Cannabis Sativa & Your Gut Health
Updated: Oct 18
If you’ve ever experienced the following symptoms:
Nausea or vomiting
Irritable bowel syndrome
Rectal Problems (in women)
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, you may be experiencing Gastrointestinal problems. GI problems refer to any condition or disease within the gastrointestinal tract, a series of hollow organs that form a long continuous passage from our mouths to the anus. GI problems can occur for many reasons such as food intolerance, stress, or other underlying conditions. Symptoms of GI problems can often be treated with a simple dietary change or lifestyle changes to lower your amount of stress. Dr. Bonnie Goldstein wrote a book in 2020 called “Cannabis is Medicine: How Medical Cannabis and CBD Are Healing Everything from Anxiety to Chronic Back Pain.” In an excerpt, she explains how the gut functions and what part of the gut is targeted during treatment. She says the stomach is responsible for breaking down food and protecting against illness. An essential part of the gut is the “Endocannabinoid System,” which can be found distributed throughout the gastrointestinal system and is crucial to the central nervous system (Lu and Mackie, 2015).
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for the breakdown of food and protection against viruses. There are also nerves in the gut called the enteric nervous system and cannabinoid receptors, also known as CB1 and CB2, can be found within this system. However, the number of receptors can increase if the body fights off a viral infection (Goldstein, 2020). So, how does the gut get sick? “If your endocannabinoid system is not working properly, it may not be able to mount the appropriate response to a virus or bacteria, leading to chronic intestinal symptoms” (Goldstein, 2020). Endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced naturally within our bodies) have previously been indicated as essential to gut health. For example, Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) are two of the main endocannabinoids that are produced by the human body. But wait, aren’t there cannabinoids in cannabis as well? Phytocannabinoids, refer to the cannabinoids that are produced by plants, in particular, Cannabis Sativa. “The main cannabinoids in cannabis are THC and CBD. However, about 100 others have been identified (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health [NIH], n.d.). That’s right! The cannabinoids in our gut are “Cannabis-like molecules” (DiPatrizio, 2016).
How do the Endocannabinoid Receptors in our Body Interact with Phytocannabinoids?
“Both CBD and THC are chemically similar to the endocannabinoids in our bodies. This allows them to interact with your cannabinoid receptors” (Holland, 2020). A Boston research center conducted a study in 2013 on treating gastrointestinal diseases, Crohn's, and Ulcerative Colitis with cannabinoids. The research center surveyed 292 patients about their Cannabis use and found that 12% were active users and 39% were past users. Out of the 292 patients, most found relief from symptoms, including abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea (Colino, 2021). The Journal of Pediatrics conducted an even more recent study in 2018 where 99 teen and young adult patients with IBD were surveyed. One-third had used cannabis, and 57% found relief from their abdominal pain (Colino, 2021).
How does Cannabis work in alleviating these symptoms mentioned above? Cannabinoids can decrease inflammation and reduce how matter and fluid secretions move through the digestive tract. Results include reduced inflammation and fewer nausea or vomiting symptoms (Sensi Seeds, 2020). However, if you are expecting instant relief, this may not happen. Dr. Bonni Goldstein recommends patience in treating GI disorders with cannabis. “Long-standing inflammation will take time to respond to Cannabinoid treatment. It may take eight to twelve weeks to experience significant benefits, although many report symptom reduction in the first few weeks.”
Always Consult Your Doctor Before Beginning Any Treatments!
Cannabinoid treatments may have different reactions in different people, and some may experience better results. While there have been proven benefits of using cannabis to treat GI issues, more research still needs to be done. However, the lack of federal regulations on cannabis and the fact that it is still a Schedule I drug limits the amount of research done. Despite previously mentioned information, the FDA has not yet approved CBD as a substance to treat IBS specifically. Since the FDA has not approved it, there are no dosage recommendations. Please consult your doctor about whether cannabinoid treatments are right for you!
Laws and Regulations for Medical Cannabis Research
As a Schedule I drug, research on the medical uses of Cannabis is limited. Currently, if researchers want to conduct a clinical trial, they must ask for approval from the FDA. This is a time-consuming process that can take a year or more. The most frustrating part about this was explained by Anna Eshoo, a Democratic representative from California, during her opening statement at the 2020 U.S. Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing on Cannabis policy. She said, “Investigators cannot conduct research on cannabis until they demonstrate that it has medical use, and they cannot show that it has medical use until they conduct research” (Zarrabi et al., 2020). However, progress was made when the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2019 was passed.
“This bill establishes a new, separate registration process for manufacturers of Cannabis for research. As part of this process, the Drug Enforcement Administration must annually assess whether there is an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research Cannabis and register additional manufacturers. The bill also authorizes health care providers of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide information to veterans regarding participation in federally approved Cannabis clinical trials” (Library of Congress, 2019-2020).
When this bill was written, the Drug Enforcement Administration had only approved a single grower for medical research. Since 1968, this single grower was at the University of Mississippi and was researching medical uses of Cannabis for PTSD and chronic pain (Wadman, 2021). As of May 2021, the DEA said they would soon issue licenses to several growing facilities (Wadman, 2021).
It will be fascinating to see what impact the global pandemic has had on furthering research on the medical uses of Cannabis. During the pandemic, recreational and medical Cannabis sales skyrocketed, reaching $17.5 billion in 2020 (Brandeis, 2020). Applicants in Massachusetts could receive medical marijuana cards through telehealth appointments with state-certified physicians (Brandeis, 2020). It appears Alexandra Kritikos (Ph.D.) will also be a part of the future of research on medical Cannabis. Her dissertation research is focused on patients using medical Cannabis in New York State, and she hopes to help legislators and healthcare workers through usage patterns and demographics (Brandeis, 2020). Only time and dedication will tell what comes of future research in the industry, but the hopes are high that more federal regulation will fall into place.
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