Crohn’s Disease is an unpleasant condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract. It is a lifelong problem, with no known cure and still no definitive answer as to what causes it. Its symptoms are very unpleasant for patients; episodes are unpredictable and can flare up quickly, with symptoms coming on fast without prior warning. This can lead to serious disruptions in an individual’s life. Often, people find the symptoms very embarrassing, leaving sufferers feeling self-conscious and depressed. There are options to help you control the symptoms but often a lot of the traditional treatments do not work in the long term, or sometimes not at all for some patients. There are also significant side effects associated with the treatments. Cannabidiol (CBD) is one area that is proving to be very exciting for researchers looking for treatments for Crohn’s. While it will not cure the condition, CBD has been shown to fight the main causes of Crohn’s, and trial studies on patents have had very promising results. This article will look to tell you more about Crohn’s and the intriguing possibilities CBD presents for sufferers.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s Disease is a medical condition that causes inflammation of one or several parts of the digestive system or gut. It can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. It is one of the main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), along with Ulcerative Colitis. Any part of the gut can become inflamed, but the most commonly affected areas are the colon or the end of the ileum, which is the final part of the small intestine.
Often, the areas affected by inflammation are patchy and you will have parts of normal gut completely unaffected in-between. The patches of inflammation could be small, measuring only a few centimeters, or could reach far along the digestive system.
Crohn’s Disease is classed as a chronic condition, which means it is continual and lifelong. Sufferers may have phases when the symptoms are active, known as flare-ups or relapses, and they may have times of good health, known as remission. Others may be affected constantly. It can affect people of any age with symptoms usually beginning in childhood or early adulthood (ages 10-40).
The main symptoms of Crohn’s Disease are:
- Diarrhea – which may come on unexpectedly and suddenly.
- Blood in stool.
- Stomach pains and cramps – most often located in the lower-right region of the stomach.
- Weight loss.
You might not experience all of these symptoms, and what you do experience can vary from episode to episode. They can be mild or severe. As well as this, there are other symptoms which can occur outside of the gastrointestinal tract. These include:
- A fever or high temperature.
- Red, sore eyes (caused by inflammation).
- Mouth ulcers.
- Skin rashes which may be painful and swollen – the legs are most commonly affected.
- Feeling nauseous.
- Children affected by Crohn’s disease may grow slower than expected.
Despite significant research, the exact cause of Crohn’s remains unknown. Major advancements have been made recently though, particularly looking into genetics. It is currently believed the condition is caused by a combination of the following:
- The genes you are born with – you are more likely to get it if a close relative suffers from it.
- An abnormal reaction to bacteria from your immune system, causing it to attack the digestive system.
- An unknown trigger including bacteria, viruses, stress, smoking or something else within the environment.
It may be surprising, but currently, there is no evidence that suggests a particular diet causes Crohn’s Disease.
How is Crohn’s Disease traditionally treated?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment which will completely cure the disease at the moment. However, there are options to help control the symptoms and give periods of remission.
The most commonly used are:
- Steroids: Most people with Crohn’s will take steroids. They reduce inflammation in the digestive system, relieving symptoms. The time taken to work varies; it can be a couple of days or it can be a few weeks, and you may have to take them for an extended period of time. There are also a lot of side effects associated with taking steroids such as weight gain, problems sleeping, indigestion and a greater risk of infections. It can also further exacerbate the slower growth in children that Crohn’s can cause.
- Immunosuppressants: These reduce your immune system’s activity. They can help with symptoms if steroids alone are not working, but immunosuppressants are also used as long-term treatments to try and prevent symptom flare-ups. Due to this, they are often taken for many months or even years. There are side effects associated with immunosuppressants, including nausea, vomiting, liver issues and a greater risk of infections.
- Liquid Diet: In younger sufferers, a liquid diet can be helpful in reducing symptoms. For a few weeks, your diet consists of drinks specially tailored to contain all the nutrients you need, as opposed to what you would usually consume. It is helpful to lower the risk of slower growth that Crohn’s and steroids can cause in children. Whilst on the diet, you may experience diarrhea, nausea or constipation. It isn’t guaranteed to work, is normally very expensive (around $200 per week per person) and can leave you feeling left out of social events, especially for children at school who may be concerned about appearing unusual.
- Biological medicines: If the above treatments do not work, you may be prescribed stronger medication known as biological medicines. These are administered via a drip into the vein or an injection every two to eight weeks. Fortunately, they can be effective at relieving symptoms when other treatments have failed. They are often taken on a long-term basis of several months or even years, and can be used as a long-term deterrent against flare-ups. The side effects include a greater chance of infections and reactions to medicine, which may lead to high temperatures, joint pain and itching.
- Surgery: In extreme cases, surgery may be recommended. It can relieve symptoms and prevent them from reoccurring for a while, but usually, they will return eventually. The most common operation used is a resection. This a form of keyhole surgery where small sections of the inflamed bowel are removed and the healthy parts are stitched back together. It usually takes a few months to fully recover. Occasionally, you may also require an ileostomy. This is where you have a bag attached to your stomach for a few months to collect your stool. It gives your bowl chance to recover before being stitched back together. Obviously, the surgery is not pleasant, especially if you require an ileostomy. There are all the usual risks associated with serious surgery including the chance that something could go wrong and infection. There is also no guarantee it will work in alleviating symptoms, and they will actually still return the majority of the time.
How can CBD be used to help treat Crohn’s Disease?
As you can see, there are significant issues with all of the traditionally used treatments of Crohn’s. They have disagreeable side effects or are just unpleasant for the patient. There is also no guarantee they will work, and symptoms will usually return anyway. With all of this doom and gloom surrounding the treatments, CBD stands out like a shining light. The argument for it being an effective treatment for Crohn’s is scientifically sound and backed up by the latest research too.
CBD is one of the two main active ingredients within cannabis. It works on the body by affecting our internal endocannabinoids system, inhibiting their breakdown. Endocannabinoids have been shown to be involved in the immune system and inflammation. By increasing the amount of endocannabinoids in the body, CBD calms the immune system and lowers inflammation. Crohn’s disease is primarily an inflammation of the gut, so CBD will help alleviate the symptoms. Research also suggests that Crohn’s can be caused by the immune system flaring up, so by calming it, CBD can help in this way too.
What’s more, CBD has minimal negative side effects. The psychoactive effects of cannabis are caused by the other main active ingredient, THC. THC is what gives users the feeling that is associated with being “high.” Simply put, with little to no THC, CBD products have no “high” effects. Another plus for CBD compared with other treatments for Crohn’s is it is relatively unobtrusive to take. There are a number of different ways to receive a CBD dose, but the most obtrusive they get is several drops of fantastic flavored oils in your mouth or maybe chewing on a gummy bear. Compared to some of the more traditionally used Crohn’s treatments, this is heaven for sufferers. Due to its unobtrusiveness, it sounds perfect to consume regularly, which would hopefully help to hold flare-ups at bay.
Studies into CBD’s effectiveness against Crohn’s Disease
Scientific research into the effectiveness of CBD as a treatment for Crohn’s is still in its infancy due to cannabis’ legal status previously making it harder to study. The early signs have been overwhelmingly positive though.
Here are the details of a few:
- This study looked at the impact cannabinoids can make on chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s. 13 patients were given cannabis-based treatment for three months and then assessed. All of the participants self-reported significant improvements in their quality of life, with a lowering of their pain levels and the depression they usually felt due to their diseases.
- In this study, patients only specifically with Crohn’s were examined. 21 patients were used who had already tried traditional treatments unsuccessfully. They were split into two groups; 11 were given cannabis cigarettes and the remaining 10 were given a placebo. The researchers then monitored the participants for 10 weeks, assessing their symptoms and disease activity. All 21 saw a significant improvement in the symptoms of their Crohn’s Disease, but the results for the cannabis group were even better. 10 of the 11 showed lab tested improvements in their conditions, and five of the 11 participants in the cannabis group went even further and saw a complete remission. On top of this, three of the cannabis group were able to completely eliminate their dependency on steroids without suffering any adverse side effects.
- This laboratory-based study used an animal model, inducing colitis in mice and then administering them with different forms of CBD treatment. These treatments proved to be successful, with a reduction in inflammation of the colon and general improvement within the disease parameters.
- Scientists compiled a comprehensive review of studies conducted on the role of endocannabinoids in inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s. They concluded that the thus far available data suggests cannabinoids such as CBD are an effective treatment for IBD and should definitely be researched more, especially as there are significant problems with all of the traditionally used treatments. They do state, however, that most of the research so far has been carried out on animals and that more human trials are needed.
Crohn’s Disease is particularly unpleasant and sufferers are often affected by depression as a consequence. With it being a lifelong disease, with no known cure and potentially highly embarrassing and life affecting symptoms, it can be easy to give up hope. CBD has the potential to help those with Crohn’s. Scientifically, it makes perfect sense to be used as a treatment and a deterrent against Crohn’s as it targets the key causes. The research carried out so far overwhelmingly backs this up too. If you are a Crohn’s patient, it is important to weigh all your options and if you are thinking of trying CBD, it’s important to consult with your primary physician before any use.
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