In a small study, participants with Crohn’s disease saw symptoms dissipate after they began using cannabis oil.
It’s a painful, sometimes debilitating condition affecting millions of people in the United States.
But can cannabis oil provide relief for people with Crohn’s disease? A recent Israeli study suggests it can.
“Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is characterized by inflammation and can affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but most commonly the small intestine,” explained Dr. Timna Naftali, the study’s lead researcher and a specialist in gastroenterology at Meir Hospital and Kupat Holim Clinic in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The symptoms include:
- bloody diarrhea
- rectal bleeding
- abdominal pain
“Medications are often prescribed with the aim to control the inflammation. These commonly include antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, aminosalicylates (a type of anti-inflammatory drug), steroids, immune modifiers, or biologic therapies,” Naftali told Healthline.
In the first of its kind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, researchers found that cannabis produced clinical remission in more than half of patients after eight weeks of treatment.
Researchers recruited 46 people experiencing moderately severe Crohn’s disease for the study.
The severity of the participant’s symptoms and their quality of life was measured before, during, and after treatment.
Gut inflammation was checked using an endoscope and by checking markers of inflammation present in blood and stool samples.
Some received a placebo while others were given cannabis oil containing 15 percent cannabidiol and 4 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Both are naturally occurring substances in cannabis oil.
The research was presented at the United European Gastroenterology conference held this week.
The study hasn’t been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal.
Naftali acknowledged the study had a small number of participants and said that “moving forward, larger and longer studies are required.”
After two months, researchers said the participants given cannabis oil experienced a significant improvement in their Crohn’s disease symptoms and quality of life.
About 65 percent of the cannabis oil group strictly met the criteria for a full remission of symptoms, while 35 percent of the placebo group did.
“We have previously demonstrated that cannabis can produce measurable improvements in Crohn’s disease symptoms, but 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,” said Naftali in a press release.
Naftali said this finding indicates that it wasn’t the well-known anti-inflammatory effect of cannabis oil that helped relieve symptoms.
“We know that cannabinoids can have profound anti-inflammatory effects, but this study indicates that the improvement in symptoms may not be related to these anti-inflammatory properties,” she said.
It’s not marijuana
Hemp is where most of the cannabis oil used medicinally comes from.
Although hemp and marijuana come from the same plant (Cannabis sativa), they are not the same.
While marijuana growers have bred their plants to contain high levels of THC (the substance that gets you “high”), hemp farmers have rarely modified their plants.
So cannabis oil won’t change your mental state, but using it can have other beneficial effects.
This is because our bodies naturally make cannabis-like chemicals (cannabinoids), and we have receptors for them called CB-1 and CB-2 receptors. They’re present throughout the body and brain.
Naftali said it can especially help relieve one of Crohn’s most inconvenient symptoms.
“Besides increasing appetite, cannabis oil can slow the movement of food through the gut and reduces intestinal secretions, which reduces diarrhea,” she said.
Cause is unknown
Crohn’s can have severe complications such as malnutrition, bacterial overgrowth, intestinal blockages, and ulcers.
“Sixty to 75 percent of Crohn’s patients may require surgery at some stage due to possible complications. The type of procedure will vary depending on the severity and location of the disease in the intestines,” said Naftali.
Naftali added that Crohn’s disease is poorly understood.
“The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is still unknown,” she explained. “What is known is that Crohn’s disease is chronic and that it could be the result of an interaction of factors. These include heredity, environmental factors such as bacteria or virus, or an overreaction of the immune system.”
Not a cure
The conventional treatments used to relieve Crohn’s symptoms include antibiotics and corticosteroids.
Naftali cautioned that these treatments can come with “possible side effects which include susceptibility for infection, allergic response, and rarely, autoimmune disease and even lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system).”
Recent research suggests that cannabis oil has a much better safety profile and no serious side effects compared to other drugs used to treat this condition.
None of these treatments (including cannabis oil) is a cure.
However, cannabis oil may be able to improve quality of life for some people with Crohn’s disease.
And a growing numbers of people with Crohn’s are turning to cannabis as a complementary or alternative therapy.
“Patients are using cannabis because it simply makes them feel better,” Naftali said.