Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a term used to describe chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. In general, IBD refers to either Ulcerative Colitis, which is localized to the colon or Crohn’s Disease, which has the potential to impact any part of the gastrointestinal tract. IBD can be extremely debilitating and have a negative impact on quality of life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this lifelong illness is generally diagnosed in patients aged in their twenties and thirties, can result in higher healthcare costs than those not impacted by IBD, and is associated with an increased risk of other diseases such as cancer. Not knowing when an IBD attack may happen can lead to anxiety and depression. Many patients with IBD will treat their symptoms and have reported relief by using cannabis. As such, the investigation of cannabis as a potential treatment of IBD is worthwhile.
In November 2016, a review was published in the Independent Peer-Reviewed Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, examining available literature on the subject. The authors of this work cite a possible role of cannabis for treating symptoms of patients with severe IBD that don’t respond well to conventional methods. These symptoms include nausea and severe pain. This article noted that large, randomized controlled studies using outcome measures such as inflammatory markers are needed to demonstrate objective improvement before cannabis can be accepted as an evidence-based treatment by the scientific and medical community.
Maintaining a good quality of life is a primary treatment goal for those living with IBD. In 2021, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, which included randomized controlled trials and non-randomized studies, reviewed outcome measures such as clinical remission, inflammatory markers, symptom improvement, and quality of life scores. Although results demonstrated no significant improvement in objective outcome measures such as clinical remission and biomarkers, studies demonstrated significant improvement in both symptoms and quality of life for those with IBD with the use of cannabis.
Although these results are promising, it should be noted that the complete safety profile of cannabis is yet to be established, and long-term follow-up in patients with IBD that use cannabis is paramount. Nevertheless, current treatments available for IBD can carry significant risks such as infection, and well-conducted randomized controlled trials should continue to evaluate cannabis as a potential treatment for IBD, especially for symptomatic control and improvement in quality of life.