Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Medical Marijuana
Severe pain from Crohn’s Disease is a Health Canada accepted Category 2 condition
Medical marijuana is NOT for everyone. Strong anecdotal evidence exists for the support of medical marijuana in treating pain and inflammation associated with Crohn’s Disease. We strongly suggest you discuss the potential benefit of medical marijuana with your doctor or specialist
What is Crohn’s Disease?
To put it very simply, Crohn’s Disease is the chronic inflammation of your gastrointestinal tract. This inflammation typically impacts your small intestine and/or colon – but some people do experience inflammation through-out their entire gastrointestinal tract. This includes mouth ulcers, debilitating stomach cramps, intestinal bleeding, and diarrhea.
How do you get Crohn’s Disease?
This disease is sometimes called Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and is a chronic disease for which there is no known cause or cure. Recent studies show that for people with Crohn’s Disease, the immune system identifies normal bacteria and microbes in the intestines as unhealthy substances and works to eliminate this healthy bacteria. This causes the body to produce and send extra white blood cells to the lining of the intestines – creating chronic inflammation.
Treatment for Crohn’s Disease
Because there is no known cause of Crohn’s Disease, it is very difficult to find a cure for the disease. The typical approach is to prescribe drugs to control symptoms and to get sufferers into a remission. These drugs are focused on controlling inflammation and reducing infection risks – this gives the digestive system a chance to heal.
- Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine®) and the 5-aminosalicylate drugs (Asacol®, Asacol HD®, Pentasa®, Salofalk®, Dipentum®, Colazal®, Apriso™ and Lialda™): these drugs are used to control the inflammatory response in your body. The common side effects of these drugs include: headache, nausea, fever, rash, malaise, cramps, gas, and reversible infertility in men.
- Steroids such as Prednisone and Budesonide: steroids are used for a short duration to help control inflammation. Due to side effects that include: glaucoma, fluid retention (swelling in your lower legs), elevated blood pressure, mood swings, weight gain, bruising easily, chills, fever, flu-like symptoms, and colds – steroids are only recommended for short term use.
- Biologic Response Modifiers: this is a class of medication that is used to prevent inflammation – this treatment is very costly and is given by an injection. Because these drugs impact the body’s immune system, many people on this form of treatment are very susceptible to infection.
- Surgery: because fistulas and blockages can occur with Crohn’s Disease, many people need to have parts of their small intestines removed. Surgery always has side effects of infection and this surgery doesn’t cure Crohn’s Disease – most people who have surgery will need to continue their medication and may need further surgeries.
Benefits of Marijuana as Treatment
One of marijuana’s oldest recorded uses is relieving swelling and inflammation. Currently, modern scientists are exploring a network of cannabinoid receptor sites located throughout the body. This new understandings of cannabinoid research clearly supports the historical references on treating inflammation with marijuana. Different cannabinoids found naturally in marijuana have different benefits for those of you with Crohn’s Disease. Tetrahydroconnabinol (THC) is beneficial as a pain reliever and is shown to inhibit THF-alpha. A compound in marijuana known as beta-caryophyllene turns on the CB2 cannabinoid receptors in your body – resulting in a reduction in swelling, pain and inflammation.
Along with reducing inflammation, many Crohn’s Disease patients find medical marijuana helps to restore appetite, reduces nausea, helps to reduce joint pain and gives them more energy. The trickle down effect of this is that patients have been able to reduce their intake of drugs and treatments that can be causing additional unpleasant side effects.
Potential Side Effects of Marijuana
As you know, all treatment option for Crohn’s Disease come with side effects – and the same holds true for medical marijuana. When prescribed by a doctor, medical marijuana is considered to be very safe, but there are still possible side effects you need to be aware of: short-term high blood pressure, potential lung disease (with prolonged smoking instead of vaporizing or ingesting), seizures (in most people it helps to control seizures). Other mild side effects include dizziness, dry mouth, increased appetite, anxiety and paranoia. In certain genetic variants of mental health illness patients – it can provoke acute psychosis.
A recent study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology discusses research by scientists into medical marijuana and its impact on CB receptors in the gut. This study while not 100 per cent conclusive, draws a number of conclusions on how medical marijuana can aid in the reduction of inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.  As well a study in 2004 also looked into the impacts of medical marijuana on CB receptors and how this can aid in the symptoms and side effects of Crohn’s Disease – this study highlighted that historically medical marijuana has been used for the treatment of diarrhea and more recently gastrointestinal disorders including Crohn’s Disease.
Strains of Marijuana
There are three strains of marijuana:
- Sativa strains: sativa strains are typically used to aid in helping to combat depression and in increasing appetite. Sativa strains can be used during the day as they do not have a narcotic effect. This strain is very useful in helping people manage the stress and mental health aspects of their chronic illness.
- Indica strains: most commonly used to help aid in the treatment of strong and severe physical pain. Patients will discover a numbing effect with this strain of medical marijuana. Typically this strain is not used for daytime relief – due to the narcotic impact.
- Hybrid of Sativa and Indica strains: typically most medical marijuana is a hybrid strain. This strain of medical marijuana gives patients the best options possible – the ability to feel better mentally, increased appetite and some relief from the pain of your chronic disease.
To learn more about medicinal marijuana and Crohn’s Disease, visit these websites:
- Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada
- Cannabis use amongst patients with inflammatory bowel disease
- Marijuana Has Anti-Inflammatory That Won’t Get You High
- Medical Marijuana and Crohn’s Disease
- Canadians Living with Crohn’s Disease Benefit from Medical Marijuana
- American College of Physicians Supporting Research into the Therapeutic Role of Marijuana
Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Medical Marijuana Study
These questions can help you and other Patients decide if Medical Marijuana is an effective treatment option for specific symptom relief.
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