Marijuana Compounds May Help Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Compounds found in cannabis (marijuana) may help relieve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. The two compounds, cannabinoids THC and cannabidiol, have an impact on the body system that controls the function of the intestinal tract.
Inflammatory bowel diseases include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which together affect more than 1 million people in the United States. Although these diseases are related and both involve chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract, along with abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, and fever, they are not the same. One main difference is that ulcerative colitis can be cured with surgery, but Crohn’s disease cannot.
Inflammatory bowel disease most often develops in people between the ages of 10 and 30, although a smaller peak has been seen in people ages 50 to 60. The cause is unknown, although experts believe both genetic and environmental factors are involved. More specifically, it is proposed that a genetic susceptibility is triggered by factors such as stress, diet, or bacteria, which then leads to a dysfunctional immune response and inflammation.
Treatment of inflammatory bowel disease involves symptom relief. In this new study, the results of which were presented at The British Pharmacological Society’s winter meeting in London, researchers noted that the body produces its own cannabinoid molecules, which are called endocannabinoids. These molecules increase the permeability of the protective lining of the intestines during inflammation, which allows bacteria to escape into the intestinal tract. This suggests that overproduction of these molecules is harmful to the gut.
The researchers also found, however, that they could reverse this process when they introduced cannabinoids derived from marijuana. These plant-extracted compounds “appeared to allow the epithelial cells to form tighter bond with each other and restore the membrane barrier,” noted Dr. Karen Wright, the study’s lead author and the Peel Trust Lecturer in Biomedicine at Lancaster University.
So far the research on the marijuana compounds against inflammatory bowel disease has been limited to cell cultures, but the investigators are encouraged by the results thus far. Dr. Wright also noted that “while THC has psychoactive properties,” cannabidiol does not, and it has proven to be effective in restoring membrane integrity in their research on inflammatory bowel disease.
American College of Gastroenterology
Lancaster University news release