Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects more than half a million Americans. The causes of Crohn’s are not fully understood, but the effect is to send body’s immune system into hyperdrive so that it mistakes the microorganisms that naturally, and peaceably, populate our guts for ravaging invaders. The chronic inflammation produced by this immunological false alarm can lead to painful thickening and ulceration of the intestines. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, “urgent need,” and—not surprisingly—fatigue.
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There is no cure for Crohn’s. One common treatment, however, is corticosteroids, but they present a smorgasbord of side effects, from minor (hair loss) to potentially life threatening (lowered immune response, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar level). So Crohn’s sufferers can face a Sophie’s choice between rectal bleeding and adult-onset diabetes.
There Is Growing Evidence That Marijuana Offers A Better Alternative:
- IBD patients who smoke pot report an improved quality of life: A 2011 survey found that a “significant number” of IBD patients already use marijuana to treat their symptoms and that a majority of them find it “very helpful.” These results were echoed in a pilot study from 2012, which listed benefits including lower levels of pain and depression and an increased sense of overall health.
- Science is beginning to side with the smokers: In a first-of-its-kind placebo-controlled study to test the effects of cannabis on Crohn’s disease, published in 2013, ninety percent of smokers experienced “a clinical response.” Forty percent achieved full remission. Smokers also reported “significant increase in quality of life,” including better sleep and appetite.
- Cannabis provides all the benefit and little downside: The same 2013 study reported no unpleasant side effects. In fact, the marijuana even helped wean three subjects from steroid dependency.
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- Cannabis doesn’t mask Crohn’s symptoms; it treats them: There are lots of cannabis receptors in the brain (which accounts for marijuana’s effect on mood), but the gut is also dense with receptors that have been well attested to produce an anti-inflammatory effect. The effect, however, is not permanent: It wears off about two weeks after ceasing cannabis intake.
- Legal restrictions are preventing people from finding help: One quarter of people with IBD have never used marijuana, but they would try it medicinally if it were legal.