The controversy over marijuana is still at the forefront of many medical vs. recreational debates across the country on a daily basis. Medical marijuana, or cannabis, is used to treat many ailments such as epilepsy, glaucoma, arthritis, and even cancer. New studies are finding, however, that it’s also applicable when treating Crohn’s disease. According to a 2017 article released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly three million adults in the US alone suffer from Crohn’s. The vast majority, if not all, are on medication to somewhat manage their symptoms, but none of them live comfortably. What would they do for a treatment that made their lives livable?
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is defined as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Inflammation in the digestive track causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss and even severe fatigue – making daily activities nearly impossible. Symptoms of course vary and in severity by individual, but Crohn’s is a chronic disease which means that there may be times when even an individual will have times of more or less severe symptoms without warning.
Despite having been studied for several decades, not much is actually known about the causes of Crohn’s disease. Diet and mental stress do impact symptoms, but recent studies show it more likely that genetics and environmental factors may have a bigger impact on Crohn’s development. Ironically, Crohn’s is seen far more frequently in developed countries, as opposed to those under developed.
In the average adult, the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) contains positive bacteria that aid in digestion as well as support the immune system and “kill” foreign bacteria, fungi or other toxins. For those with Crohn’s, however, it’s a different story entirely. People who suffer from IBD, these healthy bacteria are not recognized by the immune system and are then treated as toxic bacteria instead. Bacteria cells are then pushed out of the blood into the organs, causing painful inflammation.
Marijuana, also known as weed, pot or a variety of other slang terms, is simply the mixture of the dried flowers of cannabis. It can be smoked, brewed as tea, cooked into dessert foods, or the oil extracted from the leaves and used as an ointment or in vaporizers. The main chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC has a highly intoxicating effect, which is why it is so highly sought after recreationally as a “safe drug” and an alternative to alcohol.
The human body does naturally produce a form of THC called, endocannabinoids. Those that suffer from Crohn’s, however, have a much lower natural THC production. By using marijuana or cannabis oil, the body’s natural production of THC is assisted and has a better chance of fighting inflammation.
Over the years doctors and scientists have been searching for a “fool proof” treatment for Crohn’s. It’s a difficult disease to treat as it effects different parts of the body, depending on the individual. Patients load up on anti-inflammatory drugs to simply reduce the symptoms, but they only work temporarily.
Does it Actually Work?
In 2013, the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology clinic released an article stating that they had been testing patients with cannabis and had remarkable results. The study only contained 21 people, 8 women and 13 men, all averaged at 40 years old and all with Crohn’s disease. All the patients in the study had been under a variety of other treatments, even surgery, to help manage their symptoms. None had any success elsewhere.
The study concluded after only 10 weeks and the doctors found that after breaking their patients into two groups, half using marijuana containing THC, the other half without, those that used marijuana containing THC had radical results. Five patients had complete remission of all Crohn’s symptoms and 10 had drastically reduced symptoms. They all reported that they were sleeping better, had regained their appetite, and other painful symptoms were much more manageable.
Though the study found quite radical results, it is only one small study. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) acknowledged the study but also firmly states that they do not endorse smoking marijuana as a treatment for IBD. While marijuana may temporarily reduce the pain and nausea caused by IBD, there is not enough supporting evidence that the disease can be controlled by marijuana. The CCFA even cautions Crohn’s patients against smoking marijuana in non-legal states due to the intoxicating properties in THC.
Further studies are taking place to determine the effectiveness of marijuana in treating Crohn’s as well as multiple other diseases. All studies are run on small focus groups, all who’ve attempted other Crohn’s treatments with no avail. As these studies continue, we are interested to hear the results.