Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD isn’t just one disease, but is an umbrella term used when discussing two different diseases that affect the small intestine and the colon: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Medical marijuana and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are finally being studied by modern science. But the history of marijuana for IBD – or at least gut inflammation and GI issues, that may well have been IBD-like or been symptoms of IBD, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, nausea and inflammation – goes back thousands of years. There are records, for instance, of both ancient Egyptians and Chinese using the cannabis plant for some of these symptoms. 1,2
And today, many people suffering from both Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis (UC) are carrying on the ancient tradition of using cannabis to treat their symptoms, and according to anecdotal evidence, with much success.2
Marijuana and Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is inflammation that can affect any area of the entire digestive system, but most often affects the small intestine before moving on to inflame and damage the large intestine. These damaged areas appear in patches beside areas of healthy tissue, and the inflammation may reach through the many layers of the walls of the GI tract. 3
The most common symptoms of Crohn’s are abdominal cramping and pain, diarrhea and weight loss, but there may be other symptoms such as anemia, fatigue, fever, joint pain, nausea and loss of appetite. Many Crohn’s patients claim that cannabis is the only thing that helps; some even claim to have gotten off their prescription drugs thanks to cannabis use. 4
Marijuana and Ulcerative Colitis
With ulcerative colitis, the damaged areas are confined to the large intestine and are continuous, not patchy. Inflammation is present only in the innermost layer of the intestinal lining.3 The symptoms of UC are much the same as for Crohn’s, with the glaring exception being diarrhea that is bloody. UC can be caused by many factors including viral infection, bacterial infection and food poisoning. Colitis may also be caused by disorders involving the digestive system such as Crohn’s disease.
Many UC patients swear by the positive effects of marijuana, saying that it helps with pain, nausea and loss of appetite as well as curtailing diarrhea. As with some of the Crohn’s patients, there are those with UC who say they have drastically reduced or eliminated the drugs they once took to control their disease, with one even claiming to have gotten off 16 different medications.5
Research on Marijuana and IBD
In commenting on the effects of marijuana for IBD, some researchers noted how, upon reviewing surveys and clinical studies performed with IBD patients, that marijuana was often used to alleviate abdominal pain, diarrhea and loss of appetite. THC and cannabidiol (CBD) especially were found to have been the cause of these positive effects.2
In another study, 5 out of 11 Crohn’s patients given cannabis experienced complete remission. A clinical response was seen in 10 out of 11 of these subjects and three were weaned from steroid dependency. The patients also reported having better appetites and sleep, without significant side effects.6
And scientists have not omitted CBD from the picture. In an overview written by several researchers, CBD was referred to as, “… a very promising compound.” It was explained that CBD has many of the same benefits on the gut of other cannabinoids (such as THC), but without any psychotropic effects.7 Another study showed CBD to be anti-inflammatory to the human colon.8
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester did experiments with mice and human cells to find out how cannabinoids help fight the inflammation of IBD. Neutraphils are a type of white blood cell that fights infections, but when they overreact, they can harm and even destroy the protective layer of cells lining the inside of the intestines, called the epithelium.
The body responds by sending special molecules to stop the inflammation, but this can’t happen without endocannabinoids, which are normally produced by the body and interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, much of which resides in the gut. The researchers found that if the body has not produced enough endocannabinoids, the body can no longer control inflammation. The researchers concluded that the cannabinoids in marijuana causes anti-inflammatory effects when the body’s own endocannabinoids are lacking.9
Is IBD a Qualifying Condition in Your State?
In some states that have legalized medical marijuana, IBD is a qualifying condition for a medical card. If it is not in your state, there may be aspects of IBD that do qualify, or you may have other medical issues that qualify, as well. The key is to find a health care provider who is not only knowledgeable about cannabis but can also steer you through the medical maze of qualifying conditions and help you obtain a medical card. Such a provider can also be invaluable when it comes to navigating your way through a dispensary, as he or she can recommend the best strains for your condition as well as the best method of consumption.
Cannabis with THC and CBD are both available in many forms, besides rolled; edibles, tinctures that go under the tongue, vapes and pills are all popular. You can even get your medication in a transdermal patch, and creams are available to ease aching joints and muscles.
Check the laws in your state; if medical marijuana has not yet been legalized in your state, remember that CBD has also been shown to be helpful for IBD. A good place to start your journey is with our interactive map.
- A Brief History Of Medical Cannabis: From Ancient Anesthesia To The Modern Dispensary. Medicaldaily.com
- Hasenoehrl, C., Storr, M., & Schicho, R. (2017). Cannabinoids for treating inflammatory bowel diseases: where are we and where do we go?. Expert review of gastroenterology & hepatology, 11(4), 329–337. doi:10.1080/17474124.2017.1292851
- What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)? (2018) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- “A Cannabis Patient’s Guide to Crohn’s Disease” by Crohn’s Patient Daniel Towns (2015)
- Should You Use Cannabis or CBD If You Have Ulcerative Colitis? healthcentral.com
- Naftali T, Bar-Lev Schleider L, Dotan I, Lansky EP, Sklerovsky Benjaminov F, Konikoff FM. (2013) Cannabis induces a clinical response in patients with Crohn’s disease: a prospective placebo-controlled study. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology
- Esposito G., Filippis DD., Cirillo C., Iuvone T., Capoccia E., Scuderi C., Steardo A., Cuomo R., Steardo L.. (2013). Cannabidiol in inflammatory bowel diseases: a brief overview.
- Couch DG., Tasker C., Theophilidou E., Lund JN., O’Sullivan SE. (2017). Cannabidiol and palmitoylethanolamide are anti-inflammatory in the acutely inflamed human colon. Clinical Science
- Why cannabis relieves IBD symptoms. medicalnewstoday.com