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Study Finds Medical Marijuana Produces Significant Steroid-Free Benefits for Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, causing a great deal of discomfort and pain for patients. Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s affect over a million people in the United States, with many IBD victims suffering from pain, diarrhea and poor ability to digest food. Up to half of IBD cases are so severe that they ultimately require surgery to remove the affected bowel segment.
Medical Marijuana has been reported to produce several beneficial effects for patients with inflammatory bowel diseases, but this has not been investigated in controlled trials. There are currently no medications or surgical procedures that can cure Crohn’s disease, with options including strategies to help with symptoms, maintain remission, and prevent relapse. The medical marijuana plant contains over 60 different cannabinoids that have been found to exert a profound anti-inflammatory effect, mainly through the CB2 receptor present in various locations throughout the body. This effect is what gives medical marijuana potential as a treatment option for IBD, resulting in the need for further clinical studies.
Keeping this in mind, a new double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted to determine whether medical marijuana can induce remission in patients with Crohn’s disease. Published in the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology Journal, the study recruited 21 patients (mean age, 40 ± 14 y; 13 men) with Crohn’s Disease Activity Index (CDAI) scores greater than 200 who did not respond to therapy with steroids, immunomodulators, or anti–tumor necrosis factor-α agents. Patients were assigned randomly to one of two groups, either administered medical marijuana twice a day, or placebo medical marijuana from which the THC had already been extracted. The medical marijuana used was in the form of standardized cigarettes containing 115 mg of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). All disease activity and lab tests were assessed throughout the 8 weeks of treatment and 2 weeks thereafter.
45% of the subjects in the group receiving medical marijuana achieved complete remission (CDAI score, <150), compared to 10 % in the placebo group. A clinical response was observed in 10 of 11 subjects in the medical marijuana group and 4 of 10 in the placebo group. There was no difference between the marijuana and placebo groups in terms of side effects, including sleepiness and nausea. However, the group receiving marijuana treatment reported significantly less pain, improved appetite and a higher level of satisfaction in the treatment. In other words, a significant increase in the quality of life was observed.
Furthermore, three steroid-dependent patients in the marijuana group were able to completely stop steroid treatment during the study. Two patients who were also being treated with opiates for severe abdominal pain were weaned off them. Thus, at the end of the study, no patients in the marijuana treatment group required any more steroid treatment.
To conclude, the study found that a short, 8-week course of THC-rich marijuana produced significant clinical, steroid-free benefits, resulting in clinical remission in 50% of the participants compared with placebo, without side effects. Marijuana also produced a significantly higher rate of clinical response without any serious side effects.