How Can Cannabis Help Patients with Crohn’s Disease?
According to a recent survey, an estimated 593,000 to 780,000 Americans suffer from Crohn’s Disease. Each year, there are about 33,000 new Crohn’s Disease cases.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s Disease is a type of painful inflammatory bowel disease that affects the patient’s quality of life and can incur considerable financial responsibilities.
According to the survey mentioned above, Crohn’s Disease is one of the leading causes of rising medical care costs and lowered income.
Crohn’s Disease has no known cause, but genetic predisposition and inflammation play a significant role in the progression and worsening of the disease. It’s believed that the immune system reacts negatively to the gastrointestinal tract’s normal flora. Instead of leaving the normal flora alone, which is essential for the gut’s health, the immune system attacks it.
An irritant (food or stress) will trigger the inflammatory process. Immune cells will flock to the area and recruit more immune cells to try to contain the irritant. But instead of getting rid of the irritant like what happens in a normal situation, the influx of immune cells becomes uncontrolled and even causes lesions to form along the walls of the digestive tract.
These lesions will then become ulcers that not only spread and grow in size but also destroy all the layers of the gastrointestinal walls. As inflammation further worsens the lesions, the gastrointestinal walls atrophy, harden, and thicken until the lumen** becomes narrow.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease include intestinal blockage due to the narrowed intestinal walls and malabsorption since the lesions are preventing proper absorption of nutrients. This results in weight loss, fatigue, abdominal bloating and pain, diarrhea, and bloody stool.
Treatment of Crohn’s Disease
The most common treatment of Crohn’s Disease is to control inflammation and suppress the immune system’s abnormal response. Antibacterial and antiviral medications may also be prescribed if the trigger is of bacterial or viral origin. Other medications include painkillers, vitamin supplements, as well as antidiarrheal medicines.
While these drugs can effectively control the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease, they do have adverse side effects like heartburn, night sweats, nausea, and vomiting. Long-term use can even damage the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.
How Can Cannabis Help?
There are many ways that cannabis can help patients who have Crohn’s Disease.
THC and CBD are both potent anti-inflammatory agents. They control inflammation by inducing the death of the uncontrolled immune cells and preventing them from recruiting more immune cells to the site. When the inflammatory process is controlled, the scavenger cells (the cells that get rid of cellular debris) are given a chance to cleanse the site so the tissues can start healing.
It’s important to understand that while inflammation is necessary for healing, an overactive inflammatory process does more harm than good. The accumulation of immune cells prevents the scavenger cells from properly getting rid of the debris and slows down the healing process.
Both THC and CBD have anti-motility effects, which can effectively control the diarrheal symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. But how they do this differs.
When THC activates the gut’s CB1 receptors, specifically the enteric nervous system, it slows down gastrointestinal movement. THC’s effects can already solve two problems associated with this disease. One, it controls diarrhea; and two, it allows the gut to absorb nutrients properly — the latter addresses the malabsorption and weight loss problems.
CBD, on the other hand, works differently to produce its anti-motility effects. It allows anandamide, an endocannabinoid naturally produced by our cells, to stay longer in the system. It is anandamide that will then activate the CB1 receptors of the gut, reduce its motility, and prevent diarrhea.
Again, both THC and CBD can control pain associated with Crohn’s Disease. THC, when it binds to the CB1 receptors, produces analgesic effects; while CBD binds with other receptors responsible for pain perception like TRPV1 receptors. Another way that CBD helps reduce Crohn’s Disease pain is through anandamide’s activation of the CB1 receptors.
Cannabis for Crohn’s Disease
Numerous studies have indicated the potential for cannabis to help patients with Crohn’s Disease.
An observational study conducted in 2011 on 30 patients using cannabis showed that cannabis helped improve their Crohn’s Disease symptoms. Before they tried cannabis, half of those in the group have had surgeries to remove sections of their diseased bowels. After trying cannabis, a majority of them reported a significant improvement in their symptoms.
Another study involved 21 patients diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Despite their use of conventional treatment, their symptoms failed to respond to the drugs. The group was divided into two, with one set receiving cannabis cigarettes and the other placebo. After the trial, their symptoms were assessed. Five of the patients receiving cannabis cigarettes reported that cannabis effectively controlled their Crohn’s Disease, and ten of the participants using cannabis cigarettes had a significant improvement in their laboratory tests. What’s even more fascinating was that three of them successfully weaned themselves off of steroids with little to no severe side effects!
There is a need for more controlled research studies on cannabis and Crohn’s Disease, but despite this setback, there are many patients in cannabis-friendly US states already using medical cannabis to control their symptoms. Anecdotal reports indicate that it is very effective.
Justine Meader of Crohn’s N Cannabis has had Crohn’s Disease since she was 13 years old. She has tried almost all kinds of pharmaceutical drugs for her condition, but they all failed her. When Maine finally legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, she immediately registered herself as a cannabis patient and treated her Crohn’s Disease with cannabis. She found that juicing cannabis successfully controlled her symptoms and also significantly brought her C-reactive protein levels back to normal.
An active cannabis advocate, 14-year-old Coltyn Turner was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2011 after a drowning accident and subsequent gastrointestinal bacterial infection, which triggered his Crohn’s Disease. Like Meader, he also tried several medications to no relief. He finally tried medical cannabis in 2014 and found relief from that. Cannabis controls his Crohn’s Disease symptoms, including pain, weight loss, and anemia. Cannabis also improved his energy levels. Today, his laboratory results are all showing normal levels.
Crohn’s Disease can become very debilitating and prevent you from enjoying life. It can also affect not only your personal life but social and professional as well. While there are medications that can control the symptoms, sometimes they aren’t enough.
Cannabis is a powerful medicine that can control the symptoms associated with Crohn’s Disease – inflammation, pain, diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, etc. These medicinal effects have already been backed up by various research studies and plenty of anecdotal reports.