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Concrete scientific evidence that cannabis can aid or alleviate symptoms associated with specific conditions is still inconclusive for many ailments. But there are a number of areas of research that physicians, clinicians and patients can turn to for firm evidence. One of these is the link between medical cannabis and Crohn’s and Colitis.

Two distinct ailments that share a common thread, Crohn’s is a disease of the gastrointestinal tract that may affect any part of the digestive system from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative Colitis, on the other hand, is a chronic inflammatory condition that is limited to the colon. Both share a similar set of uncomfortable symptoms: diarrhea, rectal bleeding, urgent bowel movements, abdominal cramps and pain, and constipation.1

Crohn’s and Colitis are major categories of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which affects an estimated 1.6 million Americans and results in a range of symptoms like fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats and the loss of a normal menstrual cycle. IBD is marked, say experts, by an abnormal response by the body’s sensitive immune system. (Note: it is the body’s immune system that causes the problem).

As medical cannabis and its derivatives have become more popular among patients dealing with IBD, studies have looked into whether a scientific connection exists between the two. Recent research found that modulation of the endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for regulating many bodily functions, plays a significant role in the pathogenesis of IBD, and has a therapeutic effect on colitis.2

This same study also highlighted one of the most pressing concerns for patients who have IBD: the lack of conventional treatment options. A poorly understood condition, IBD’s like Crohn’s and Colitis have, almost by extension of this limitation, had no choice to be coupled with cannabis therapy. The results, though still being investigated further, show a strong correlation between the use of cannabis flowers and oils and the remission of many symptoms associated with the ailments in question.

Another study went a step further, using a placebo-controlled method to investigate the merits of medical cannabis on Crohn’s disease. The results were conclusive. Of the 11 patients who were treated with cannabis, five experienced complete remission of symptoms, while only one of 11 in the placebo group obtained similar relief. Subjects who received cannabis were weaned off steroid dependence and reported improved appetite and sleep, and no significant side-effects.3 

In addition to impressing researchers, medical cannabis has even been loosely endorsed by organizations that advocate for IBD sufferers. Crohn’s and Colitis Canada recently recognized a quote on its website from an expert in the field, Dr. Brian Bressler: “Is it safe? And more to the point, is it actually beneficial? There’s no easy answer to this question yet. But emerging results are intriguing, to say the least.”4

Media reports have started to shine a light on some of this news as well. The United Kingdom’s revered Independent newspaper recently published a story that reported cannabinoids can mimic signals the human body uses to regulate inflammation in the gut and help to treat cases of severe IBD. Citing research from the University of Bath, the report took an uncommonly celebratory tone towards cannabis and its potential to help with symptoms of IBD.5

All of the research, anecdotal evidence and media hype point to one thing: Crohn’s and Colitis have succeeded where so many other topics and ailments have failed – in drawing consensus around medical cannabis. As the studies in this area continue to be published, the conclusion that cannabis can definitely help with IBD will likely become galvanized in the collective consciousness of physicians, patients, and the general public. 

  1. What are Crohn's & colitis? http://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/
  2. Therapeutic use of cannabis in inflammatory bowel disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5193087/
  3. Cannabis induces a clinical response in patients with Crohn's disease: a prospective placebo-controlled study. https://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565(13)00604-6/pdf
  4. Cannabis for treatment of Crohn's or colitis. http://www.crohnsandcolitis.ca/Living-with-Crohn-s-Colitis/Treatments-medications/Emerging-treatments
  5. Cannabis could help treat inflammatory bowel diseases which affect millions, first study shows. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/cannabis-marijuana-inflammatory-bowel-disease-crohns-colitis-ibd-ibs-digestion-symptoms-a8490246.html

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