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Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease prevalent among adolescents and young adults that causes the lining of the digestive track to become inflamed. Studies have shown marijuana is effective at decreasing digestive track inflammation and in some cases can help patients achieve long-term remission.
Overview of Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes the lining of the digestive track to become inflamed. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of American reports that the disease may affect as many as 700,000 Americans, causing them abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, severe diarrhea, fever, weight loss, fatigue and malnutrition. The pain can be so intense it becomes debilitating and in some cases the disease can prove to be life-threatening.
According to Mayo Clinic, the most common area of the digestive track that is affected by Crohn’s disease is at the end of the small bowel (the ileum) and the beginning of the colon. However, the disease can affect any part of the digestive track and will often spread deep into the layers of bowel tissue.
Heredity and abnormal behavior by the immune system are likely what cause Crohn’s disease. Those who have family members with the disease are more common to acquire it themselves. When the immune system responds to fight off a virus, bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, at times it can respond abnormally and also attack the harmless cells in the digestive track, which in turn leads to inflammation.
There is no confirmed cure for Crohn’s disease, but certain treatment can significantly reduce its symptoms and even bring about remission. Treatment efforts primarily include anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as antibiotics, anti-diarrhea and pain relief medications to help curtail the disease’s associated symptoms. In some cases, the use of a feeding tube to allow the digestive track to rest and decrease inflammation, or surgery to remove the damaged portion of the digestive track, can be required.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Crohn’s Disease
Cannabis has been determined to effectively combat the symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease. Cannabinods provide anti-inflammatory effects and therefore offer a reduction in pain sensation, nausea relief and reduce the feeling of unpleasantness (Schicho & Storr, 2014). One study, in which inflammatory bowel disease patients were treated with cannabis for three months, saw improvements in the patients’ general health perception, social functioning, ability to work, physical pain and depression. In addition, they saw increases in body weight and BMI (Lahat, Lang & Ben-Horin, 2012). In another study, patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease reported that marijuana was “very helpful” in relieving their abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea (Ravikoff, et al., 2013). Cannabis has also been found to improve appetite and sleep in Crohn’s disease patients (Naftali, et al., 2013). In what is likely due to cannabis’ ability to improve symptom’s associated with Crohn’s disease, medical cannabis has also been associated with a reduced need of other medications in patients with Crohn’s disease (Naftali, et al., 2013).
Research also suggests that cannabis may be effective at helping Crohn’s disease reach long-term remission. Medical cannabis use has been determined to be associated with an improvement in disease activity (Naftali, Mechulam, Lev & Konikoff, 2014). In one study, cannabis rich in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) produced significant benefits to 10 or 11 patients with active Crohn’s disease, without side effects, and 5 of those 11 subjects achieved complete remission (Naftali, et al., 2013).
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Crohn’s Disease
Currently, 17 states have approved medical marijuana to be used to treat Crohn’s disease. These states include: Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York (inflammatory bowel disease), Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington.
A number of other states will allow medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of Crohn’s Disease, but require an approval or a recommendation by a physician. These states include: California (any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended by a physician), Nevada (other conditions subject to approval), and Oregon (other conditions subject to approval).
In Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.
Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease. (2014, August 13). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/crohns-disease/basics/definition/con-20032061.
Lahat, A., Lang, A. and Ben-Horin, S. (2012). Impact of cannabis treatment on the quality of life, weight and clinical disease activity in inflammatory bowel disease patients: a pilot prospective study. Digestion, 85(1), 1-8.
Naftali, T., Bar-Lev Schleider, L., Dotan, I., Lansky, EP., Sklerovsky Benjaminov, F. and Konikoff, FM. (2013, October). Cannabis induces a clinical response in patients with Crohn’s disease: a prospective placebo-controlled study. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 11(10), 1276-1280.
Naftali, T., Mechulam, R., Lev, LB, and Konikoff, FM. (2014). Cannabis for inflammatory bowel disease. Digestive Diseases, 32(4), 468-74.
Ravikoff Allegretti, J., Courtwright, A., Lucci, M., Korzenik, JR. and Levine, J. (2013, December). Marijuana use patterns among patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases,19(13), 2809-14.
Schicho, R. and Storr, M. (2014). Cannabis finds its way into treatment of Crohn’s disease. Pharmacology, 93(1-2), 1-3.
What Are Crohn’s & Colitis? (n.d.). Crohn’s & Colitis. Retrieved from http://www.ccfa.org/what-are-crohns-and-colitis/what-is-crohns-disease/.