Cannabis is Kicking Irritable Bowel Disease in the Gut

RxLeaf

Cannabis is a promising new medicine for the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.

Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel conditions are becoming increasingly prevalent in Western countries, and the conditions are often treatment resistant.

Little Girl Clutching Stomach in pain

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IBS is characterized by chronic inflammation in the bowels that causes many distressing symptoms, such as: frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and loss of weight. Treatment of IBS usually involves a combination of drugs because the root cause is not well understood. It also means that current treatments often fall short in providing patients relief. Cannabis is being heavily researched as an alternative and the results thus far are very promising.

One of the main symptoms of IBS is a loss of appetite. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Cannabinoids have been widely studied and approved for the same symptoms that affect patients with IBS, including pain, nausea, and loss of appetite. Cannabinoids are also known to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Interestingly, the GI tract is primed to take advantage of all of this as it is rich in cannabinoid receptors.

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The cells in the GI tract can be a potential target for cannabinoid medicines because they express both cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. Also, inflammatory cells like B cells and monocytes express the CB2receptor, and activating this receptor is thought to be the main mechanism for the anti-inflammatory action of cannabinoids.

Digital image of B cell

Inflammatory immune cells such as B-lymphocytes and monocytes have CB2 receptors. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Another important discovery made in pre-clinical (in animal models) and human clinical studies is the identification of changes to the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in patients with IBS. Examination of diseased bowels reveal decreased endocannabinoid levels and increased expression of the CB1 receptor, which is typical of patients with chronic pain and inflammation.

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These, and other differences in ECS components between healthy subjects and patients with IBS, suggest that the ECS plays a role in either the progression of the disease or at least in the body’s attempt to respond to it.  While more research on the ECS is needed to learn its exact relationship to maintaining gut health, scientists believe that these differences suggest cannabinoids will be useful in managing IBS.

Cross sectional photo of diseased intestine

Studies have shown that patients with IBS have damage to their intestinal tract and to their endocannabinoid system. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Animal models of bowel inflammation have been used to study the effect of cannabinoids in pre-clinical trials. Most of these studies have found that inflammation was reduced when the cannabinoid concentration in the gut was increased either by administering cannabinoids (THC and CBD) directly or by inhibiting the enzymes that break down naturally occurring endocannabinoids.

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Human clinical trials provide promising results, primarily showing that cannabis use helps patients reduce the symptoms of their IBS and improves quality of life. For example, one study found that after several years of using cannabis, the majority of the patients in the study were able to stop using steroid medications and declared dramatic improvements in their quality of life.

THC significantly improved symptoms for IBS patients. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Another short-term study found that participants taking THC had significantly improved symptoms that all returned to original levels once they stopped taking THC.

Anecdotal data and surveys of IBS patients report that cannabis effectively controls symptoms, especially abdominal pain and appetite loss.

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It should be noted that one population survey determined that patients with Crohn’s disease, specifically, had an increased risk for needing surgery when using cannabis. The study could not show that cannabis was the cause of needing surgery, but it is an indication that more research is needed to understand the role of cannabis in Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s Disease can require surgical intervention when there are complications such as bowel abscess or constant bleeding. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Cannabis use for treating pain, inflammation, and appetite suppression has been widely studied and is generally understood to be successful. So, while full-scale human clinical trials on the use of cannabis for IBS have not yet been performed, patients report improved symptoms as a result of using medical Cannabis. It is worth talking to your doctor to see if cannabis can help you.

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