What cannabis can do for Crohn’s and colitis

Do you know someone who has a serious inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease?

If you do, they may be turning to medical marijuana for relief from their symptoms. A lot of people with serious inflammatory gut disorders like this are, and it really helps.

In fact, I know someone who has Crohn’s, and once he got a medical marijuana card, it totally changed his life. He was able to manage his pain without dangerous opioids. He stopped taking the steroids that were giving him osteoporosis in his 30s. And his symptoms improved. All in all, things started looking up.

But here’s the thing about using marijuana to treat an inflammatory bowel disease…

There’s not a lot of research on it. That means doctors and scientists aren’t willing to say either way if it works. And as a result, a lot of people are hesitant to try it, and they’re missing out on a treatment that could potentially help them.

Now, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence from people with these diseases who found medical marijuana helpful… like the guy I mentioned before. But for a lot of people, anecdotal evidence doesn’t hold (bong) water.

So, here’s a smidgen of scientific evidence to put in the pro-cannabis pile, if you or someone you know has an inflammatory bowel disease…

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Cannabis curbs intestinal inflammation

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation shows that cannabis can curb intestinal inflammation in mice.

Previous research shows that there’s a natural process in the gut that’s designed to deploy the immune system to attack dangerous bacteria, viruses, etc. But this process can go awry.

The immune system can start attacking everything, causing damage to healthy tissue in the intestines. This is what happens to people with an inflammatory bowel disease.

But there’s a way to prevent this process from damaging healthy tissue — cannabinoids.

Related: How to get and use cannabis medically

You see, there’s another natural process that switches off intestinal inflammation. And when these two processes work together, dangerous pathogens can be killed without triggering an inflammatory reaction that ends up damaging healthy tissue.

This anti-inflammatory process, however, needs endocannabinoids to work. Endocannabinoids are molecules produced naturally by your body that are very similar to cannabinoids, the compounds found in cannabis.

So, if there aren’t enough endocannabinoids around when your body starts attacking the bad guys in your gut, inflammation can get out of hand. But if you provide your body with cannabinoids from cannabis, hypothetically, that won’t happen. The cannabinoids will trigger the same anti-inflammatory process that endocannabinoids do and keep things under control.

Right now, this is all just theoretical, since it hasn’t been tested in people. But hey, if you add it to all the anecdotal evidence about marijuana’s benefits for inflammatory bowel diseases, it may be enough to help you decide whether you’d like to try it or not.

Other options for easing intestinal inflammation

The good news is, if you’d like to try marijuana for Crohn’s or colitis, these conditions are approved for medical marijuana in most states where it’s legal. Just talk to your doctor and find out how to get a medical marijuana card.

There’s no way to know how medical marijuana will affect you until you try it. Hopefully, it will provide some relief and decrease your symptoms. If not, there are a few other things that have been shown to help with an inflammatory bowel disease over the years, like:

  • Avoiding certain food additives. Research shows that food additives like polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulsose cause intestinal inflammation. So, read the labels carefully and avoid these ingredients.
  • Eating more mangoes. A 2017 study found that eating mango daily reduced ulcerative colitis symptoms.
  • Eating more broccoli and plantain. A 2012 study found that plantain and broccoli fibers can help prevent E. Coli bacteria from invading the bowel lining, which can trigger an inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Taking fish oil. Fish oil fights inflammation just like cannabis. That may be why one study found that taking fish oil helped prevent relapses for people with Crohn’s disease.
  • Acupuncture. Numerous studies show that acupuncture can help people with Crohn’s by substantially reducing symptoms. In fact, researchers who published a 2014 study on Crohn’s and acupuncture said that acupuncture “provided significant therapeutic benefits in patients with active CD (Crohn’s disease) beyond the placebo effect and is, therefore, an effective and safe treatment for active CD.”

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.