Irritable Bowel Disease, Crohn’s disease, and Ulcerative ColitisI would bet that every reader has experienced one or more of the following: gassiness with abdominal bloating; possibly abdominal pain; urgency to have a bowel movement, which typically ends up being a bout of diarrhea.
But a chronic condition called Inflammatory Bowel disease (IBD) is a broad term for inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract which results in the aforementioned symptoms. Two common conditions which fall under the auspices of IBD are Crohn’s disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) It is thought that approximately 1.4 million Americans suffer from some kind of IBD.
Crohn’s disease involves inflammation of any part of the GI tract but it typically affects the small bowel end where the large bowel begins. Symptoms include fever; rectal bleeding; wasting; constipation; abdominal cramps and persistent, bloody diarrhea. It is estimated that two-thirds to three-fourths of patients will require surgery.
Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic GI tract disease that typically appears in one’s 30s. One early symptom is stool loosening. Symptoms come and go but flare-ups are almost inevitable and can be crippling. The inflammation is usually limited to the large bowel, or colon. Symptoms include bloody stool; abdominal pain; cramping; amenorrhea in women; urgency to have a bowel movement; loss of appetite; weight loss and fatigue.
Crohn’s disease This chronic, incurable disease which affects digestion and may be life-threatening, involves a continuously inflamed GI tract which interferes with absorption of nutrients. There is an internal debate among scientists as to whether CD is an autoimmune disease or an immune deficiency state. But the end result is an inflammatory disease that attacks the GI tract which encompasses the mouth to the anus.
In 2011, Israeli small-group study involved 30 patients. After use of medical cannabis, 21 improved significantly. They dropped some of their prescribed drugs because of medical marijuana (MMJ). An example: 26 patients used corticosteroids. But only four maintained that routine after using medical cannabis.
“This is the first report of cannabis use in Crohn’s disease in humans,” researchers wrote. “The results indicate that cannabis may have a positive effect on disease activity.” Scientists also noted that the need for other therapeutic drugs lessened in patients using MMJ.
In 2012, The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation stated that compounds found in medical marijuana closely mimic endocannabinoids (molecules occur naturally in the body). This mechanism can help to reduce intestinal inflammation.
Adi Lahat, a doctor at the Institute of Gastroenterology and Liver disease, Chaim Sheba Medical center in Israel, wrote in a 2012 story for the journal “Digestion,” part of which we will quote here.
“We have found that treatment with inhaled cannabis improves quality of life in patients with long-standing CD and UC. Treatment was also shown to cause a statistically significant rise in patients’ weight after three months of treatment.”
CNN reported that 13 patients smoking medical marijuana over three months said that using medical cannabis improved the quality of their life for these people who suffered from CD and UC. They experienced less pain, added weight and decreased the frequency of diarrhea.
Researchers also say that cannabinoids, the compounds found in cannabis, have immunomodulatory effects where they trigger certain anti-inflammatory actions.
Ulcerative Colitis UC is a chronic disease of the colon, the large intestine which is marked by ulceration and inflammation of the innermost lining. The cause? It is believed that UC is an overreaction of the immune system. Because of this over-activity, the large intestine becomes chronically raw and inflamed. This disease can also affect the eyes, skin, and joints.
One fascinating fact is that research has revealed that IBD sufferers have a higher number of cannabinoid receptors in their colon tissues than non-IBD sufferers. This may mean that people with colitis and CD may respond positively to the anti-inflammatory properties of MMJ.
Which may account for a 2011 survey of UC patients which reported that 51 percent were lifelong cannabis users for the treatment of their symptoms with no reported side effects.
“There are an abundance of cannabinoid receptors in GI tissue, both on immune cells and GI cells,” said Dr. Jordan Tischler. “Cannabis has been very effective in inflammatory disorders at treating both the underlying disease as well as the symptoms.” Dr. Tischler is a Harvard-educator who researches the use of cannabis for various physical and psychological disorders, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Medical marijuana strains that may be helpful
One resource listed MMJ strains that may be helpful to alleviate various symptoms of IBD. The list: Cherry Pie, Sativa dominant; increases appetite and soothes the pain of IBD. Bubble Gum, Indica dominant with about 20 percent CBD. Has pain-relieving and anti-anxiety qualities. Lessens depression and relieves discomfort and fatigue. Sour Grape, this Indica strain can reduce social anxiety and lessen depression. Also, helps with appetite. American Beauty, a Sativa strain that offers all-day relief while fighting insomnia and depression. This is a bit stronger than the other mentioned strains.
So, in states like Florida and Colorado, with medical marijuana on the books, cannabis may be available for treatment of IBD symptoms. In states where even medical uses of marijuana are illegal, it is up to the sufferer to make hard choices as to medication and what they are willing to do for it.