Here’s what the science says about what cannabis can (and can’t do) for Crohn’s disease. Plus, we’re breaking down tried-and-true options if weed isn’t your thing.
Can cannabis ease Crohn’s disease symptoms?
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. There’s not enough evidence whether certain forms of cannabis might improve symptoms like:
- decreased appetite
- abdominal pain or cramping
Some peeps also claim cannabis can reduce inflammation. But there currently isn’t any solid science that can prove this.
There’s not a lot of research that shows cannabis can actually improve Crohn’s symptoms. But here’s what we do know.
Probably won’t reduce inflammation
Cannabis plants contain phytocannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is a psychoactive substance while CBD may have some anti-inflammatory properties. Since Crohn’s is a type of IBD, the theory is that these properties might help ease symptoms. But that’s a big might.
In a 2017 study, 20 participants received either 10 milligrams (mg) of oral CBD or a placebo. After 8 weeks, researchers found that CBD was safe to take but had no beneficial effects. It didn’t improve inflammation in any of the participants.
One review analyzed the results of three small placebo studies that examined the use of cannabis in active Crohn’s disease. Two of the studies found that participants had a significant clinical improvement. But there were no major changes in inflammation. The researchers noted that cannabis might have the potential to treat some IBD symptoms, but there’s not enough proof right now.
Also, we need more studies to show how isolated CBD can improve Crohn’s symptoms compared to other phytocannabinoids.
Might improve quality of life
A 2021 double-blind study assessed the effects of cannabis on folks with Crohn’s disease. In the study, 30 participants received cannabis oil and 26 took a placebo for 8 weeks. The oil contained 160 mg/ml of CBD and 40 mg/ml of THC.
The simple endoscopic score for Crohn’s disease [SES-CD] and the Crohn’s Disease Activity Index (CDAI) was analyzed before and after the treatment. These scores help assess the size of ulcers and quantify symptoms. A subgroup of participants also submitted blood samples to test for CBD and THC plasma levels.
At the end of the 8 weeks, researchers found that the folks who had the cannabis treatment had an improved quality of life. But they didn’t find major changes in endoscopic scores or inflammation.
FYI: The researchers noted that treating Crohn’s with cannabis should only be done in a clinical setting until more studies are available.
More research is needed about its affect on remission
During a small 2013 placebo study, 21 patients with active Crohn’s disease were divided into two groups. Each participant had previously tried other treatments to manage their symptoms, but nothing worked. They had 11 people smoke a cigarette that contained 115 mg of THC twice a day and the other 9 participants smoked a THC-free placebo cigarette twice a day.
At the end of the 8-week study, researchers tried to figure out of the THC cigs helped improve Crohn’s symptoms compared to the placebo. Of the THC group, five went into remission — but so did one person from the placebo group. So it’s impossible to say if the THC was the real reason why participants had improvements.
Also, this study is too small to prove the perks of cannabis to treat IBD. The researchers noted that larger patient groups and nonsmoking trials are needed.
You should only try weed as a Crohn’s treatment if you’re under a doctor’s care. It can cause side effects like:
- bad mood
- impaired short-term memory
- impaired coordination
- difficulty concentrating
- altered judgment
Pregnancy PSA: You shouldn’t use cannabis if you’re preggo. It could cause premature birth, stillbirth, and fetal growth restriction, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). You should also refuse reefer if you’re nursing since THC can be present in breast milk.
If cannabis doesn’t curb your Crohn’s, you’re still in luck. There are lots of ways you can manage symptoms.
- Diet. Finding the right diet for your unique Crohn’s sitch might take some trial and error. But in general, it’s best to avoid hard-to-digest fibers, lactose, fried foods, saturated fats, sugars, booze, caffeine, and super spicy food. Instead, fill up on low fiber fruits, lean proteins, fully cooked veggies, and refined grains (e.g. oatmeal, gluten-free bread, or white pasta).
- Biologics. Your doc might prescribed biologics if other meds haven’t worked. They help neutralize proteins that trigger inflammation in the body.
- Corticosteroids. One of the most common meds to treat Crohn’s are corticosteroids like hydrocortisone, budesonide, methylprednisolone, or prednisone. They work by calming the body’s immune reaction.
- Try not to smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for gastrointestinal (GI) disorders including Crohn’s.
- Immunomodulators. These meds reduce the production of chemicals that cause inflammation.
There are tons of cannabis products on the market, so finding the right type and dosage for you can be super overwhelming. But fear not, fam. Here are some tips on how to find the perfect product if you’re interested in giving it a try.
It’s tough to determine an exact dose of cannabis if you’re looking to address IBD-related symptoms, according to a 2021 study. A lot of it depends on the concentration of THC or CBD, the severity of your symptoms, and how you react to it. That’s why it’s best to talk with your doctor first. They can help you figure it out.
You can smoke, vape, or ingest cannabis. It all comes down to your personal preferences. (Just keep in mind that smoking products containing tobacco is a major risk factor.) You can also get varieties that don’t contain THC if you want to stick to CBD solo.
Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.
A lot of cannabis products miscalculate cannabinoid potency or don’t report all of the cannabinoids present in a product, according to a 2017 study. That’s why it’s uber important you opt for high quality brands that have been third-party tested. Look for a certificate of analysis (COA), which is a verified document that has the deets on lab testing, potency, and ingredients.
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. It’s not clear whether cannabis can help improve symptoms like nausea, decreased appetite, cramping, or discomfort. We also need more research to show it can reduce inflammation or ease symptoms in the long run.
If you think cannabis might be right for you, talk with your doctor. They can go over the dosing deets and recommend the type that would be best for you. Just keep in mind, THC isn’t legal in all 50 states and it’s not legal at the federal level. Make sure you understand what products you’re using and follow the laws in your area.
If weed isn’t your vibe, there are lots of Crohn’s treatments you can try. Your doctor can prescribe a medication to ease inflammation and discomfort. You can also try to improve your symptoms by sticking to a healthy IBD-friendly diet and avoiding cigarettes, booze, and caffeine.