Medical Marijuana for Crohn’s & UC
I happen to live in a state that recently legalized medical marijuana, so this post has been on my mind for awhile. Medical marijuana is a controversial topic- some people are extremely in favor of the use of the drug to help treat nausea, vomiting, and pain. This post is neither to promote the use of medical marijuana nor prohibit it- its just one that looks into its efficacy as a possible treatment for IBD.
Medical marijuana isn’t new- it’s been used to treat ailments for thousands of years, dating back to Ancient China and Taiwan over 10,000 years ago. In countries like Israel, Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands, medical marijuana has been used for over a decade to treat patients with varying diseases.There are obvious benefits of medical marijuana for patients with IBD, specifically the elimination of nausea and stimulation of hunger. This could be particularly helpful for patients during a flare. I have yet to find much about the negatives of using marijuana to treat symptoms of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
A few studies have been conducted in the past decade investigating the benefits of cannabis for IBD.
In 2004, George Kunos and Pal Pacher looked into the efficacy of cannabis in treating GI inflammation. In the abstract, the authors write:
“Despite recent therapeutic advances and improved understanding of the underlying pathologies, patients with IBD are often resistant to treatment, justifying the continued search for new therapeutic approaches. Although the mechanisms underlying ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are different, they share one pathological feature: chronic inflammation. In a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Massa et al. provide evidence that stimulation of cannabinoid receptors protects against colonic inflammation.”
In the study, the scientists induced gastrointestinal inflammation in a group of mice. They then administered cannabinoids to the mice. What resulted was a reduction of inflammation in the mice.
“These observations suggest that endocannabinoids protect the gut not only by decreasing bowel motility but also by inhibiting the inflammatory process itself.”
Another study in 2004 looking into the efficacy of medical marijuana in treating digestive ailments found that
“…the endogenous cannabinoid system is physiologically involved in the protection against excessive inflammation in the colon, both by dampening smooth muscular irritation caused by inflammation and by controlling cellular pathways leading to inflammatory responses. These results strongly suggest that modulation of the physiological activity of the endogenous cannabinoid system during colonic inflammation might be a promising therapeutic tool for the treatment of several diseases characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.”
Last year, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel published a study of cannabis use in patients with Crohn’s Disease. In the study, 30 patients were administered medical marijuana. Of the thirty patients, 21 significantly improved with the cannabis treatment, and their need for other medication was reduced.
We actually asked Dan’s doctor her opinion of medical marijuana last time we saw her. While she hadn’t thought about whether or not she’d be willing to prescribe it, she said it could have its benefits in treating nausea and other side effects of IBD.
Obviously there are risks to using medical marijuana, as there are with any other drugs. Marijuana can have psychological side effects, like paranoia. Additionally, if you use marijuana to treat your disease without going through a medicinal location, you risk other chemicals being in the drug that may harm your body (medicinal marijuana that is distributed through pharmacies and other places is a more potent, cleaner version than the recreational drug).
There is one catch: medical marijuana is only legal or decriminalized in 20 states/districts in the U.S. including:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
- Washington, D.C.
It’s important to note that not every doctor may recommend the use of medical marijuana. If you are considering it as a treatment option, I strongly recommend you look at all of the information and talk to your gastroenterologist. It definitely seems to have its benefits but its negatives seem to be unknown.
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