Woman clutches her stomach to portray stomach pain.

What are inflammatory bowel diseases?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the term used for a family of inflammatory diseases that affect the digestive tract. The two most common diseases in this group are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Although these two diseases have some differences, they share many of the same symptoms. Both cause chronic inflammation in the digestive tract, which can lead to some serious side effects. People living with an IBD may experience diarrhea, stomachaches, tiredness, weight loss, bloody stools and more. The cause of both is unknown, and there is currently no cure for either. Treatment usually revolves around relief, control of symptoms, and trying to improve the person's quality of life.

Crohn's disease

Crohn's disease is one of the most common inflammatory bowel diseases. Symptoms may begin in childhood and continue throughout adulthood. Someone living with Crohn's disease may experience diarrhea, stomachaches, bloody stools, fatigue, and weight loss. The symptoms come and go, in what doctors call outbreaks. Its direct cause is unknown, however, there are some important theories. Some suggest that it is hereditary; the likelihood of developing Crohn's disease increases if a member of the immediate family has it as well. Others believe it comes from a problem with the immune system. Chronic inflammation may be due to the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells in the digestive tract.

Another suggestion is that it could come from an imbalance in the bacteria in the gut. Regardless of its cause, treatment is currently directed at relieving and managing the symptoms. This may involve anti-inflammatory, steroid, and non-steroidal medications. Another option is to have surgery to remove part of the digestive tract.

Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis is another common inflammatory bowel disease. It is characterized by chronic inflammation within the colon (large intestine) and rectum, where feces are stored. Not only this, but ulcers can develop on the lining of the colon that can bleed and produce pus. A person with ulcerative colitis may experience recurrent diarrhea that may also contain blood, mucus, or pus.
Other symptoms include stomach pain, tiredness, weight loss, loss of appetite and more. Other symptoms may arise if the disease is very severe. These include mouth sores and joint swelling and stiffness.

The cause of Ulcerative colitis is also unknown, but most research suggests that it is an autoimmune disorder. The immune system seems to mistake the harmless bacteria in the gut for something dangerous, and therefore attacks them. This subsequently causes chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. Treatment of Ulcerative colitis aims to relieve symptoms and control severe flare-ups. Various anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications may be prescribed. There is a way to eliminate the symptoms of Ulcerative colitis, however, this involves removal of the colon and rectum.

Cannabinoids and inflammatory bowel diseases

The cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 have been found in abundance throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Here, and throughout the body, these receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Recent research has determined that ECS plays a vital role in many aspects of homeostasis. Perhaps most notably, it is involved in regulating the immune system. Some scientists even suggest that problems in the immune system may stem from a deficiency in ECS. A review of Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency even concluded that "inflammatory bowel disease and related conditions show common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns suggesting an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency that can be adequately treated with cannabinoid drugs. (Russo, E B. 2008)

One way to manipulate the endocannabinoid system is through the use of cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, (CBD). CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that comes from the cannabis plant. Research has shown in animal and human studies that CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. More so than some pharmaceutical drugs. Many people with inflammatory bowel disease already use cannabis as a form of treatment. This may be due to its ability to reduce the symptoms that come with it.

Research on inflammatory bowel diseases

One study examined the effect of cannabis inhalation on the symptoms of Crohn's disease, over an 8-week period. Subjects who were given the placebo showed some improvement. However, 10 of the 11 subjects who were given cannabis reported improved sleep and appetite, without experiencing any negative side effects. Another study examined the impact that cannabis treatment had on the quality of life and disease activity of patients with inflammatory bowel disease. After 3 months all patients reported a reduction in feelings of depression and physical pain. Not only this, but there was a marked improvement in social functioning, general health perception and ability to work. Simultaneously, patients were able to gain weight (Lahat A, 2011).

Further research is needed to be able to use cannabinoids to their full potential. What has been seen so far is promising. In addition, there must be a reason why people with inflammatory bowel disease already use cannabinoid-based treatments to control symptoms.


Final conclusions...

CBD should be used to support homeostasis and maintain a healthy immune system. It is not a cure, nor is it a medicine, but it can provide relief from many physical and emotional problems. Medical research is limited because of its cost, but what has been discovered so far is very promising. In addition, the anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of cannabinoids such as CBD is overwhelming. If you're thinking of trying it, it's always best to do as much research as possible, and seek your doctor's advice.


Crohn's disease [online] nhs.uk. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/crohns-disease/ [Accessed 11 Feb. 2020].

Ulcerative colitis [online] nhs.uk. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ulcerative-colitis/ [Accessed 11 Feb. 2020].

Lahat A, et al. (2011). Impact of cannabis treatment on the quality of life, weight and clinical disease activity in inflammatory bowel disease patients: a pilot prospecti... - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22095142 [Accessed 11 Feb. 2020].

Russo, E B. (2008). Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD): can this concept explain therapeutic benefits of cannabis in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel sy... - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18404144 [Accessed 11 Feb. 2020].

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