Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It affects any part of the gastrointestinal tract with symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, skin rushes or fever. The causes of the disease are not well known, but genetics and environment play an important role on it. The anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids could help to treat Crohn's Disease or any of its symptoms, but more research is needed in this field.
Apart from THC, (relatively) non-psychotropic cannabinoids such as THCV, CBD and CBG were found to have anti-inflammatory effects in experimental intestinal inflammation (Alhouayek and Muccioli, 2012).
Polymorphisms (small, single nucleotide mutations) in the CB1 gene/receptor are linked to the susceptibility to develop Crohn’s Disease, suggesting the involvement of the endocannabinoid system in Crohn’s Disease (Storr et al., 2010).
Many Crohn’s Disease patients self-administer cannabis suggesting a role for cannabinoids in the treatment of Crohn’s or in the alleviation of its symptoms. Although many patients reported symptomatic improvement of abdominal pain (83.9%), abdominal cramping (76.8%), joint pain (48.2%) and diarrhea (28.6%), cannabis use was also associated with increased hospitalization (Storr et al., 2014). This could be explained as cannabis (or the vehicle it comes in, like tobacco) being harmful in Crohn’s. Alternatively, patients with more severe Crohn’s Disease may be sooner inclined to use cannabis to alleviate the symptoms.
TRP receptors (TRPV1-4, TRPA1, TRPM8) are classically known for their role in pain sensation but may also be involved in inflammation. TRPs bind to most plant cannabinoids and endocannabinoids with varying affinities (De Petrocellis et al., 2011, 2012), tentatively making TRPs excellent targets and plant cannabinoids excellent substrates for pain and inflammation management. More research is required to test the full therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in Crohn’s Disease.
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In one clinical trial, smoked cannabis suppressed the symptoms of Crohn’s disease in patients that were unresponsive to conventional medication. Full remission was achieved in 45% of patients compared to 10% for placebo (Naftali et al., 2013).
In a 13-patient trial, inhaled cannabis increased weight, the perception of general health and the abilities to perform daily tasks (Lahat et al., 2012).
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, 1–8.
Naftali, T., Bar-Lev Schleider, L., Dotan, I., Lansky, E.P., Sklerovsky Benjaminov, F., and Konikoff, F.M. (2013). Cannabis induces a clinical response in patients with Crohn’s disease: a prospective placebo-controlled study. Clin. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. Off. Clin. Pract. J. Am. Gastroenterol. Assoc. 11, 1276–1280.e1.