Chronic illness has become all too common today. In fact, nearly half of the U.S. population suffers from at least one form of chronic disease, and statistical evidence shows that the incidence of ongoing illness only continues to rise.
As illness rates accelerate, patients increasingly seek out natural remedies for relief. One such treatment is hemp-derived CBD, a popular compound with a variety of uses. A growing body of evidence suggests it works for chronic diseases such as Lyme disease and fibromyalgia, but what about Crohn’s disease?
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract. It is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can affect any part of the gut, from the mouth to the anus, as well as permeate any layer of the intestinal mucosa.
Although researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes Crohn’s disease, it is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune diseases arise when the immune system overreacts to normal stimuli and attacks healthy cells in the body. In the case of Crohn’s disease, the immune system attacks intestinal cells.
Some research also indicates that genetics plays a role in the development of Crohn’s disease, as well as environmental factors.
What are the symptoms?
While Crohn’s is most active in the gut, the disease can be pervasive and affect many areas of the body. Symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain, cramping, tenderness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite and weight loss
Without sufficient treatment, persistent inflammation and active disease can lead to debilitating complications like:
- Malabsorption and malnutrition
- Intestinal obstruction and perforation
- Ulceration of the digestive tract, including the mouth, intestines, anus, and perineum
- Fistulas, abscesses, and strictures
- Anal fissures
- Bone loss
- Joint pain and inflammation
- Liver inflammation and chronic liver problems
- Kidney stones and kidney disease
- Eye pain and redness
- Blood clots
- Colon cancer
In rare cases, some complications can even be deadly. It is important that Crohn’s patients keep their disease in check to avoid potentially life-threatening situations.
How is it treated?
While there is no known cure for Crohn’s disease, a variety of treatment options are available. Treatment aims to induce remission in patients, remission being a state where inflammation and other major disease symptoms are either significantly or entirely reduced. Types of remission include:
- Clinical remission: inflammation may still be present, but observable symptoms have improved or disappeared.
- Endoscopic remission: tests such as colonoscopies or sigmoidoscopies detect no inflammation.
- Radiographic remission: inflammation is not present when tested via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Histological remission: tissue samples show no evidence of active inflammation.
Patients usually require a robust, active treatment plan to induce and maintain remission. Treatment often begins with dietary changes, such as avoiding gut irritants like fruit and vegetable skins, popcorn, and alcohol, or sticking to a bland or liquid diet. Most patients also need prescription drugs to promote remission, including:
- Antibiotics (e.g. Cipro or Flagyl)
- Oral 5-aminosalicylates (e.g. sulfasalazine or mesalamine)
- Corticosteroids (e.g. prednisone or budesonide)
- Immune system suppressors (e.g. Imuran, 6MP, or Methotrexate)
- Biologics or biosimilars (e.g. Remicade, Entyvio, or Stelara)
Many find that diet and medications do not quell disease progression. When intestinal damage or complications become extreme or irreversible, patients turn to surgery for relief. Unfortunately, some undergo multiple surgical procedures in order to alleviate their illness.
Surgery often involves removing parts of the digestive tract. In some cases, the entire colon is removed in a procedure called a colectomy. When large areas of the bowel are removed, surgeons may temporarily or permanently insert a stoma, which reroutes fecal matter into a bag placed on the abdomen.
How can CBD help?
Treating Crohn’s disease can be tricky due to the complex nature of the illness. Even with the use of heavy medications and invasive surgeries, many find themselves unable to alleviate the disease and combat the debilitating side effects that accompany traditional treatments.
Fortunately, CBD is one alternative treatment option that offers significant relief with minimal risks. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid derived from the legal hemp plant. It is well-documented as a potent treatment for a vast range of illnesses, including Crohn’s disease. In fact, a 2021 study found that CBD may induce a significant clinical response in active disease patients!
CBD mitigates chronic pain and inflammation
Abdominal pain and severe inflammation are common, often debilitating symptoms of Crohn’s disease. CBD works as a powerful analgesic and anti-inflammatory by targeting the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain and nerves that regulate immune and inflammatory responses.
One study published in the European Journal of Pain found that the topical application of CBD gel alleviated joint swelling and significantly reduced pro-inflammatory biomarkers. Additionally, a 2017 study suggests that CBD reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in Alzheimer’s patients, and another 2016 study concluded that CBD reduced inflammation and induced positive effects in patients with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and type 1 diabetes mellitus. A review of pharmacological research on CBD also concluded that the cannabinoid relieves the chronic pain that accompanies a range of chronic illnesses.
CBD inhibits nausea and vomiting
CBD is widely known for treating symptoms caused by cancer and cancer treatments, especially nausea and vomiting. One 2011 study found that CBD interacts directly with the serotonin receptors in the brain that regulate nausea and vomiting. Researchers concluded that CBD holds clinical applications for suppressing severe and ongoing nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD treats similar symptoms in those suffering from Crohn’s disease, as well. By preventing vomiting, CBD may also diminish symptoms and complications such as weight loss, mouth ulcers, anemia, and malnutrition.
Crohn’s can be a difficult illness to treat, but CBD offers a powerful treatment option with plenty of evidence to back its effectiveness. As mainstream awareness of the cannabinoid’s robust treatment potential grows, we hope to see more research into the link between CBD and Crohn’s disease.