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Posted on: December 19, 2017 at 4:22 pm
Last updated: May 23, 2019 at 7:38 pm

Correction: The original title for this article indicated that using Marijuana for Crohn’s disease would have no side effects. This has since been found to be untrue. We have updated the title on the article and on Facebook to reflect that there may be some side effects to using Marijuana for Crohn’s disease.

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The number of people living with the painful and undesirable symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is alarming. Doctors use ‘inflammatory bowel disease’ as an umbrella term for inflammatory bowel conditions including Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis [1]. As of 2015, it is estimated that approximately 3 million adults in the United States have IBD [2]. IBD can be very tough to treat, with medications often causing undesirable side effects.  This why a study using Cannabis to Crohn’s disease is so exciting.

A Brief Summary of Crohn’s Disease Treatment, Symptoms, and More

What causes Crohn’s disease? No one really knows. According to doctors, it could be an autoimmune disease. Crohn’s research suggests that the disease could be triggered by the immune system, wherein it attacks harmless bacteria or food in your gut causing an inflamed (and potentially damaged) bowel [3]. One thing is for sure, though – Crohn’s does not only affect the bowels but joints, eyes, mouth, and skin, no thanks to its chronic inflammatory nature.

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In March 2016, Health Union conducted a life-altering national Crohn’s patients survey which revealed:[4]

“[It] was not uncommon for patients to see multiple healthcare professionals (HCPs), have numerous office visits, and endure multiple diagnostic tests before receiving a [Crohn’s disease] diagnosis. Results demonstrate an impact on such things as the ability to work or exercise, but also on overall quality of life and social activities. Respondents wished more people understood the disease and its impact.”

Crohn’s Disease Symptoms

The most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:

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  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and tenderness
  • Cramping and bloating

Crohn’s Disease Treatment

Unfortunately, patients and professionals alike seem to be at a loss for treating Crohn’s disease. The reason why finding an effective Crohn’s disease treatment is so challenging is because IBDs can affect different parts of the gastrointestinal tract. According to Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist Edward V. Loftus, “not everyone has the same symptoms,”[5]. Treatment for IBD patients mainly focuses on controlling symptoms and to promote remission. Treatment can include various medications to control inflammation, antibiotics for infections, and nutritional supplements to account for lack of intestinal absorption. Some of these medications and supplements include: [8]

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids and oral 5-aminosalicylates
  • Immune system suppressors (azathioprine, mercaptopurine, infliximab, methotrexate, and natalizumab)
  • Antibiotics (ciprofloxacin and metronidazole)
  • Anti-diarrheal medication and pain relievers
  • Nutritional supplements (iron, vitamins D and B12, and calcium)

However, a recent study may point towards a treatment for Crohn’s disease and other IBD patients!

Marijuana Induces a Clinical Response in Patients with Crohn’s Disease: A Prospective Placebo-Controlled Study

In October 2013, researchers published a study in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology on the effects Cannabis sativa (marijuana) had on patients’ symptoms of Crohn’s disease and other IBD [6]. This paper was the first of its kind to study the benefits of cannabis for IBD in a controlled setting.

The study included 21 Crohn’s disease patients (13 men and 8 women) at the average age of 40-years-old. Everyone involved in this study had previously tried treating their IBD with steroidal therapy, immunomodulators, or anti-tumor agents, but to no avail.

Once researchers had split the patients randomly into two groups, the 10-week study began (8 weeks of treatment and a follow-up two weeks later). Eleven patients were given rolled cannabis to smoke containing 115mg of THC, two times per day. The remaining placebo patients were also given rolled cannabis to smoke but without THC.

Marijuana for Crohn’s Disease Treatment: The Findings

By the end of the study, researchers observed:[6]

  • Complete remission in 5 of 11 subjects in the cannabis THC group (however, this was not statistically significant; p=0.43).
  • Clinical responses in 10 of 11 subjects in the cannabis THC group (this was statistically significant; p=0.028).
    • In this case, a clinical response is equal to a reduction of 100 on the CDAI (Crohn’s Disease Activity Index). For example, if their CDAI went from 260 to 160, this would be a clinical response. This does not necessarily mean remission, which would be anything 150 and under on the CDAI. 
  • 3 of 11 subjects in the cannabis THC group were weaned from steroid dependency.
  • All subjects in the cannabis THC group reported having improved sleep and appetites (with no significant side effects).

The biggest question researchers are posing is whether the effects of cannabis on symptoms of Crohn’s disease and Crohn’s flareups are simply masking the root cause, which still remains unknown. But the reason cannabis seems to be so effective for this disease is that Crohn’s patients produce fewer endocannabinoids – i.e., your body’s natural THC. So, by providing cannabinoids for the receptors your body does have, they basically help to dampen inflammation that can cause any combination of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease listed above [7].

This study does have limitations. The size is quite small, and while 45% of the treatment group experienced remission, this was not statistically significant. This means it is possible that it happened by chance. What is encouraging is that 90% of those treated did experience an improvement in symptoms (a clinical response), which was statistically significant. While not all of those who experienced a clinical response went into remission, these results are encouraging. Future studies, with a larger sample size are needed.

Marijuana as a Viable Option for Crohn’s Disease Treatment?

Marijuana has a growing number of medicinal uses but can it be used for the treatment of Crohn’s disease? Possibly, and as encouraging as this is, more research is needed. If this is something you or someone you know could potentially benefit from, here are a couple of things you should do before consuming cannabis.

  1. Make an appointment with your doctor, assess your symptoms, and open the discussion about cannabis for Crohn’s disease treatment.
  2. If it’s legal in your state/country and your doctor thinks it could help, consider a prescription for medical marijuana

What to Try If Medical Marijuana Is Not Available in Your State

Although the cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, it may still be possible to help treat Crohn’s disease, especially with the benefits of marijuana. If medical marijuana is not available in your state, you could still greatly benefit and possibly heal by addressing your diet and removing certain triggers. Just see the links below…

[1] Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Types, Causes, and Risk Factors. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2017, from https://www.healthline.com/health/inflammatory-bowel-disease

[2] Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR): Prevalence of Inflammatory Bowel Disease Among Adults Aged ≥18 – United States, 2015. (2017, August 17). Retrieved December 18, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6542a3.htm

[3] Crohn’s Disease. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/ibd-crohns-disease/crohns-disease/digestive-diseases-crohns-disease#1

[4] Health Union. (2016, March 1). Crohn’s disease diagnosis difficult to obtain, life altering, new national study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 17, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160301074252.htm

[5] Why Is It So Hard to Diagnose Crohn’s Disease? (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/ibd-crohns-disease/crohns-disease/features/crohns-difficult-diagnosis#1

[6] Cannabis Induces a Clinical Response in Patients with Crohn’s Disease: A Prospective Placebo-Controlled Study. (2013, May 04). Retrieved December 18, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1542356513006046?_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_origin=gateway&_docanchor=&md5=b8429449ccfc9c30159a5f9aeaa92ffb

[7] Nagarkatti, P., Pandey, R., Rieder, S. A., Hegde, V. L., & Nagarkatti, M. (2009, October). Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Retrieved December 18, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2828614/

[8] Crohn’s disease. (2017, August 07). Retrieved December 19, 2017, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/crohns-disease/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353309

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