Article by Brendan Bures, The Fresh Toast
A primary reason that many patients turn to medicinal cannabis is to treat chronic pain. In fact, a 2019 study published in the journal Health Affairs found that more than 62 per cent of medical marijuana patients were using the plant to relieve pain symptoms.
Those with chronic gut issues also experience intense pain, and reports are that patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, have begun using medicinal cannabis to treat their symptoms. Though cannabis provides therapeutic value for these people, its primary benefit doesn’t really seem to have to do with pain.
Until fairly recently, it wasn’t clear exactly why cannabis was so effective in treating chronic gut problems. But a 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation was able to show the physical manner in which cannabis attacks IBD. Researchers weren’t initially looking for weed’s effect on the microbiome, but rather stumbled upon the answer.
What they found was that the cannabis was treating inflammation. Previous studies have shown how cannabis is a useful anti-inflammatory, but it works somewhat differently with IBD.
A thin layer of cells, called epithelial cells, separates the gut from the rest of the body and the cells are responsible for regulating different mechanisms, like controlling how many neutrophils enter. Neutrophils are a kind of white blood cell that traverses the gut and consumes microbes. When too many neutrophils slip inside and kill peaceful microbes and the gut itself, it causes IBD in patients.
But researchers discovered that epithelial cells aren’t the only the gateway that controls what gets in the gut.
As Beth McCormick, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts, and others discovered, the endocannabinoid system also contributes. Think of the endocannabinoid system acting as a regulatory system for the gut. Not everyone produces enough cannabinoids to assist in it functioning properly, which helps explain why ingesting cannabinoids through cannabis has proven effective for patients.