Ulcerative Colitis

Can medicinal marijuana help patients treat symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis and other gastrointestinal or digestive disorders? Find out below. 

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis causes irritation and ulcers in the large intestine. It is included in a group of conditions called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). UC often causes diarrhea with blood and cramping. It can even wake people up in the middle of the night or early AM with an urgent sense to go to the bathroom. Inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis starts in the rectum and can spread to the colon or pancreas if left untreated. 

How common is it?

Ulcerative colitis is a condition. It affects approximately 1 in 250 people in North America and Europe. Ulcerative colitis can occur in people of all ages, but it often starts between the ages of fifteen and thirty. 

What causes it?

The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown and involves many factors. It’s typically thought to be the result of an overactive immune response which causes inflammation and tissue damage in the organs. 

Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

The following symptoms are typical of ulcerative colitis: 

  • Bleeding in bowel movements or urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Heartburn
  • Incontinence
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Skin Rash
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Weight Loss

Diagnosis & Treatment

A doctor can often diagnose ulcerative colitis by ruling out other health conditions. They will discuss your medical history and perform a physical exam. They may then request the following: 

  • Blood tests
  • Stool samples
  • Imaging tests
  • Endoscopic tests

Your healthcare provider may recommend the following treatments:

  • Aminosalicylates
  • Corticosteroids
  • Immunomodulators
  • Biologics
  • Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors

Medical marijuana is known to help with inflammation and specific stomach issues. Read on about MMJ as a therapeutic option for certain digestive disorders. Health complications from a disease in the digestive tract may vary from mild to severe, with the most common cases being cancer, hernias, gallstones, GI infections, lactose intolerance, diverticulitis, IBD and IBS, heartburn, peptic ulcer disease, and many others. The digestive system plays a vital role in breaking down and absorbing nutrients from food and drink, including carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. It also balances gut microbes and bacteria that maintain mental health, inflammation, and weight.

What is 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. 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.

Crohn’s Disease

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.

Can medical cannabis help?

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.

There has not been much progress in research regarding Ulcerative colitis and medical cannabis. Despite the lack of extensive studies available for review, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation has reported on the positive therapeutic benefits of cannabis for relieving inflammation, stomach pain, nausea, and increasing appetite. 

Current research shows that more studies are warranted on ulcerative colitis 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 the first study in 2011 on Crohn’s Disease and medicinal cannabis. The study 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 reduced 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 ulcerative colitis 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 ulcerative colitis patients. The obese mice given doses of THC had improved microflora in the gut compared to mice who received the placebo. 

MMJ Patients with Ulcerative Colitis 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 Ulcerative Colitis 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

Summary

If you have been looking for a new way to manage common symptoms of ulcerative colitis 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. 

Last Updated: February 16, 2023

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