This week is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week, so it is a great time to focus on a healing modality that research has proven has a very positive effect on both of these related conditions. Of course, we are talking about the healing power of cannabis.
What are Crohn’s Disease and Colitis?
Both Crohn’s Disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) are GI tract disorders that fall under the general umbrella of “Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).” IBDs are actually autoimmune disorders, since the immune system is attacking healthy cells in the GI tract.
Crohn’s can affect any part of the digestive system. It can affect the entire digestive system, but sometimes skips areas altogether. Ulcerative Colitis is identical to Crohn’s except that it only affects the innermost lining of the colon. There is an estimated 1.6 million Americans who have been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, most under the age of 35. A report released in England showed that the number of teenagers and young adults ages 16 to 29 who were receiving treatment for Crohn’s rose 300% between 2003 and 2013. IBDs effect an equal amount of both men and women.
In both conditions, symptoms can come at a moment’s notice and may include: diarrhea, constipation, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramping, “rectal tenesmus” (a sensation of incomplete evacuation of the bowels) and an urgent need to go to the bathroom. Fever, appetite loss, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats, and loss of the menstrual cycle in women may also occur.
When symptoms appear in earnest, they can leave a person feeling completely debilitated. Some who have more severe symptoms are not able to hold down a job or have a social life. The traditional treatment for both CD and UC are immune-suppressing drugs which, of course, come with their own litany of harmful side effects. Sometimes surgery to remove damaged parts of the intestinal tract are recommended. Conventional medicine considers CD and UC somewhat treatable, but not curable. Many in the alternative health community would disagree, however.
Besides dietary changes, the natural protocol that shows the most promise for cutting the inflammatory response that is at the heart of both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis is cannabinoid therapy.
How Cannabis Can Help
Crohn’s Disease is one of a few conditions where an abundance of quality research has already been conducted into the actual chemical mechanisms that makes it so effective.
Cannabis has been shown to significantly curb the inflammatory response in individuals with Irritable Bowel Disease conditions by providing support to endocannabinoid receptors in the GI tract in particular. According to a 2004 National Institutes of Health study report:
“CB1 activation reversed the electro-physiological signs of smooth muscle irritability and, at the same time, blunted the increase in tissue myeloperoxidase activity, a measure of leukocyte infiltration. These observations suggest that endocannabinoids protect the gut not only by decreasing bowel motility but also by inhibiting the inflammatory process itself.”
Cannabis and Anandamide Production
One of the ways that cannabis helps to sooth inflammation in the GI tract is through the fatty acid Anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine or AEA), a component of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Anandamide is unique in that it appears to have an effect on both CB1 and CB2 receptors and thus affects both the central nervous system (CB1) and other parts of the body (CB2).
Anandamide (sometimes called the “bliss molecule;” the name is taken from the Sanskrit origin) is produced by the body in healthy individuals, but can be reinforced by cannabinoid therapy. It plays an important role in the regulation of appetite and helps to stimulate the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. Anandamide assists with pain regulation, sleep patterns and hormone balancing as well. It also has the effect of limiting the release of cytokines by bacteria as well as other cellular substances that can limit bowel motility. Cytokines are cellular substances that can affect other cells, mostly to evoke an inflammatory response.
Not surprisingly, besides cannabis, anandamide is also found in chocolate.
Another interesting finding is that individuals with CD and UC seem to have more endocannabinoid receptors in their GI tracts than those who do not have an IBD. Whether caused by genetic disposition or lower immune function overall, individuals with CD and UC usually have imbalanced bowel motility (movement) which inevitably results in a higher number of “infiltrating macrophages” (such as the bacterial endotoxin LPS or lipopolysaccharide) in the inflamed sections of their digestive tracts. While these opportunistic pathogens can be seen as a target of endocannabinoid healing effects, according to some researchers, they may also be a source of endocannabinoids as well.
Studies Confirm Cannabis Significantly Reduces Symptoms of Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis
Although they have not endorsed the use of cannabinoid therapy outright, even the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) has recognized marijuana’s effectiveness on both Crohns’ and Colitis. According to their statement issued in 2012:
“Experimental evidence suggests that endocannabanoids…may play a role in limiting intestinal inflammation. IBD patients have been found to have higher levels of cannabinoid receptors in their colonic tissue.”
The CCFA also acknowledges studies which have found that cannabinoid therapy can lead to marked improvements in the overall quality of life of individuals with Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis by reducing cramping, nausea, diarrhea and pain, again as a result of reduced inflammatory response and improvements in bowel motility. One of these investigations includes a 2012 patient survey study at the Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University. And a 2011 report published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found marked reduction of diarrhea and pain in the majority of the 300 participants studied.
Finally, a few small studies have now proven that complete remission of Crohn’s can be achieved through the use of cannabinoid therapy, giving not only cause for further study by the scientific community but also hope to the thousands who suffer from IBD-related disease every day.
IBD Considered a “Qualified Condition” in Many States
Because of all the solid research that has come out over the last few years, many medical marijuana-legal states are adding them to their list of qualifying conditions. If you are unsure of the status of your state concerning medical marijuana in general or IBD conditions in particular, click HERE.
And remember, you DO NOT have to suffer if you have Crohn’s or UC, nor do you have to believe that pharmaceutical drugs and surgeries (which sometimes do more harm than good) are the only option for you. We now know that cannabis works and it works well for IBD diseases across the board.