By: Spencer W Llerandi
Is the perfect treatment for a very common disease hidden in the leaves and flowers of a forbidden plant?
That’s what scientists are wondering, as evidence piles up that Cannabis could treat gut problems better than any pharmaceutical on the market, and someday pot for tummy pain could be as common as Immodium AD. Although, it won’t reach the public until scientists are allowed to study it freely.
First, the problem:
In 2009, the prevalence of two really awful gut problems — Crohn’s Disease (CD) and Ulcerative Colitis — was shown to be increasing, affecting about a half million people each. The same census data also estimated that a million people in the US have irritable bowel syndrome. These diseases differ in that Crohn’s can involve inflammation of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine, while ulcerative colitis only affects the large intestine. Both are autoimmune diseases — conditions where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks normally functioning organs, thinking they contain foreign invaders. However, the true cause is undetermined because genetic and environmental variance also play a role in development of irritable bowel problems. The symptoms related to Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are extremely similar. An individual suffering from either may experience nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, gastric reflux, rectal bleeding, and progressively loosening stool.
What’s the best treatment we have now? Traditional, western medicine has sought to treat the major symptoms of these diseases, inflammation leading to pain and diarrhea, by suppressing the immune system. One pharmaceutical drug, Entyvio (Vedolizumab), blocks white blood cell flow to the colon and is commonly cited as an effective treatment for colitis. However, the suppression of the immune system leaves the patient susceptible to other, more common illnesses. Also, loss of response to the drug and other side-effects are issues that come with taking biologic agents like Entyvio.
Thankfully, Cannabis and its phytocannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) have been found to help with the symptoms of irritable bowels, improving the patient’s quality of life.
There’s a lot of buzz about this. A company in Holland was testing CBD gum as a treatment for irritable bowels. A scientific paper in 2014 said “evidence is gathering that manipulating the endocannabinoid system can have beneficial effects in IBD.” And Leafly even has an article highlighting – allegedly – which strains are best for Crohn’s and colitis. (Confidential Cheese and Hog’s Breath are two of the best, Leafly says.)
This all makes sense, scientifically. Phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which establishes and regulates human health and homeostasis. Two kinds of receptors within the endocannabinoid system, known as CB1 and CB2, are both located all throughout the body’s peripheral tissue, while only CB1 receptors are primarily located in the central nervous system. CB2 receptors are found in the immune cells of gut lining tissue and in GI mucosa, meaning they are most likely related to inflammation in the region and, therefore, irritable bowels. Inflammation is related to disordered intestinal permeability, and certain cannabinoids such as CBD, THC, and THCA reduce this permeability and the diarrhea, gut motility, and gastric acid secretion that comes with it. Along with the reduction of inflammation, Cannabis can interact with the endocannabinoid receptors to stimulate appetite and suppress nausea and vomiting. This means that, beyond its uses in treating irritable bowels, it can also help patients who develop colorectal cancer and have to undergo chemotherapy. These same cannabinoids can also induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in colorectal cancer cells, as well as other cancerous cells, providing hope surrounding this new and seemingly effective alternative medicine for patients who are more likely to develop colorectal cancer from their irritable bowels. Not only cancer patients, but all irritable bowel patients should consider seeking relief in the form of medical Cannabis if traditional treatments do not work for them and they wish to try something new that has a potential to be beneficial.
Unfortunately, with federal prohibition making research on Cannabis’ effects in humans so scarce, it is difficult for scientists and researchers to perform investigation on the plant, and most of the research is based on varieties that are not representative of what patients are using for their illnesses. However, organizations such as the Agricultural Genomics Foundation (AGF) are trying to provide accurate scientific information and support investigation on the Cannabis plant.
The AGF could help support research that would test the efficacy of these claims that Cannabis is an effective treatment for IBD patients. If anecdotal evidence has told us anything, it is that more needs to be done to solidify this alternative medicine as a legitimate and effective drug for Crohn’s, Colitis, and IBS. AGF and groups like it could be a part of establishing that legitimacy, and could help propel Cannabis into mainstream use.
Edited by Reilly Capps (@ReillyCapps)