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Medical Marijuana and Ulcerative Colitis

marijuana for ulcerative colitis

If you or someone close to you have received an ulcerative colitis diagnosis, you probably want to learn as much as you can about it. You’ll be better prepared to manage symptoms and lead a fuller, more comfortable life by having a good understanding of the condition, including your treatment options.

To alleviate your symptoms and to gain control over this condition, you can try various conventional treatments. You may also consider trying medical marijuana. Below, we focus on how using cannabis for ulcerative colitis can improve your quality of life. We also look at the symptoms, history and range of other treatments for ulcerative colitis.

What Is Ulcerative Colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is also known as UC. It’s one of a group of conditions known as inflammatory bowel diseases. Other illnesses of this type include Crohn’s disease (CD).

Although it was once believed that UC and CD were two distinctly different illnesses, up to 10 percent of patients could have symptoms of both these diseases. Medical experts term having symptoms of both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease as indeterminate colitis.

uc and cd

Inflammation of the lining of the rectum and colon represents hallmark characterization of ulcerative colitis. When your large intestine becomes irritated, it can also become inflamed, leading to symptoms of UC. Although ulcerative colitis always affects the rectum — the lowest area of the large intestine — in some people, it can also impact the entire colon.

Ulcerative colitis results from your immune system responding abnormally. Usually, the proteins and cells that comprise your immune system protect your body from infection. However, when you have ulcerative colitis, your immune system mistakes bacteria, food and anything else in your intestine as an invading substance. Consequently, your body sends white blood cells into your intestinal lining, producing ulcerations and chronic inflammation.

History of Ulcerative Colitis

History doesn’t reveal who first described UC. Physicians, like Soranus (A.D. 117) and Aretaeus (A.D. 300), mentioned various types of non-contagious diarrhea in Roman literature. In 1745, Prince Charles, the Young Pretender, had UC and cured himself of the condition by adopting a dairy-free diet.

In 1859, the condition was first referred to by that name by Sir Samuel Wilks. Years later, the Surgeon General of the Union Army also called the disease “ulcerative colitis.” By 1909, London hospitals collated 300 cases of UC. In 1965, Evans and Acheson suggested that the disease affects around one in 1,000 of the general population.

Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis

Fifty percent of people with ulcerative colitis experience mild UC symptoms. The symptoms of UC include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloody stools
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Loose and urgent bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Potential weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy
uc symptoms

Symptoms tend to come and go when you have ulcerative colitis — there can be extended periods of time between flare-ups. You might not feel any discomfort at all during these times. Periods of remission can potentially last for months or even years. Unfortunately, your symptoms may return. Due to these factors, physicians may have a difficult challenge evaluating an effective course of treatment.

Ulcerative Colitis Statistics

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America:

  • The total number of new cases of UC diagnosed annually is 12.2 per 100,000 people. That adds up to around 38,000 new diagnoses each year.
  • 907,000 U.S. citizens currently have ulcerative colitis.
  • Ulcerative colitis affects males more than females.
  • Men are at an increased likelihood than women of being diagnosed in their 50s and 60s.
  • The highest incidences of UC are in the U.S., Iceland and Denmark.
uc stats

Current Treatments Available for Ulcerative Colitis and Their Side Effects

There are three primary goals of medical treatment for ulcerative colitis:

  1. Manage symptoms
  2. Induce a remission
  3. Prevent a future flare up

Let’s look at some of the conventional methods of treatment you may encounter.

Medications

There are four primary drug categories for UC:

  • Steroids. Steroids come in oral, IV and rectal forms and can effectively curtail your symptoms. Unfortunately, steroidal medications can have severe side effects, including osteoporosis, cataracts, increased susceptibility to infections, elevated blood pressure, weight gain and more. For this reason, steroids make a poor choice for long-term use. 
  • Aminosalicylates. This group of anti-inflammatories comes in oral and rectal forms. These eliminate inflammation in your colon lining. Although they’re usually well tolerated by most people, aminosalicylates can cause rashes and nausea.
  • Immunomodulators. You take immunomodulators in pill form, and they take time to work. It may take as many as two or three months before they reach their peak effectiveness. Because of this, you’ll find that physicians may combine immunomodulators with another treatment. You’ll need to get frequent blood tests when on this medication. Immunomodulators can cause liver abnormalities, low white blood cell counts, liver and bone marrow toxicity, rash, nausea, pancreatitis and rarely, lymphoma.
  • Biologic agents. Delivered by injection, biologic agents work against moderate or severe ulcerative colitis. These medications can lower your immunity.

Surgery

If you haven’t responded well to medications or you’ve experienced upsetting side effects of those medicines, your physician may recommend removing your large intestine. As with all surgery, potential complications exist, which include post-operative inflammation and the decreased ability to get pregnant naturally.

If you’re concerned about conventional medications or surgery for UC, medical cannabis for ulcerative colitis might help you.

Lifestyle Changes

Changes in your diet may help you manage your ulcerative colitis symptoms. Because some foods may make your symptoms worse or cause a flare up, you can use a food diary to track what you’re eating and corresponding symptoms. You may discover that a particular food is causing your UC to flare. Some food alterations that may help include:

  • Limiting fiber. Some high-fiber foods, like whole grains, vegetables and raw fruits may trigger your UC symptoms. Foods in the cabbage family, like cauliflower, broccoli, and of course cabbage may aggravate your condition.
  • Limiting dairy products. Eliminating dairy products may help improve symptoms of gas, abdominal pain and diarrhea. You can try to switch to lactose-free dairy products.
  • Avoiding other problematic foods and beverages. You may find that caffeine, alcohol or spicy foods also cause your symptoms to flare.

Exercising, managing stress, eating smaller meals regularly and drinking plenty of water can help as well.

Effects of Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis can make you feel exhausted. You may end up canceling activities you enjoy due to pain and fatigue, or because you’re afraid you won’t make it to a bathroom. You could begin to feel depressed, especially amid a flare-up.

The good news is that you don’t need to put up with your symptoms. Medical cannabis can offer you a lifeline.

How Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis can be a life-altering and painful condition. You may go through life wondering when and how your condition will flare up and how badly you’ll feel. Conventional treatments often come with a broad range of harmful side effects, as you’ve read above. By using marijuana for ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, you can treat your symptoms effectively with much less dangerous side effects.

In 2012, The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America released a statement that pointed to compounds in marijuana closely mimicking the endocannabinoids that naturally occur in the human body. These compounds play a crucial part in decreasing gastrointestinal inflammation.

uc treatment

A study from 2011 discovered 51 percent of ulcerative colitis patients use cannabis to treat their symptoms and have no side effects. There’s also evidence to suggest THC found in medical pot could play a part in reducing the permeability of the epithelial lining, decreasing inflammation and reducing damage.

Medical pot can treat the inflammation, lack of appetite, general pain and exhaustion reported by people with ulcerative colitis.

Types of Marijuana Strains

Using medical marijuana for ulcerative colitis could significantly alleviate your symptoms. To qualify for a medical marijuana card, ulcerative colitis must be on your state’s list of qualifying medical marijuana conditions.

Once you have your card, you can visit dispensaries and purchase the products that suit your ulcerative colitis symptom needs. Because a variety of strains exist, speak with an experienced budtender or your marijuana doctor to find ones that will suit you best.

We’ve put together a quick guide to help you get started. Let’s look at Indica, sativa and hybrid strains and their medicinal uses.

Indica Strains

Indica strains have a sedating effect — you’ll feel a whole-body sensation. These are therefore appropriate for treating symptoms like:

  • Chronic pain
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle spasms
  • Rheumatic and arthritic swelling and stiffness
  • Anxiety

Sativa Strains

Sativa strains make you feel physically and mentally energetic, as well as clear-headed. Symptoms best treated with sativa strains include:

  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Chronic pain
  • Appetite stimulation
  • Headaches

Indica/Sativa Hybrid Strains

Hybrid strains have the characteristics of both indica and sativa. For example, adding sativa to an indica strain produces mental clarity and decreases sedative effects. Combining indica with a sativa strain should lower the potential of a pure sativa making you feel anxious.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Ulcerative Colitis

There’s a lot to learn about the subject of which strain works best for your ulcerative colitis symptoms. We’ve compiled this list to get you started.

Inflammation and Pain

Inflammation and pain go hand-in-hand regarding treatment options. Cannabis has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Taking any of the following three strains can alleviate your symptoms:

  • Cannatonic. As a therapeutic hybrid, the Cannatonic strain helps to relieve pain and inflammation. You can expect a mellow and smooth effect from this strain. You can take this with no adverse effects before going out to work or meeting up with friends.
  • Harlequin. Harlequin is a sativa-dominant hybrid. Suitable for daytime use, the Harlequin strain provides no psychoactive, paranoid or anxious effects. Because Harlequin contains neuroprotective compounds and antioxidants, you can find relief from pain and inflammation when you take this strain. You’ll experience a painless, uplifting and mellow high.
  • Afghan Kush. Afghan Kush is almost 100% indica. Expect to become couch-locked and experience a numbing of your body pain when you take this strain. Afghan Kush contains anti-inflammatory terpenes. You should use this strain at night.

Lack of appetite

When you have ulcerative colitis, you need adequate nutrition. Try these strains if you’ve lost your appetite or find eating is painful:

  • Candyland. This hybrid strain has the qualities of a pure sativa. You’ll feel energized, hungry and wakeful for several hours after taking this strain.
  • Girl Scout Cookies. A hybrid strain that provides full body relaxation and pain relief, the Girl Scout Cookies strain can kick-start your appetite. Make sure you have lots of tasty, healthy treats on hand before trying this strain.
  • Orange Kush. This indica that treats headaches, chronic pain and stress — it will also give you “the munchies.”

Tiredness

You may frequently feel tired when you have ulcerative colitis. Try the following three strains to combat this:

  • Laughing Buddha. A sativa-dominant hybrid, Laughing Buddha gives you lots of energy to get through your day. Because new consumers may feel a little anxious when they first take the strain, you should have experience with taking marijuana before using the Laughing Buddha strain.
  • Tangie. If you love the smell and taste of tangerines, you’ll love this great-tasting sativa-dominant hybrid. You feel energized and creative when you take this tangerine-smelling and tasting strain.
  • Ghost Train Haze. A strong sativa, this strain soothes away your worries and stress. You may experience laughing fits when you try Ghost Train Haze.

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms

Now you know how medical pot can help you, let’s look at the methods of marijuana treatment so you can decide which to use to treat your ulcerative colitis symptoms:

  • Smoking. Smoking pot gives you instant relief and is inexpensive. However, smoke could harm your lungs, and you’ll smell of cannabis.
  • Vaping. Vaping provides fast relief, doesn’t make you smell as much as smoking and isn’t as harsh on your lungs as smoking a joint.
  • Juices. You can blend raw, fresh cannabis leaves with some healthy juice. Drinking juice is a good option if you have little appetite.
  • Sprays. Cannabis sprays come in a variety of mild flavors.
  • Tinctures. These are alcohol-based extracts that you add to your food and drinks.
  • Suppositories. Dispensaries also sell medical pot in suppository form. You can purchase suppository-making kits in health food stores, or you can buy them online.
  • Edibles. You can buy or make your own edibles. You can also buy cannabis-infused lollipops and lozenges that are perfect if you’ve no appetite.

The medical community has woken up to the benefits of medical pot in recent years. It no longer has the stigma it once had, and for a good reason. If you or someone you love are seeking a way to naturally and gently relieve your UC symptoms, search for a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary today to find out more about cannabis and ulcerative colitis.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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