Updated on March 27, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a broad term that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both are characterized by long-term inflammation and damage to the GI tract—often resulting in symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, undesired weight loss, and fatigue.
Extensive research on medical marijuana and IBD is lacking. However, medical marijuana’s anti-inflammatory properties may indicate potential help for the chronic inflammation associated with IBD as well as a number of other symptoms like pain, nausea, and appetite loss. Some patients with IBD self-administer non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) as well as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in various forms (i.e. pills, oils, vapes, etc.) and ratios.
A recent study looked at the use of cannabis oil by adolescents and young adults with IBD in order to gather initial data on its safety and potential benefits. In the study, based at the Children’s Hospital Colorado, fifteen patients between 13 and 23 years old who already used cannabis oil for self-reported medicinal purposes were tracked over a six-month period.
During the course of the study, subjects reported reduced nausea, increased appetite, and better sleep quality without the presence of side effects. However, researchers didn’t find large differences between the marijuana-using group and the control group in terms of symptom improvement over the six months of the study; that could be, in part, because the study was designed to observe patients’ self-administration of cannabis oil and therefore did not use a standardized product, dose, or schedule.
Because most participants who used cannabis oil for symptom relief believed it to be beneficial, it’s possible that standardized marijuana-based therapies for youth with IBD may be accepted as a potential treatment by this group in the future. The study showed that a percentage of adolescents and young adults with IBD already use some form of cannabis in an effort to treat symptoms; this highlights the need for more research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis-based treatment for this group.