s disease, compared with placebo, without side effects.”
While the researchers weren’t willing to call their study a complete success, they did conclude that it warranted further research with larger patient groups and other intake methods rather than just smoking.
CANNABIS AND CROHN’S DISEASE: MORE RESEARCH NEEDED
As is often the case, it is still hard to come to clear conclusions about medical marijuana and how it may help treat/manage the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. However, results from preliminary research are promising.
Plus, cannabis has been shown to alleviate a wide variety of other symptoms that are not just unique to Crohn’s disease These include nausea and vomiting, pain, appetite loss, fatigue, stress, anxiety, and more.
As research into medical marijuana furthers, we will hopefully have more clear evidence on how it may help deal with Crohn’s disease as well as other conditions.