Crohn’s disease is a painful and often debilitating condition that affects millions of people around the world, particularly in Canada. About 135,000 Canadians suffer from Crohn’s. And Canada has one of the highest rates in the world of childhood-onset inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—an umbrella term that includes Crohn’s.
While there’s no known cure for Crohn’s disease, many sufferers have had success treating their symptoms with cannabis. Recently, a new scientific study uncovered startling results about how cannabis may help Crohn’s sufferers find relief.
Study Finds Cannabis Oil Puts Crohn’s Symptoms Into Remission
Researchers at the Meir Hospital and Kupat Holim Clinic in Tel Aviv, Israel, recruited 46 people who were suffering from moderately severe Crohn’s disease. They treated one group with cannabis oil that contained 15% cannabidiol (CBD) and 4% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), while they gave the other group a placebo.
The group that received the cannabis oil saw a significant improvement in their quality of life, including a reduction in their symptoms. Just 35% of the placebo group saw a full remission of their symptoms, whereas 65% of the cannabis group saw their Crohn’s symptoms go into full remission.
That cannabis led to symptom-relief wasn’t entirely surprising. There was already existing anecdotal evidence and some research showing that cannabis can effectively alleviate Crohn’s disease symptoms.
However, this recent study in Tel Aviv made the unexpected discovery that patients were experiencing relief without reducing their inflammation levels. As lead researcher Dr. Timna Naftali commented in a press release “It has always been thought that this improvement was related to a reduction in inflammation in the gut and the aim of this study was to investigate this.”
Dr. Naftali went on to explain how the results of the study were so unexpected: “To our surprise, we saw no statistically significant improvements in endoscopic scores or in the inflammatory markers we measured in the cannabis oil group compared with the placebo group.”
In other words, while the cannabis oil appears to have successfully treated the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, it wasn’t due to its anti-inflammatory properties, as had been previously believed.
“We know that cannabinoids can have profound anti-inflammatory effects,” said Dr. Naftali. “But this study indicates that the improvement in symptoms may not be related to these anti-inflammatory properties.” While the study was unable to show why marijuana led to symptom relief, it does open up new avenues of research into cannabis’s potential medical benefits.
Crohn’s Disease Symptoms Can Be Severe & Painful
The study is welcome news to Crohn’s disease sufferers, who currently have limited treatment options. Crohn’s disease can inflame any part of the digestive tract, although it most commonly occurs in the small intestine.
While scientists are unsure what causes Crohn’s, they suspect it’s linked to either a virus or bacterium, and people who have family members with Crohn’s are at greater risk of inheriting the disease. Lifestyle factors, like stress and diet, can exacerbate the symptoms of Crohn’s. However, these factors aren’t believed to cause the disease.
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease can cause severe diminishment in quality of life, and may include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Appetite loss
- Night sweats
Currently, Crohn’s disease is incurable, and doctors often focus on managing the pain caused by the disease by prescribing pharmaceutical drugs, such as opioids. A relative lack of scientific research into marijuana’s effect on Crohn’s disease symptoms has made many doctors hesitant to recommend it as a primary treatment. This is in spite of evidence showing cannabis’s effectiveness and its low prevalence of negative side effects.
Other Studies Also Highlight Marijuana’s Potential for Treating Crohn’s
Fortunately, as the study in Tel Aviv indicates, researchers are beginning to study how cannabis may be able to help Crohn’s disease sufferers. This study also adds to the small but growing body of research that shows that cannabis can provide effective relief for Crohn’s disease sufferers.
Another review from 2018, for example, analyzed the results of three different studies into cannabis’s effect on Crohn’s disease. In the first study of 21 participants suffering from Crohn’s disease, one group was given cannabis cigarettes while the placebo group was given cannabis cigarettes with the THC removed.
In this study, 45% of the cannabis group saw their symptoms go into remission, while just 10% of the placebo group experienced remission. The cannabis group, however, did experience mild side effects such as:
- Difficulty concentrating
Another study included just 22 patients and was less successful. In this study, researchers gave one group cannabis oil containing 5% CBD and another group a placebo. The results showed no difference between the two groups. However, because the cannabis oil group was more likely to include smokers than that of the placebo group, the researchers noted that the study suffered from a high risk of bias.
The last study, which involved 50 participants, also analyzed the effect of cannabis oil on quality of life and Crohn’s symptoms. In this study, the researchers found that the cannabis group experienced a significant reduction in symptoms and higher quality of life.
Without a doubt, recent medical research is beginning to prove that cannabis can offer effective relief for the painful symptoms caused by Crohn’s disease. But because the existing studies are small or are hampered by other limitations, it will unfortunately take some time before the medical community embraces marijuana as anything more than an alternative treatment. Only through better research will we finally understand how and why so many Crohn’s sufferers find relief through cannabis.
Photo credit: Aaron Mello