Medical marijuana is gaining traction across the US. To date, 33 states have legalized pot for medicinal purposes. In 10 states plus Washington D.C. marijuana is legal for both medical and recreational use. So, what about using weed to manage digestive diseases? Good question.
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation recently commissioned a white paper summarizing all the available scientific info on medical marijuana for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Here are the bits we found most interesting.
Who’s using medical marijuana and why?
Research suggests about 10 – 12% of IBD patients in western countries (USA, UK, Israel, Canada, and Spain) are active users of medical marijuana. Most use it to help ease abdominal pain, improve appetite, and relieve diarrhea.
Does it actually work?
Probably, but for symptom relief only. A handful of reputable studies have shown striking improvements in pain relief, nausea, appetite, and sleep after using medical marijuana. (Now comes the big but.) BUT the amount of evidence is very limited. At the moment, researchers agree that if there is a role for medical marijuana, it’s as a complementary therapy. Basically, it’s okay for IBD symptoms but doesn’t do anything to address underlying disease state. It’s like taking Tylenol for a fever: it can bring your fever down, but it won’t treat the infection that caused the fever in the first place.
The long-term safety of chronic marijuana use is hotly debated and not well defined. Studies have found that for teens and young adults, risks include addiction and progression to harder drugs, lower educational performance, and even increased possibility of psychiatric disorders. There’s also a risk of overdose, more common among inexperienced users. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry both oppose the use of marijuana among young people. For adults, more research is needed to form a consensus. Until then, the long-term safety of marijuana is still an open question, and anyone using it does so at their own risk.
Medical marijuana can’t replace traditional IBD meds, but there does appear to be a role for it as a complementary therapy for pain, nausea, vomiting, and other IBD symptoms. In fact, in some states IBD is an indication for access to medical marijuana. For children and teens, experts say it’s a no-go, IBD or not.
If you’re using or considering medical marijuana, weigh the benefits against the risks. And of course, be sure to check its legal status where you live.