Oops, you did it again.
No, we’re not talking about Britney Spears. We’re talking about YOU on Thanksgiving Day and that enormous amount of amazing, wonderful, home-cooked food you just consumed with family and friends around the holiday table. Sitting on the couch, slipping slowly into a tryptophan-induced “food coma,” you know you’re gonna regret this tomorrow.
Or maybe not.
While we are in no way condoning throwing in the towel on healthy habits and eating like there is no tomorrow this Thursday, we also understand that if there was ever a time of year when even the most disciplined amongst us are going to indulge, it’s going to be during the holidays. In fact, according to a survey done by the Mayo Clinic, most Americans gain an average of 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.
So if, despite your best efforts, you succumb to temptation and consume one helping too many of your aunt’s oyster stuffing or an extra scoop of ice cream on that apple pie, cannabis may be able to help.
Cannabis and Gastro-Intestinal Distress: The Lessens of Crohn’s Disease
Of course, there are dozens of studies, and thousands of testimonies from medical marijuana patients through the years, which prove without a doubt the effectiveness of cannabis on digestive distress associated with serious conditions such as the side effects of chemotherapy, certain cancers themselves and HIV/AIDS.
Cannabis use has been the saving grace for many diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease as well. Crohn’s is a severe and chronic inflammatory bowel condition that targets the lining of the digestive tract (in most cases, the small intestine and the beginning of the colon).
Individuals with Crohn’s may have abdominal cramps and pain even when they eat normal-sized meals (or sometimes when not eating at all). They also suffer from weight loss, loss of appetite, issues with elimination, and extreme fatigue due to lack of nutrient absorption. The intestinal wall of a Crohn’s sufferer is in a constant state of inflammation, with secondary conditions, such as immune deficiencies, stemming from this.
The conventional course of action for those with Crohn’s is steroid drug use, the most common of which is Prednisone. As with most pharmaceutical drugs, however, Prednisone comes with its own rash of side effects, including mood swings, sleep issues, thinning of the skin and other more serious conditions such as adrenal suppression with long-term use.
As an alternative, many Crohn’s patients have turned to cannabis. A 2011 survey of individuals suffering from both Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) showed that cannabis use relieved symptoms in at least fifty percent of participants. In a 2013 study published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, approximately half of those being administered cannabis for their Crohn’s symptoms went into complete remission from the disease.
How Cannabis Works for GI Distress Big or Small
The way cannabis can help the occasional heartburn sufferer, the chronic Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferer and the Crohn’s patient alike is basically the same and hinges on the elegant way in which cannabis can reduce inflammation and restore homeostasis in the body as a whole.
Activation of endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 in the brain communicate with linked receptors in the GI tract. The result is protection against inflammation, suppression of gastrointestinal motility (responsible for GERD or heartburn) and the “inhibition of intestinal secretions,” primarily gastric acid which is affected by CB1 receptor activation, according to a 2001 UK study. Other research, such as a 2005 study published in the journal Gastroenterology which focused specifically on cannabis’ effect on the colon, has made the connection between cannabinoid therapy and epithelial wound healing. Epithelial tissue in humans line cavities and surfaces of blood vessels and organs and is also found all along the digestive tract. This last connection could explain in part why Crohn’s patients may possibly go into remission through the use of cannabis under the right conditions.
Finally, many of the 50 million Americans who suffer from any one of the dozens of known autoimmune conditions (when the body’s immune system is on “high alert” and begins to attack organs and mechanisms that are not really a threat) may also find digestive relief through therapeutic cannabis use during this time of year.
Research is now making the connection between almost all autoimmune disease and a GI condition called “leaky gut.” In particular, individuals who have systematic autoimmune conditions, including connective tissue diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma, are especially at risk of digestive distress since those conditions often affect the esophagus and intestines. Manifestations on the GI tract for these individuals may include “oral ulcers, dysphagia, gastro esophageal reflux disease, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, fecal incontinence, pseudo-obstruction, perforation and gastrointestinal bleeding,” according to a 2011 joint study based in Romania.
Autoimmune disease sufferers may experience GI distress ranging from mild to severe, especially on those days when their condition is “flaring,” when they overeat or when they eat the “wrong” things for them, such as excessive gluten and dairy. And this is when cannabis can really help.
“Especially at the end of the day sometimes when my body is fatigued, no matter what I eat, I will have some kind of gastric upset,” says Nikki, a writer in California who has been a medical marijuana patient since 2010. Nikki was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition scleroderma in 2000 and uses a moderate amount of hybrid indica/sativa vape three to four times a week. “I never knew how cannabis worked to make my gut feel better, only that my nausea goes away almost instantaneously when I vape a small amount and I am just able to enjoy a good meal.” While Nikki chooses to inhale (by using a vape pen) cannabis for relief, there are many other options for medication delivery such as sublingual sprays, topical gels, transdermal patches and capsules.
Again, the main healing miracle of cannabinoid therapy here is its ability to reduce inflammation. In fact, ground-breaking research conducted in 2014 at the University of South Carolina found that cannabis may have an effect on autoimmune disease conditions specifically through the suppression of the inflammatory response (as well as its ability to suppress some of the body’s immune system functions).
GI distress exists along a continuum of severity and symptoms. But even if you don’t have a serious digestive tract condition like Crohn’s or have been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition that affects your GI tract, you too have probably experienced a bout of heartburn, bloating, gas, or acid reflux at one time or another.
And with the holiday season approaching, chances are you’re going to experience it again.
Our advice: enjoy the holidays. Try to indulge with moderation. But if you do happen to “overdo it,” a little bit of cannabis may just help take the edge off a bit while healing your whole body at the same time.