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How Could Cannabis Help Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Israeli researchers studying mice have found that endocannabinoids produced in the body can help ease intestinal inflammation. They wonder: could cannabis help people with inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflammatory bowel disease is an autoimmune disease that can create chaos in the digestive tract. Inflammation leads to diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, weight loss and fatigue. People with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease often have to take powerful immune-suppressing drugs or corticosteroids. Sometimes surgery becomes necessary to remove sections of the affected bowel. Some patients have reported that smoking marijuana makes them feel better, however. Could cannabis help calm inflammation and improve symptoms?

How Could Cannabis Help with Inflammation?

Israeli researchers have reported in a small pilot study that cannabis can help control symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Now, researchers report that cannabinoids may help create an anti-inflammatory environment in the intestine (Journal of Clinical Investigation, Aug. 13, 2018). They help the cells lining the intestine control how many immune system cells can enter the digestive tract in response to inflammation.

These are compounds produced within the body, rather than inhaled from a joint. Nonetheless, the scientists expect that the effects might be similar.

Less inflammation within the digestive tract may in turn help it reestablish a healthier microbial balance. That appears to reduce symptoms. In a “virtuous” rather than “vicious” cycle, better balance in the microbiome may further reduce inflammation.

The research was conducted in mice. The investigators will need to perform studies in humans to answer the question: could cannabis help calm inflammatory bowel disease?

Learn More about Inflammatory Bowel Disease:

You can learn a lot more about inflammatory bowel disease (but not could cannabis help) from our interview with Dr. Balfour Sartor, an expert in the condition. It is Show 962: Taming the Beast in the Belly (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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