Evidence is mounting highlighting benefits of cannabis for Crohn's disease patients and sufferers of other inflammatory bowel diseases.
What is Crohn's disease?
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) affect approximately 1.6 million Americans, and as many as 70,000 new diagnoses are made each year. For individuals suffering from Crohn’s and IBD, the symptoms are often debilitating: severe stomach cramps, chronic fatigue, diarrhea, fever — and in many cases, sufferers may not even be able to pinpoint all of the triggers of their flare-ups, meaning they are unable to identify (and avoid) foods and environmental factors that may exacerbate symptoms.
Like other autoimmune disorders, the primary cause of discomfort for Crohn’s and IBD sufferers can be attributed at a basic level to inflammation — which in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to ulcers and a narrowing of the intestines called stricture. In many patients, these complications and others may lead to an inability to pass gas or stool, further worsening the pain and discomfort associated with their conditions.
Hope for relief
Crohn’s disease was formally identified in the 1930s, and until recently, treatment options for Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases have been focused on relieving symptoms. Medications prescribed for Crohn’s include antibiotics, biologics, corticosteroids, and immunomodulators — and unfortunately, medications in each of these classes come with their own laundry lists of negative side effects. Acne, diarrhea, vomiting, upper respiratory infection, swelling, weight gain, headache, gas, hair loss — the list goes on. A quick glance at the “side effects” sections of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s IBD medications list sheds light on just how serious the negative impact of these medications can be.
In recent years, however, researchers have discovered that cannabinoids may play a role in leveling out the body’s autoimmune response, thereby reducing inflammation in Crohn’s and IBD sufferers. Preliminary research indicates that chemicals in medical cannabis can react positively with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which plays a key role in minimizing the overactivity of the inflammatory response in Crohn’s and IBD sufferers.
Favorable observational evidence
Research to determine the specific correlation between medical marijuana and its impact on the inflammatory response is limited. Most studies have been completed on a very small scale or have never made it past the phase of testing results in laboratory mice. But despite the fact that federal regulations keeping cannabis locked into its role as a Schedule I drug have prevented testing on a larger scale, many states already identify Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases as qualifying conditions for access to medical cannabis.
As IBD sufferers in cannabis-legal states find relief from their symptoms — some reporting such dramatically positive results as several years of remission from the symptoms of their disease — this observational evidence has proven to be convincing enough for other individuals searching for an alternative to traditional treatments. And although some medical professionals still caution the use of medical cannabis for Crohn’s and IBD due to its lack of clinical evidence, sufferers weighing the potential pros and cons in comparison to their existing medications seem to find the anecdotal stories of their peers as evidence enough to seek out medical cannabis as a viable treatment option.
Cannabis for Crohn's: What’s next?
As more states legalize medical cannabis and continue recognizing inflammatory bowel diseases as qualifying conditions, we anticipate that the number of people who try medical cannabis for Crohn's and other IBD relief will only rise. And while anecdotal evidence isn’t a replacement for controlled research studies, there is something to be said for consistent similarities in individual results. The Sugar Leaf will continue following the latest stories in IBD and medical cannabis and keep our readers up to date.