Marijuana for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

December 22, 2009

Recent tests show that THC and cannabidiol interact with gut function and could be an effective treatment for ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

"The lining of the intestines provides a barrier against the contents of the gut but in people with Crohn's Disease this barrier leaks and bacteria can escape into the intestinal tissue leading to an inappropriate immune response,” she explained. “If we could find a way to restore barrier integrity in patients we may be able to curb the inflammatory immune response that causes these chronic conditions."

With the belief that genetic susceptibility, along with such things as diet, stress, or bacterial imbalance, lead to a defective immune response in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, Dr. Wright and colleagues from the School of Graduate Entry Medicine and Health, Derby, UK, have shown an important role played in normal gut function by cells that react to cannabinoid compounds, along with an important role in the immune system’s inflammatory response.

"The body produces its own cannabinoid molecules, called endocannabinoids, which we have shown increase the permeability of the epithelium during inflammation, implying that overproduction may be detrimental," said Dr Wright. "However, we were able to reverse this process using plant-derived cannabinoids, which appeared to allow the epithelial cells to form tighter bonds with each other and restore the membrane barrier… What is also encouraging is that while THC has psychoactive properties and is responsible for the 'high' people experience when using cannabis, cannabidiol, which has also proved effective in restoring membrane integrity, does not possess such properties."

Recently performed laboratory tests show that THC and cannabidiol—cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant—interact with the body’s system for controlling gut function and could therefore serve as effective treatments for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, according to Dr. Karen Wright, Peel Trust Lecturer in Biomedicine, Lancaster University, UK, who presented her work at The British Pharmacological Society's Winter Meeting in London.