A Brief Description

Crohn’s disease, named after the scientist who first diagnosed the symptoms, is a form of inflammatory bowel disease affecting the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. This severe inflammation can cause tears which lead to infection. As many as 700,000 Americans may suffer from Crohn’s disease affecting men and women equally.

Symptoms include:

  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Urgent need to move bowels
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Sensation of incomplete evacuation
  • Constipation (which can lead to bowel obstruction)
  • General symptoms can include fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats and loss of normal menstrual cycle.
    • The exact cause of Crohn’s remains unknown, so treatment regimens usually aim to reduce inflammation, relieve pain and prevent weight loss.

How Can Cannabis Help?

The effectiveness of cannabis and its derivatives for treating gastrointestinal disorders has been known for centuries.  Research shows cannabis to be an effective treatment for Crohn’s, not only because it helps to alleviate symptoms caused by the disease and pharmaceutical therapies, but because its use can sometimes lead to complete remission.  Cannabis provides significant medical efficacy in the treatment of Crohn’s disease because it is made up of hundreds of organic chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, which are able to bind to the same receptors in the brain as the body’s own gastrointestinal tract regulating endocannabinoids.

The best-known psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), does more than produce the euphoric feeling of being “high.” It reduces inflammation and relieves pain, nausea and vomiting while also stimulating the appetite.

Cannabidiol (CBD), the most common non-psychoactive cannabinoid, also relieves inflammation while producing clear-heading, calming effects. CBD is also an effective antibacterial, which is important for patients suffering from infected fissures.

The precursors to THC and CBD, tetrahydrocannabinolic-acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic-acid (CBDA), are also important in the treatment of Crohn’s disease. Like THC, THCA relieves pain, reduces inflammation, and helps to stimulate the appetite. CBDA also alleviates inflammation and fights infections.

While individual cannabinoids alleviate specific symptoms of Crohn’s, all of them working symbiotically with terpenes in a process called the entourage effect, can result in a patient’s complete remission. Medical cannabis is able to fill in the missing pieces of the homeostasis puzzle when the body fails to regulate its own endocannabinoid production.

What Does The Research Say?

In a 2013, cannabis was shown to have a significant impact on test subjects suffering from Crohn’s disease when compared to a placebo.  The study showed that “a short course (8 weeks) of THC-rich cannabis produced significant clinical, steroid-free benefits to 10 of the 11 patients with active Crohn’s disease, compared with placebo, without side effects.”

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) Patient Education Committee stated in 2012 that “[e]xperimental evidence suggests that endocannabanoids, molecules found in the body that closely resemble compounds found in the cannabis plant may play a role in limiting intestinal inflammation.  IBD [the category of gastrointestinal conditions of which Crohn’s disease is a part] patients have been found to have higher levels of cannabinoid receptors in their colonic tissue.”

Dr. Adi Lahat at the Institute of Gastroenterology and Liver Diseases at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Israel has stated “[i]n the present preliminary prospective study, we have found that treatment with inhaled cannabis improves quality of life in patients with long-standing Crohn’s disease…Moreover, the data demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in almost all aspects of patients’ daily life.”

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