Cannabis and IBD
Some research suggests that the ECS might play a role in gut health. Particularly, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, might be influenced in part by alterations in the ECS, as this system might modulate inflammatory responses. In addition, research shows that levels of anandamide, an endocannabinoid, are much lower in the inflamed gut mucosa of those with IBD than in healthy gut tissue. Early research on the effects of cannabis on IBD is quite promising, but we still have far to go before we can definitively say that cannabis is an effective treatment for IBD.
One retrospective study in Israel asked 30 patients with Crohn’s disease about their disease severity before and after using cannabis and found great improvements. They found that 70% of the patients experienced a decrease in Crohn’s disease symptom severity when using cannabis, and that many were able to reduce or eliminate the medications that they were using. For example, before using cannabis, each individual took some sort of prescription medication to treat their disease. When using cannabis, nine individuals were able to cease all prescription medication use. They also reported a drop in daily bowel movements from eight to five per person, as well as a slight decrease in the number of surgeries required.
Since this was a retrospective study, meaning it relied primarily on patient memory and subjective symptoms, the study isn’t as strong as a double-blind study would be. However, the changes in more objective measurements (such as surgery and prescription medication records) point to the possibility that cannabis was quite beneficial for these individuals. It should be noted that individual responses can vary. You should discuss your specific situation with your physician and pharmacist prior to stopping any medication you take for a chronic condition.
One prospective study provided 13 IBD patients (11 with Crohn’s disease, 2 with ulcerative colitis) who were not using cannabis with 50 g of cannabis to smoke as needed to relieve symptoms over the course of three months. After this time, all the patients had smoked the full 50 g, and they saw improvements in their health. The Crohn’s disease group’s Harvey-Bradshaw index scores (an index that rates Crohn’s disease symptoms) dropped from an average of 11.36 to 2.68 (great result), with the largest improvements in general wellbeing and abdominal pain. The subjects experienced significant improvement in pain, health perception, depression, social functioning, and ability to work. They also had an average weight gain of 4.3 kg over the three months (a health improvement), and a reduction in average number of daily liquid stools from 5.54 to 3.18.
These researchers support the idea that the benefits were the result of cannabinoids having anti-inflammatory, anti-motility, and analgesic effects. With only 13 participants, this study is too small to come to generalizations about most people, but it does show that cannabis might be effective for some individuals with IBD. The fact that the subjects knew they were taking the therapy may also have had an impact on their perception of improvement.
At this point, much research shows a possible benefit for individuals with IBD taking cannabis, but we still don’t know quite how it works. It might be limited only to pain relief and increased appetite, but it might also help by reducing inflammation. We need more research on the topic before we can know for sure how cannabis affects IBD.