According to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, over 270,000 Canadians are suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, also known as IBD [*]. The organization estimates that by 2030, 400,000 Canadians will have IBD, affecting 1% of the population [*].
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention defines IBD as “a term for two conditions (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) that are characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract” [*]. IBD can cause people to experience fatigue, weight loss, abdominal pain, and severe diarrhea [*].
While poor diet and stress are factors that may lead to developing IBD, immune malfunction, heredity, cigarette smoking, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications play a role [*].
Research shows how cannabis may help to ease symptoms of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The cannabis plant has been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes [*]. As early as 2700 BC, ancient Chinese traditions used cannabis in their healing practices [*]. Containing hundreds of cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD), these chemical compounds interact with the endocannabinoid system, which helps to regulate digestion, mood, pain, cognitive function, and maintaining homeostasis [*]. The endocannabinoid system is made up of cannabinoid receptors (such as the well-studied CB1 and CB2 receptors [*]), endocannabinoid receptors, and metabolic enzymes. Research shows that “the ECS is widely distributed throughout the gastrointestinal tract, and is involved in regulation of food intake, emesis, gastric secretion, gastric and intestinal motility, visceral sensation, and intestinal inflammation” [*]. People with IBD who have used medical cannabis have reported to see an improvement in “abdominal pain, appetite, nausea, and diarrhea” [*].
A recent study found that “cannabis may be an adjunct to medications in controlling inflammation, as well as improving a patient’s symptoms and quality of life” [*]. According to research by Jami Kinnucan, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, CB1 and CB2 receptors are present in the gastrointestinal tract, immune cells, nervous system, and brain[*]. Kinnucan discloses that “activation of these receptors may result in gastrointestinal effects” [*]. She further explains that a 2009 study discovered that when CB1 and CB2 receptors were activated, inflammation decreased, which may help those suffering from IBD symptoms [*].
In another study that looked at the therapeutic use of cannabis for treating IBD, researchers found a relationship between the ECS and regulation of gut inflammation [*]. The ECS helps to maintaining gut homeostasis, “and its ability to modulate inflammatory responses demonstrate its part in preserving gastrointestinal function” [*].
This ancient plant may even be helpful in reducing pain, since when inflammation reduces, so can intense physical sensations [*]. Researchers Picardo et al. explain that the the activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors may help to lessen pain and sensitivity since they play a key role in helping to protect the body against colonic inflammation [*].
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