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A recent medical study conducted in Israel offers hope that cannabis may be an effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

A new hope for patients

IBD is a blanket term for various illnesses in which the intestines show redness and swelling as if infected. IBD is thought to be the result of an immune disorder, in which the body’s immune system fails to function normally, for example by attacking a part of the body the immune system perceives as foreign. IDB symptoms include intestinal rashes and severe pain, as well as difficulty holding down and digesting food. One type of IDB is ulcerative colitis (UC), and medical cannabis patients have reported that cannabis consumption lessens their UC symptoms.

At symposium in Washington, D.C., during the first week in June, Dr. Mark Silverberg concluded that “when you have exhausted other treatments, it isn’t unreasonable” to see if medical marijuana works. He did note that cannabis is not always effective and can have adverse effects on young people. Scientifically valid studies, however, are rare. Little is known about how the ingredients of cannabis affect the digestive tract.

In the absence of more scientifically valid data about IBD and cannabis, however, doctors at the Toronto symposium moved ahead to outline the reasons why cannabis may nevertheless be recommended as a treatment. One is that people can die of IBD, so if conventional treatment is not working, patients have little to lose by trying cannabis. Another reason is that conventional treatment involves drugs that suppress the body’s immune system, which leads to adverse complications. Third, word is out among IBD sufferers that cannabis can help, so many patients are asking their doctors about cannabis, while at least half simply try it for themselves. Although scientifically valid trials have yet to offer much hard data on how or if cannabis works, there is abundant clinical evidence that cannabis can alleviate nausea and digestive system pain.

Safe and effective medicine

According to the Israeli study conducted by Timna Naftali and Lihi Bar Lev Schlieder, among others, “Cannabis is frequently used by patients with ulcerative colitis UC, although it was never investigated in a controlled trial.” The doctors conducted a controlled experiment that included randomized placebos on patients who were experiencing little success with conventional treatments. The results of the study? First, “No serious side effects were observed.” And second, “Tetrahydrocannabinol-rich cannabis is safe and can induce…improvement in moderately active UC.” The positive results of the experiment, which began in 2010, may lead to additional research. At the symposium, Naftali said that she was not surprised by the experiment’s results, given than many of her patients reported improvements after trying cannabis. Naftali said of cannabis treatment, “It’s not a magic bullet, but it certainly does have an effect, and I think should be explored further.”

What do you think? Should more studies be funded to investigate cannabis and IDB? Leave a comment below.

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About the Author: Eric Howard

Eric Howard, who lives in Los Angeles, is a staff writer for Marijuana and the Law. His most recent book, Taliban Beach Party, appeared in 2017.

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