Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)
Can medical cannabis help people who suffer from symptoms of IBD? Find out more below.
What is Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to various gastrointestinal disorders that cause chronic inflammation, pain, and swelling in the intestines. IBD is an umbrella term to categorize conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis that affect the digestive system. While no cure exists, treatments and special diets can offer symptom relief.
How common is it?
Approximately three million people in the United States have Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD.) This gastrointestinal condition can affect men, women, and children of all ages. IBD symptoms typically start occurring between the ages of fifteen and thirty.
Three Types of IBD
The primary types of IBD include ulcerative colitis, microscopic colitis, and Crohn’s Disease.
- Ulcerative colitis causes swelling and ulcers in the colon and rectum, aka the large intestine.
- Microscopic colitis causes (often painful) intestinal inflammation that can be detected only with a microscope.
Crohn’s disease is a severe gastrointestinal (GI) disorder called inflammatory bowel disease. Another common form of inflammatory bowel disease is ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease symptoms can range from abdominal pain to loss of appetite to fatigue, diarrhea, or constipation, which are caused by chronic inflammation of the GI tract.
Crohn’s Disease currently has no cure, but physicians and patients are hopeful that cannabis can help control the severe symptoms that accompany the debilitating condition. Medical marijuana is reported to help with nausea, diarrhea, appetite, and quality of life diminished by a patient’s daily living limitations with gastrointestinal issues.
Recent evidence shows that cannabinoids like CBD and CBG can help reduce inflammation, suggesting why users say they can relieve pain. For Crohn’s disease patients, these anti-inflammatory effects could help reduce symptoms. Although more research is needed on cannabis use for people living with Crohn’s disease, individual reports claim their use of the plant has effectively reduced some of their chronic symptoms. In addition to a decrease in pain, it may also bring back appetite and help control weight fluctuations.
In comparison, What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a severe form of gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. IBS symptoms can range from abdominal pain to loss of appetite to fatigue, diarrhea, or constipation, which are caused by chronic inflammation of the GI tract.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome currently has no cure, but physicians and patients are hopeful that cannabis can help control the severe symptoms that accompany the debilitating condition. Medical marijuana is reported to help with nausea, diarrhea, appetite, and quality of life diminished by a patient’s daily living limitations with gastrointestinal issues.
Recent evidence shows that cannabinoids like CBD and CBG can help reduce inflammation, suggesting why users say they can relieve pain. Individual reports claim their personal use of the plant has effectively reduced some of their chronic symptoms, which could be helpful for IBS. In addition to a decrease in pain, it may also bring back appetite and help control weight fluctuations.
Medicinal Cannabis for Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)
The cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant can activate the endocannabinoid system in the human body and may help many chronic issues. Cannabis activates CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors in organs, muscles, and tissues. Cannabinoids can directly influence our ability to maintain homeostasis.
CB1 receptors are responsible for large and small bowel muscles and digestion in the intestines. Activating the CB2 receptors targets immune cells that can reduce intestinal pain and inflammation. Cannabinoids can even interact with other receptors influencing everyday gastrointestinal tract functions.
Cannabinoids and IBD- Research
Current research shows that more studies are warranted on inflammatory bowel disease and the therapeutic benefits of marijuana for modulating pain, controlling nausea, and slowing the intestinal digestion process. Small-scale human and animal studies continue to show promise, and the potential benefits are being researched further.
Timna Naftali conducted a study that followed thirty patients with Crohn’s and recorded their disease severity before and after cannabis use. Researchers found that many users could decrease inflammation medications, including steroids. Approximately three-fourths of participants said they experienced decreased symptoms and daily bowel movements.
Another study discusses the cannabis plant’s potential for helping to relieve digestive inflammation and its anti-inflammatory properties by activating the endocannabinoid system, a fat-based system of self-made neurotransmitters. When CB2 receptors line the intestinal tissue, a P-glycoprotein transmitter will help decrease the body’s inflammatory and autoimmune responses.
Recent studies on the endocannabinoid system suggest that many IBD patients may have clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CED). An ongoing theory is that these deficiencies could come from genetics, injuries, and diseases.
Research on obese mice has proven a connection between the microbiome, gut, and brain. The microbiome of the small intestine, large intestine, and brain health are all crucial factors for IBD patients. The obese mice given doses of THC had improved microflora in the gut compared to mice who received the placebo.
MMJ Patients with Irritable Bowel Disease may see the following benefits:
- Pain management improvement
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Appetite Increase and regulation
- Reduced need for regular steroid use
- Decrease in diarrhea
The potential risks of using cannabis for Irritable Bowel Disease are the following:
- Adverse drug interactions with other medications
- Many health insurance companies don’t cover MMJ
- Increased risk of anxiety with prolonged use
- Mild side effects of THC include: dry mouth, drowsiness, psychoactive effects, nausea, and paranoia
If you have been looking for a new way to manage common symptoms of IBD or need additional relief on top of other prescribed medications, using medicinal cannabis may be a good option. Finding the correct type of cannabis product and dose may take some time and experimentation.
While there are potential therapeutic benefits, there is little information about the health risks associated with long-term cannabis consumption. We recommend caution and consulting your healthcare provider before starting a new IBD symptom relief treatment.
Last Updated: February 20, 2023
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