Medical marijuana has become hugely popular across the United States, and many people have started using it to help improve their quality of life. Patients who originally had to use pharmaceuticals are now using CBD drops to lower anxiety or fight chronic pain. In this post, we will focus on the benefits marijuana can have for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and how it can help fight some of the condition’s symptoms. 

What is IBD?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) actually refers to two distinct conditions: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The first disease, ulcerative colitis, is a chronic disease that causes inflammation and sores in the large intestine (known as the colon). Crohn’s disease, while similar, is slightly different, in that it refers to inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract. Therefore, IBD can refers to chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. This inflammation can cause a variety of symptoms due to the number of possible inflammation sites, but common signs include diarrhea, weight loss, reduced appetite, and bloody stool. 

Unfortunately, the cause of IBD is still unknown, though there have been several hypotheses. One such hypothesis links IBD to immune system dysfunction, meaning that if the body were to try and fight off a foreign pathogen and malfunction, it may damage the cells in the digestive tract as well, leading to inflammation. 

There have been some risk factors identified as well, including genetic factors. Generally, you are at risk of developing the disease until your sixties, though most are diagnosed by the time they are thirty years old. Caucasians are the most likely to develop the disease, with smoking, environment, and medications also play a role. 

Along with side effects, certain other conditions are often more common in those with IBD. These include inflammation in other parts of the body, blood clots, and certain kinds of cancer. The reasons for the increase in risk can range from damage from the disease itself, e.g. scarring of the bile ducts causing liver damage, to side effects of certain medications, as is the case with certain prescription steroids. IBD can also cause malnutrition and other digestive problems, leading to a snowballing of issues down the line. 

Also, despite sounding similar, IBS and IBD are separate conditions. Some people with IBS may experience IBD-like symptoms, but the root cause of each are very different. IBS, rather than being inflammation of the digestive tract, is more similar to cramping of the colon, and symptoms include bloating, gas, and constipation. 

How Can Medical Marijuana Help Those with IBD?

Currently, there are several pathways of treatment for IBD. These treatments include vaccinations, surgery, and prescription medications. These medications have become more and more effective over time and have steadily worked to reduce the number of surgeries necessary than in previous years. 

These drugs can target several different problems, from inflammation directly to the immune system. The drugs are also different depending on the area of the digestion tract that is inflamed. In many cases, patients are also prescribed medications to help reduce the number of problems associated with IBD, such as anti-diarrheal medications and certain supplements. While these treatments have helped many people, and are effective in many others, for some, current methods remain unsuccessful or can lose response over time [1]. In these cases, marijuana can take on a complementary role for some people, working alongside their drug regimen to give even better results. 

Many of the effects of marijuana can be beneficial for those suffering from ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. For example, marijuana has been found to be an excellent appetite stimulant [2], which can help users gain or maintain necessary weight. Some patients have even reported using it to fight abdominal pain, nausea, and improve mood. 

Research on the direct effects of medical marijuana on both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative is lacking, unfortunately, so an easy conclusion is not possible in this instance. Some studies have marijuana use being correlated with higher rates of Crohn’s remission and no adverse effects, and others showing an association with a worse prognosis [3]. In research areas with small amounts of studies, it is very common for different, and even opposing, conclusions to be drawn. Over time, as we begin to get a deeper understanding of the complexities and mechanisms of the drugs or systems, we will be able to form more accurate theories and opinions.

For now, some researchers speculate that the more positive outcomes in IBD patients may be tied to the anti-inflammatory properties of marijuana. It has been found that the endocannabinoid system has an important role in modulating the digestive tract and may well be vital in controlling intestinal inflammation. The uncertainties surrounding both the pathways and intricacies of both medical marijuana and IBD make connecting these dots difficult, however. 

In Conclusion

IBD is a term used to describe inflammation of the digestive tract. In the case of Crohn’s disease, this can mean any part of the system, whereas ulcerative colitis refers to the colon exclusively. Due the size and functions of the digestive tract, IBD results in many different symptoms and can increase the patient’s risk of many other conditions. Medical marijuana may be able to help reduce these symptoms and increase the user’s quality of life significantly. It is currently unknown if marijuana use has any direct effect on the underlying cause of IBD, but patients are reporting many benefits of its use. 

Cited Works

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21122530/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15856067/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6727090/