Interstitial Cystitis

Can medical cannabis help with the symptoms of interstitial cystitis? Find out more below. 

What is Interstitial Cystitis?

Interstitial cystitis (IC), also known as painful bladder syndrome, is a chronic bladder condition that causes pain and discomfort in the bladder and pelvic region. It is a relatively rare disorder, affecting an estimated 3 to 8 million people in the United States, and is more common in women than in men.

The exact cause of IC is unknown, but it is believed to be related to inflammation and damage to the lining of the bladder, which can cause the bladder to become irritated and sensitive. Symptoms of IC can vary from person to person and can include frequent urination, a persistent need to urinate, pain and discomfort in the bladder and pelvic region, and pain during sexual intercourse.

The symptoms of IC can be debilitating and significantly impact a person’s quality of life. In addition to the physical symptoms, IC can cause emotional distress, anxiety, and depression. The diagnosis of IC can be challenging, as there is no definitive test for the condition, and other conditions, such as urinary tract infections and bladder cancer, must be ruled out first.

Treatment for IC typically involves a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and therapies, such as bladder instillation or nerve stimulation. Although there is no cure for IC, many people can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life with appropriate treatment and self-care.

What causes Interstitial Cystitis?

Here is a breakdown of the causes of interstitial cystitis:

  • The exact cause of interstitial cystitis is not known.
  • Some possible factors that may contribute to the development of the condition include:
    • Damage to the lining of the bladder due to injury, infection, or other causes
    • An abnormality in the bladder’s nerve signals that leads to an increase in pain and urgency signals
    • An autoimmune reaction that causes inflammation in the bladder

Are there Signs & Symptoms?

The symptoms of interstitial cystitis can vary from person to person and may include the following:

  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Pain or discomfort in the bladder or lower abdomen
  • The urgency to urinate, often accompanied by pain or discomfort
  • Frequent urination, usually in small amounts
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Difficulty starting urination
  • A feeling of pressure or fullness in the bladder, even when it is empty

Diagnosis & Treatment Options


  • No single test can diagnose interstitial cystitis, so doctors typically use a combination of methods to make a diagnosis. These may include:
  • A thorough medical history, including a discussion of symptoms
  • A physical examination, including a pelvic exam for women
  • Urine tests to rule out infection or other conditions
  • A cystoscopy, which involves using a thin, flexible instrument to examine the bladder lining
  • A bladder biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of tissue from the bladder lining to examine under a microscope


  • There is no cure for interstitial cystitis, but there are a variety of treatments that can help manage the symptoms. These may include:
  • Medications such as pain relievers, antihistamines, and tricyclic antidepressants
  • Bladder instillation, which involves instilling medication directly into the bladder through a catheter
  • Nerve stimulation, which involves using electrical impulses to stimulate the nerves that control the bladder
  • Physical therapy, which can help relieve pelvic pain and improve bladder function
  • Dietary changes, such as avoiding certain foods and drinks that can irritate the bladder, such as caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods
  • Stress management techniques, such as relaxation exercises or counseling, to help manage the emotional impact of the condition

Can medical cannabis help? 

Medical cannabis has been suggested as a potential treatment for interstitial cystitis due to its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. However, the evidence for its effectiveness in treating interstitial cystitis is limited, and more research is needed to determine its safety and efficacy.

Some studies have shown that cannabis may be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of interstitial cystitis. For example, a study published in the Canadian Urological Association Journal in 2018 found that cannabis use was associated with reduced pain and improved quality of life in patients with interstitial cystitis. However, the study was limited by its small sample size and lack of a control group.

Another study published in the Journal of Urology in 2015 found that combining cannabis and gabapentin was more effective in reducing pain in patients with interstitial cystitis than gabapentin alone. However, this study was also limited by its small sample size and lack of a control group.

Despite these promising findings, more research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of medical cannabis in treating interstitial cystitis. It is also important to note that cannabis use may have side effects and interact with other medications, so patients should discuss medical cannabis with their healthcare provider before using it as a treatment for interstitial cystitis.

Last Updated: March 9, 2023

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