First identified in 1932, Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel condition that affects nearly a million Americans. As one of the inflammatory bowel diseases, or IBDs, Crohn’s disease is poorly understood as to its causes. This painful condition can negatively impact one’s quality of life, and the medical community has struggled to develop effective solutions for combatting the pain, discomfort, and physical damage the disease causes to those affected. In addition to changes in dietary habits, medications are often prescribed to suppress the body’s immune response. Unfortunately, these medications often create their own complications, causing patients and caregivers alike to seek safer alternatives for Crohn’s disease treatment. One of those alternatives may be medical cannabis.
Crohn’s disease can affect men and women equally. It can develop at any age, but adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 35 years are at particular risk. The exact causes are not known, but there may be a genetic component as well as environmental factors that lead to the acquisition of the disease. Diet and stress levels do not cause Crohn’s, but may contribute to the aggravation of this bowel condition.
Signs and symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
In young people, the disease may lead to delays in physical growth and development. The disease can be characterized by flareups, with many common symptoms, followed by periods of remission that include no symptoms.
There are hundreds of chemical compounds found in cannabis. Of particular interest are a group of compounds known as cannabinoids. Two of these compounds stand out for their potential health effects. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the active compound that creates the desirable “high” experienced by cannabis users. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is not psychoactive; in other words, it does not produce the sensations of intoxication. CBD does, however, show promise as an anti-inflammatory agent, and does so in a far safer manner than many prescription anti-inflammatory medications.
The human digestive tract is partially regulated by the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which can influence moods, appetites, motility of the gastrointestinal tract, and immune function. Human bodies naturally produce cannabinoids, which adhere to receptors throughout the digestive system. CBD molecules are similar to the cannabinoids produced by our bodies, allowing them to trigger responses via neurotransmitters. In research of IBD, a malfunctioning ECS has been shown to lead to the potential causes or symptoms of IBD, including Crohn’s disease. Cannabinoids ingested through the use of medical cannabis may supplement or even replace natural systems, providing balance to the digestive tract and its associated components. Through limited clinical trials and studies, the administration of CBD as an anti-inflammatory agent has resulted in significant improvements, both in the severity and frequency of Crohn’s symptoms as well as a reduction in the use of other medications required to manage symptoms. In short, CBD is growing as an accepted means of Crohn’s disease treatment.
Among the many prescription medications used to treat inflammation, a class of drugs known as NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are commonly used. NSAIDs, unfortunately, are not well-tolerated by patients with various forms of IBD, and the use of these drugs may lead to further pain, ulceration, and bleeding of the gastrointestinal system. Medical cannabis, on the other hand, produces no such side effects, allowing patients with Crohn’s and other bowel inflammations to lead more normal lives. As a factor in Crohn’s disease treatment, CBD may be the safest path forward for many patients afflicted with the disease and similar bowel conditions. Additional research and clinical trials are warranted, but the medical community is hopeful that CBD-rich preparations of medical cannabis can help patients overcome the pain and discomfort associated with inflammatory bowel diseases.