Updated on January 29, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
There is a growing awareness around alternative treatments for chronic diseases. Many patients are searching for natural remedies as a means of supplementing their current conventional treatments. Others are opting for herbal solutions because they aren’t responding to their prescription medications or they’re experiencing intense side effects from them.
This appears to be particularly concerning among Crohn’s disease patients. Many sufferers are pursuing medical marijuana for Crohn’s disease either as a primary or complementary treatment to this chronic and debilitating condition.
Crohn’s disease is an incurable chronic disease of the intestinal tract. Symptoms include abdominal pain, weight loss, fever, rectal bleeding, skin and eye irritations, and diarrhea. Crohn’s disease is one of two main types of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). The other type is ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease affects the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (GI). Crohn’s disease causes severe pain, and in rare cases, is life-threatening.
Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation throughout various parts of the digestive tract from the mouth to the rectum. While it can affect each patient differently, it most commonly affects the part of the GI tract where the small intestine joins the colon. The inflammation can be so severe that it develops within the deepest layers of the intestinal tissues.
Crohn’s disease is a debilitating and painful disease that can cause fatal complications in some cases. It’s characterized by periods of flare-ups and remission. Flare-ups are periods where inflammation is at its highest and symptoms are most painful. Many patients achieve long periods of remission where they manage inflammation and symptoms. These fluctuations in disease activity can come and go several times throughout a patient’s life.
Crohn’s disease most often develops between the ages of 20 and 40, although children and older adults can also develop it. An estimated 700,000 Americans suffer from Crohn’s disease, though the number is probably much higher due to undiagnosed or misdiagnosed cases. The disease equally affects both men and women.
The timeframe surrounding the earliest known reports of Crohn’s disease is debatable. Crohn’s disease has many general symptoms that can stem from many different possible causes, so it’s difficult to say if ancient reports of bowel inflammation were due to Crohn’s disease.
History shows that the Ancient Greek doctors, including Hippocrates, reported chronic diarrhea in patients around 460-370 BCE. Though it wasn’t termed Crohn’s disease at the time, it’s possible that the cause of chronic diarrhea observed in patients at the time may have been some form of inflammatory bowel disease. Ancient Chinese medicine records also show that healers used traditional Chinese herbal remedies to treat sets of symptoms like gut inflammation, abdominal pain, diarrhea and intestinal infections.
Ulcerative colitis, a related inflammatory bowel disease, was officially discovered before Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis was officially recorded and defined in 1895. Sir Thomas was the first to describe a form of what would later be known as Crohn’s disease. In 1915, he described a condition he called chronic intestinal enteritis, but he died before he could continue to define the disease fully.
In 1932, Burrill Bernard Crohn, Gordon Oppenheimer and Leon Ginzburg were the first doctors to officially discover and name Crohn’s disease. Today, researchers are continuing to discover more about Crohn’s disease to find a cure. Multiple research foundations, including the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, are working to support and fund ongoing research into inflammatory bowel diseases to help treat and prevent severe cases.
Researchers still don’t know exactly what causes Crohn’s disease. Common belief used to be that high-levels of chronic stress or dietary factors triggered it. Today, researchers feel that these are both aggravating factors, but not direct causes. Instead, there is likely a combination of factors that may play a role in developing Crohn’s disease. These factors include:
Doctors have identified certain risk factors associated with developing Crohn’s disease. These risk factors include:
Because Crohn’s disease directly affects digestive health, it can cause many other effects on lifestyle including physical and mental health. It also poses a risk of developing other conditions and diseases.
Here are some of the possible effects of Crohn’s disease:
1. Malnutrition: Malnutrition refers to an inadequate intake of essential vitamins and nutrients in the body. Malnourishment can cause many symptoms like weight loss, loss of muscle mass and poor appetite. Crohn’s disease can lead to malnutrition for many reasons including blood loss in the gut and an inability to absorb nutrients properly due to the digestive system being in a constant state of inflammation.
Crohn’s disease sufferers also experience malnutrition because they choose not to eat in many cases out of fear of triggering intestinal pain and diarrhea. While there’s no evidence to indicate that foods actually cause Crohn’s disease inflammation, certain people may experience aggravated symptoms due to certain types of foods.
2. Fatigue: Around 75% of people with Crohn’s disease report feeling severe fatigue, and there are many reasons why. Crohn’s sends the body into a chronic state of inflammation, which the body is constantly using energy to fight. Crohn’s disease also causes blood loss from stools in certain patients. This can cause an iron deficiency (anemia), which is known to lead to chronic fatigue.
There’s also a vicious circle involved. Crohn’s disease patients are always tired, so they don’t have enough energy to exercise. And because they don’t exercise, they experience low energy levels. Part of managing Crohn’s disease symptoms is understanding these effects and attempting to correct them through lifestyle adjustments.
3. Depression and Anxiety: Depression and anxiety are common conditions to experience within the year following a Crohn’s disease diagnosis. When you look at the symptoms that plague Crohn’s disease patients, it’s no wonder that it can lead to depression and anxiety. Malnutrition, low energy levels and chronic abdominal pain can affect the mental health of many patients.
Additionally, Crohn’s disease can have an impact on a person’s social life. If they find themselves in the middle of a flare-up, it can cause debilitating symptoms, which prevent them from being able to go out and enjoy life.
4. Cancer Risk: Patients with Crohn’s disease are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to the overall population. Patients who have a longstanding history of Crohn’s disease over a 20-year period or more and who were diagnosed at a young age are particularly at risk.
Researchers are continuing to investigate colorectal cancer screening tools to help identify risks in certain Crohn’s disease patients. Experts advise that because of this increased risk, patients with Crohn’s disease may need to undergo colonoscopy screening sooner and more frequently than the general population. The general population is advised to undergo colonoscopy screening every 10 years after the age of 50.
Crohn’s disease, though an inflammatory bowel disease, produces a wide variety of symptoms.
Because Crohn’s disease is believed to be caused by an autoimmune reaction, it can produce other body-wide symptoms or conditions including:
Crohn’s disease symptoms can range from mild to severe. Severe cases include extreme levels of weight loss and malnutrition, persistent vomiting and chronically high fever. Some people may experience different periods of different symptoms. Some flare-ups may bring about worse symptoms. Crohn’s disease is commonly associated with other conditions such as liver disease, arthritis and osteoporosis.
Since there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, the goals of treatment are to ease the symptoms, control inflammation and improve the patient’s nutrition.
Many of these medications cause additional side effects for patients to deal with.
Because of these difficult side effects, many patients prefer medical marijuana for Crohn’s disease as an alternative medicine.
Cannabis has many known health benefits that can help treat Crohn’s disease symptoms. Cannabis contains over 60 different compounds, many of which have properties that can be applied in a medicinal capacity. Two of the known compounds that provide health benefits are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive compound found in cannabis that is responsible for delivering mind-altering effects. CBD is responsible for other health benefits like anxiety, pain and nausea relief.
Some of the cannabis health benefits that address Crohn’s disease effects and symptoms include:
Researchers continue to examine the connection between cannabis and Crohn’s disease treatment. Numerous studies indicate cannabis is an effective way to alleviate the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Here are three separate studies that have yielded encouraging results for Crohn’s disease patients seeking alternative therapies:
1. Cannabis Alleviates Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease: O’Shaughnessy’s, a scientific journal, published a 2005 study, “Cannabis Alleviates Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease,” that reported that patients saw significant improvements with the use of cannabis. The study examined 12 questionnaires completed by Crohn’s disease patients. The participants were asked about their experience using cannabis on an ad-lib basis (at their own leisure). They described improvements or changes to their signs and symptoms by rating them on a scale from zero to ten. For each sign or symptoms evaluated, the patients described marked improvements in appetite, pain, nausea, vomiting, depression, fatigue and activity levels.
2. Cannabis as a Treatment for Chronic Colonic Inflammation: In 2004, the Journal of Clinical Investigation published a study titled “The Endogenous Cannabinoid System Protects Against Colonic Inflammation.” It reported that medical marijuana is a powerful anti-inflammatory that “represents a promising therapeutic target for the treatment of intestinal disease conditions characterized by excessive inflammatory responses.”
3. Cannabis Improves Disease Activity: In 2011, the Israel Medical Association Journal published a study conducted at the Meir Hospital and Kupat Holim Clinic. The study, “Treatment of Crohn’s Disease with Cannabis: An Observational Study,” examined 30 Crohn’s disease patients who consumed cannabis. All patients stated that they felt as though consuming cannabis decreased their disease activity. Twenty-one of the patients showed significant improvement in disease activity, including a reduction in symptoms and signs such as lowered frequency of bowel movements.
The study’s authors had several proposed explanations for the improvement, including the anti-inflammatory benefits of cannabinoids as well as the general sense of well-being that consuming cannabis provides.
In another study conducted in 2013, subjects that were treated with medicinal cannabis found that their Crohn’s symptoms went into remission and even reported increased appetite compared to patients taking a placebo.
Studies have shown that the Cannabis sativa plant offers great benefits for Crohn’s disease patients. Cannabis sativa is a strain of cannabis that has a high concentration of THC. Some of the recommended Cannabis sativa products for alleviating Crohn’s disease symptoms include:
Crohn’s disease patients can choose the best strain depending on which symptoms they most want to control.
Many states have approved the legal use of medical cannabis for Crohn’s disease as a pain management treatment. However, at this time there is not enough research to support a recommended protocol for cannabis use. Many of the studies for cannabis use didn’t specify a control in how the cannabis was used to treat Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease patients have a few options for using cannabis. These options include:
All medical treatments, whether natural or chemical, come with possible side effects. The same goes for marijuana and Crohn’s disease.
Most of the time, though, medical marijuana side effects are temporary, non-life-threatening or serious, and go away on their own after some time.
Medical marijuana is an affordable, effective and natural alternative medication that has helped thousands of Crohn’s disease patients. If you or someone you love is suffering from Crohn’s disease and would like to find out if medical marijuana is the right treatment, book an appointment with a local, qualified physician through MarijuanaDoctors.com today. Or sign up for our newsletter. Let us help improve your quality of life!