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Using Cannabis to Treat Crohn’s Disease – Does it Really Work?

crohn's cannabis
Written by Alexandra Hicks

Over the last few years, people have been using cannabis to treat a myriad of diseases, including Crohn’s Disease; but what does science have to say about this?

There are numerous articles going so far as to claim cannabis can actually cure patients who are suffering from Crohn’s Disease. Cannabis and Crohn’s Disease have even appeared together in the mainstream media when a Kansas mother was arrested a few years prior for using the plant for this condition.

It seems like the evidence – anecdotal at least – is promising, but unfortunately the research isn’t so cut and dry. Let’s take a look at what scientists have discovered so far.

What is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s Disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation of the bowels. Because it impacts the digestive tract, Crohn’s can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and/or nausea, anemia, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Severity varies from uncomfortable to life-threatening. In some cases, portions of the colon might be lost and the patient may need a colostomy bag.

There is no cure for Crohn’s Disease but for some people, the symptoms can be manageable. Patients will need regular screening for colorectal cancer due to increased risk and some will require surgery. However, for the bulk of people suffering from Crohn’s Disease, steroid and immunosuppressant drugs are the go-to treatment option.

These drugs aren’t without their negative side, however. Side effects include: Blurred vision, cataracts or glaucoma, easy bruising, difficulty sleeping, high blood pressure, and increased susceptibility to infection.

To mitigate these side effects, many people are turning back to nature and self-medicating with cannabis.

Cannabis and Crohn’s Disease: The Science

A 2018 study conducted by the University of Western Ontario looked at whether or not cannabinoids were capable of inducing and maintaining remission for Crohn’s. Researchers came back with inconclusive results.

A Maine-based physician believes in the treatment, however, and he uses it regularly at his own practice. “We’ve treated maybe 400 people with inflammatory bowel disease, [and] we’ve seen a whole range,” says Dr. Sulak in an interview with Leafly.

“We’ve seen people who are on biologic drugs that have been able to achieve better control when adding cannabis, and then over time get off those drugs and retain their remission. We see people who just don’t tolerate those drugs because they have a lot of side effects and they come here for alternatives, and cannabis works well. And [for some], cannabis doesn’t work.”

“There’s no single approach that can specifically address the symptoms,” he continued. “For example, low dose of CBD isn’t likely to help a chronic patient, whereas THCA is an important cannabinoid that should be included in treatment.”

What is THCA?

THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) is the precursor compound to the most dominant cannabinoid in cannabis plants, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Contrary to popular belief, THC isn’t found in fresh buds; it’s actually THCA until heat is applied, then the THCA loose it’s carboxyl acid group and becomes THC. This process is known as decarboxylation.

So when you buy buds from a dispensary and you see “THC content” on the label, that’s technically inaccurate. It’s listed this way because the cannabis buds must be heated or altered in some way to be consumed, so the consumer will feel the effects of THC. However, when it’s sitting in that jar on the dispensary shelf, it’s still full of THCA.

Looking Forward

There is currently a clinical trial in the works that will assess the effects of cannabis on 500-1,000 patients with Crohn’s Disease. The study will take place at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel. This will be led by Dr. Jeffrey Hergenrather, a medical cannabis physician from California.

Aside from that, patients are relying on anecdotal evidence and (hopefully) candid conversations with their healthcare providers to learn more about using cannabis to treat their Crohn’s Disease.

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.