Chron’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease with significant deleterious effects on the digestive tract and daily living. It is an autoimmune disease and is characterized by sudden and severe abdominal cramping, diarrhea and fatigue. Sufferers of Crohn’s disease often experience depression due to the severity of symptoms and overall negative impact on their quality of life.
Named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn, who first described the disease in 1932 along with colleagues Dr. Leon Ginzburg and Dr. Gordon D. Oppenheimer, Crohn’s disease belongs to a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.
Crohn’s most commonly affects the end of the small bowel (the ileum) and the beginning of the colon, but it may affect any part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis is limited to the colon, also called the large intestine.
Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract. While symptoms vary from patient to patient and some may be more common than others, the tell-tale symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
Symptoms related to inflammation of the GI tract:
- Persistent Diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Urgent need to move bowels
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation
- Constipation (can lead to bowel obstruction)
General symptoms that may also be associated with IBD:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight Loss
- Night sweats
- Loss of normal menstrual cycle
Crohn’s is a chronic disease, so this means patients will likely experience periods when the disease flares up and causes symptoms, followed by periods of remission when patients may not notices symptoms at all.
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease. The condition is marked by periods of improvement followed by flare-ups of symptoms. Although Crohn’s disease cannot be cured even with surgery, treatment can offer significant help to most patients.
Traditional Treatments For Crohn’s Disease
There are many traditional treatments for Crohn’s disease, but none of them have proven fully effective or curative. These include the antibiotic Metronidazole, the steroid Hydrocortisone, Prednisone and procedures such as enemas and bowel resection surgery.
- About 70% of people with Crohn’s disease eventually require surgery.
- Different types of procedures may be performed depending on the reason, severity of illness, and location of the disease.
- Approximately 30% of patients who have surgery for Crohn’s disease experience recurrence of their symptoms within three years and up to 60% will have recurrence within ten years.
Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid. It works by decreasing or preventing tissues from responding to inflammation. It also modifies the body’s response to certain immune stimulation.
Metronidazole is an antibiotic. It fights bacteria in your body. Metronidazole is used to treat bacterial infections of the vagina, stomach, skin, joints, and respiratory tract.
Prednisone is a corticosteroid. It prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. It also suppresses the immune system.
Cannabis Treatment Alternatives
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and CBD-rich strains are the most documented cannabinoid treatments. However, patients report a wide range of indicas, sativas and hybrids to be effective in treating the multi-faceted symptoms. Two of the more readily available marijuana strains reported for treatment of Crohn’s disease are Hash Plant and Hog’s Breath.
Indicas, Sativas and Hybrids in Medical Marijuana
Cannabis is one of the oldest crops known to mankind, with records of its cultivation dating back thousands of years. Today, it is widely accepted that marijuana has two different species: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. Cross-breeding of the two types has led to a wide variety of hybrid strains with unique characteristics.
The differences between indica and sativa remain a subject of much debate, especially among scientists who study the plant. However, most agree that indica and sativa plants are distinct in a number of ways.
- The most accepted way of distinguishing indica versus sativa is by appearance, or what scientists refer to as morphology.
- Indica plants are short, densely branched and have wider leaves. They are better suited for growing indoors.
- Sativa plants are tall, loosely branched and have long, narrow leaves. They are usually grown outdoors and can reach heights of up to 20 feet.
Besides appearance, indica and sativa plants have different effects on their user. These effects include:
- relaxing and calming
- body buzz or ‘couch lock’
- best suited for night use
- uplifting and energetic
- cerebral, spacey or hallucinogenic
- best suited for day use
Endocannabanoids are molecules found in the body that closely resemble compounds found in the cannabis (marijuana) plant, may play a role in limiting intestinal inflammation. Crohn’s patients have been found to have higher levels of cannabinoid receptors in their colonic tissue. Several small studies have shown that a significant proportion of patients with Crohn’s disease report smoking marijuana to relieve Crohn’s-related symptoms, particularly those patients with a history of abdominal surgery, chronic abdominal pain, and/or a low quality of life index.
Following a previous publication of a retrospective, observational study by Meir Medical Center in Israel and a questionnaire performed by a different group in patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, both revealing symptom relief and improvement after use of cannabis, Meir Medical Center in Israel have now presented a placebo-controlled prospective study in 21 patients with Crohn’s disease unresponsive to standard Crohn’s treatment.
They were able to demonstrate that an 8-week treatment with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-rich cannabis caused a decrease in the Crohn’s disease activity index in 90% of patients without producing significant side effects.
This is the first clinical trial on the effect of cannabis in Crohn’s disease, and it confirms what has been suggested for a long time from experimental studies, namely that medical marijuana may provide anti-inflammatory effects and symptomatic benefit in patients with Crohn’s disease.
This study was published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Most Effective Forms Of Cannabis Treatment
The oral administration of cannabis oil has been effective in symptom alleviation. Patients also report fast acting and significant symptom reduction from simply smoking or vaporizing the plant.
Case Study: Shona Banda
There are several well-documented cases of successful treatment of Crohn’s disease with cannabis. Shona Banda was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease around 2004. She underwent several surgeries and was put on several pharmaceuticals, but her condition worsened progressively until she was considered terminal.
She was bedridden, and whatever she managed to eat didn’t provide nutrition because her gastrointestinal tract simply wouldn’t absorb nutrients. She was losing weight and began suffering from cachexia, a wasting away that accompanies chronic disease. She was waiting to die.
While cannabis oil appears to be the best solution for those with Crohn’s disease, Banda has also said,
Just smoking it made me fall to the floor and cry, because it’s like finding out Santa Claus isn’t real as an adult–your whole world changes. Because it helps me better than any pharmaceutical I had ever had. . .just smoking it. – Shona Banda
Case Study: Coltyn Turner
The story of 15-year old Coltyn Turner also made recent headlines–mostly due to the brave public service announcement he put on YouTube where he showed pre and post cannabis treatment x-rays of his colon, and his unwavering declaration that he would “rather be illegally alive than legally dead.”
Following three years of ineffective and debilitating pharmaceutical treatments that left him wheelchair bound, the teenager’s family relocated to Colorado where they could legally obtain the cannabis oil treatment they had heard of being effective.
Needless to say, Turner now has his health and life back, and will continue to change the conversation surrounding cannabis and Crohn’s disease to a more common sense and compassionate dialogue.