Cannabidiol, one of the main components of cannabis and hemp, plays an important role in regulating many of our bodily systems. Connecting with our endocannabinoid system, it can help regulate appetite and digestion, mood, and provide relief for chronic pain and inflammation — just to name a few things. Cannabidiol has been studied as a potential treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms not only because it can be given in tandem with conventional treatments, but also because CBD has proven to reduce inflammation in the gut without adding the psychotropic effects of cannabis.
With the promise cannabidiol showed with inflammatory diseases like IBS, researchers moved on to different inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis (UC). The major difference between IBS and UC is the location of the inflammation. UC is diagnosed by observing visible scarring and redness in the colon by colonoscopy. The initial treatment for UC is anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the disease activity. However, cannabidiol shows promise in the treatment of UC by reducing the intestinal damage done by the patient’s body. Let’s take a look at this new research and get into the nitty gritty of how cannabidiol can help reduce intestinal inflammation.
CBD & Intestinal Inflammation
What is UC?
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the colon, or large intestine, similar to IBS and other bowel diseases. Ulcerative colitis starts when the immune system sends immune cells to attack the large intestine by mistake. This causes damage to the lining of the colon, which becomes inflamed and develops ulcers that produce pus and mucus (which are excess immune cells). This combination of inflammation, overactive immune response, and tissue damage can cause a lot of abdominal discomfort and frequent trips to empty the large intestine. The inflammation causes swelling and muscle weakness, the ulcers cause acute and chronic pain, and the excess immune fluids interfere with normal function and cause pain.
Ulcerative Colitis is caused by an abnormal response by the immune system. When it’s functioning normally, the immune system protects the body from infection by sending immune cells to attack foreign bodies. However, in people who suffer from autoimmune diseases of the intestines, the immune system mistakes food particles and beneficial digestive bacteria as foreign bodies. The dysfunctional immune system dispatches white blood cells to take care of the foreign bodies; they attack the cells and produce inflammation and ulcers.
Current Treatments for Intestinal Inflammation
The medication a doctor may prescribe for ulcerative colitis depends on the severity of symptoms or the exact location of the disease in the large intestine or colon. Treatment programs can include several classes of drugs:
- Antibiotics – These are used when ulcers in the colon become infected with harmful bacteria.
- Aminosalicylates – Most often the first drug prescribed, these medications control disease flare-ups and inflammation.
- Immune response modifiers – These drugs can either suppress or enhance the immune system, depending on the type of disease present.
- Corticosteroids – Also known simply as steroids, these drugs are prescribed for inflammation, but only on the short term because of side effects such as weight gain and hypertension.
New research into plant-based medications for inflammation and immune system support has found that cannabidiol, the main chemical found in hemp, can do some of what these other pharmaceuticals can do. Let’s look at what medical researchers have discovered about CBD and intestinal inflammation.
CBD for Ulcerative Colitis Treatment
Because cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical that interacts with our immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties, medical researchers studied the potential of CBD to be a treatment for ulcerative colitis symptoms. This study looks at the effect of CBD on the enteric glial cells. The enteric glial cells (EGC) are cells that control sudden or recurring inflammation in the gut, kind of like a “go” signal for the immune system. EGC releases the immune response — including pro-inflammatory cells. To test the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD on these specific cells, researchers induced ulcerative colitis symptoms in mice before administering pure CBD hemp oil. The results were a huge reduction in immune signaling to the glial cells, meaning fewer “go” signals for inflammatory immune cells. This means when the cannabidiol was administered, it stopped the cells from producing the inflammation.
Researchers also experimented with human test subjects suffering from irritable bowel diseases. CBD was administered to patients currently experiencing inflammation. In this portion of the study, CBD reduced the immune signaling to the glial cells again, mimicking the results received using the mice. These two studies confirm the fact that CBD does more than relief symptoms of UC, but it actively counteracts the inflammation from the ulcerative colitis. The actions of CBD on the body resulted in a reduction of the overall damage to the intestines.
The current treatments for UC and IBS have their flaws. Antibiotics can be used when infections occur. However, if taken too often, the body can develop a tolerance to the antibiotics. Corticosteroids, while great for reducing inflammation by suppressing the immune system, aren’t intended for long-term use.
Cannabidiol, while still experimental, has proven to have amazing potential as a treatment for ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases. CBD has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, meaning that not only can CBD reduce swelling from our body’s automatic immune response, it can also protect our neural pathways from sending the wrong signals and receiving lasting damage. In other words, cannabidiol acts as an antibiotic to reduce swelling while also helping resolve the original problem of mistaken signals. CBD can be given in large doses without side effects and, so far, studies have shown that the body does not develop a resistance to the plant-based chemical.
The best part about cannabidiol is that it lacks the psychoactive qualities of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. CBD and THC are both present in varying qualities in cannabis, but most CBD for medicinal use comes from the hemp plant, which has notoriously low amounts of THC. The low amounts of THC, combined with a government regulation on the amount of THC in legal cannabidiol, makes CBD perfect for those looking to supplement their endocannabinoid system.