Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are caused by a chronic inflammation of the GI tract. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of studies that are judging the impact of medicinal cannabis to soothe the symptoms of these diseases, collectively referred to as IBD.
What is IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) ?
IBD is caused by a prolonged inflammation of the GI tract. The classification of this inflammation as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis depends on the location of the inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract.
In Crohn’s disease, for example, the inflammation appears anywhere along the lining of the digestive tract. On the other hand, in ulcerative colitis, the pain is localized to the innermost lining of the colon and rectum.
Most patients of IBD are diagnosed with the disease before they are 30 years old, however cases of patients who developed their symptoms past the age of 50 are also not very rare.
Some factors like ethnicity, dietary habits and living conditions may worsen the symptoms of IBD. For instance, smokers or people living in industrialized countries have a higher risk of developing the disease. In contrast to this, people with healthy eating habits are at a much lower risk. The underlying cause behind IBD are still not very well known to date, although researches into treatment options are ongoing.
Symptoms of IBD
Irrespective of the type of inflammation leading to IBD, the symptoms are somewhat similar in both diseases. Patients of IBD are most likely to suffer from diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, rectal bleeding and fatigue.
For diagnosis of the disease, doctors often use a combination of endoscopy and colonoscopy with other imaging studies. These may range from radiography to CT scans depending upon the physician’s preference. Some doctors may also order blood tests and prescribe stool tests to assist in better diagnosis of the disease.
Treatment options for IBD
Currently, doctors are using two options for treating patients with IBD symptoms. Option one involves using pharmacotherapy. This is done by using medications like aminosalicylates, corticosteroids, immunomodulators, etc. The goal of this treatment option is t reduce symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain. After this is done, doctors fix their focus on reducing the frequency of flare-ups through prescribing dietary changes to patients.
The other less used option is surgical intervention, which is only used in sever cases of the disease. Although 50% of patients with Crohn’s disease will require surgery at some point, in some cases they can often lead to more complications.
As a result of this, there is an increasing number of studies that are focusing on finding better treatment options for IBD.
Is Cannabis the new alternate treatment option for IBD?
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis is a general term that is used to define three types of plants that have psychoactive properties. These plant classifications include Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis.
Cannabis flowers include around a hundred and twenty different components that are known as cannabinoids. CBD and THC are the two most widely studied types of cannabinoids whose chemical structure is very similar to the cannabinoids produced by the human body.According to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a pioneer of cannabis research. “By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance. We wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant.”
What is the connection of Cannabis with the human body?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the body is responsible for regulating communication between the different cells of the body. It is based on three main components namely: endocannabinoids, receptors and enzymes.
The ECS has an impact on a range of physiological processes that include sleep, appetite, pain, inflammation, memory and reproduction.
Since the chemical structure of endocannabinoids is very similar to cannabinoids provided by cannabis plants, the two bind together effectively for producing physiological changes within the body.
Due to this natural formulation of the cannabis compound, the plant sources have worked to reduce a number of ailments which include inflammation, pain, seizures and many others.
How can cannabis soothe symptoms of IBD?
With the discovery of cannabis as an alternate medicine, scientists are now trying to find any plausible cure for IBD with it.
According to McCormick, “For the first time, we have an understanding of the molecules involved in the process and how endocannabinoids and cannabinoids control inflammation. This gives clinical researchers a new drug target to explore to treat patients that suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, and, perhaps, other diseases as well.”
Within the gut, inflammation results from a disproportionate response of the immune system towards the attack of pathogens. Endocannbinoids produced by the brain play their role here by regulating the response of the immune system.
However, not everyone can produce enough cannabinoids to aid in this regulatory process. These lacking cannabinoids can be provided through cannabis sources, thereby helping in controlling the overreaction of the immune system as a result. This is the first time a counterbalancing inflammatory response of the intestine has ever been discovered. Subsequently, this may lead to new treatment options for treating irritable bowel disease.