The marijuana plant Cannabis sativa has been used for centuries as a treatment for a variety of ailments. It contains over 60 different cannabinoid compounds. Studies have revealed that the endocannabinoid system is involved in almost all major immune events. Cannabinoids may, therefore, be beneficial in inflammatory disorders. In murine colitis, cannabinoids decrease histologic and microscopic inflammation. In humans, cannabis has been used to treat a plethora of gastrointestinal problems, including anorexia, emesis, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and diabetic gastroparesis. Despite anecdotal reports on medical cannabis in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), there are few controlled studies. In an observational study in 30 patients with Crohn's disease (CD), we found that medical cannabis was associated with improvement in disease activity and reduction in the use of other medications. In a more recent placebo-controlled study in 21 chronic CD patients, we showed a decrease in the CD activity index >100 in 10 of 11 subjects on cannabis compared to 4 of 10 on placebo. Complete remission was achieved in 5 of 11 subjects in the cannabis group and 1 of 10 in the placebo group. Yet, in an additional study, low-dose cannabidiol did not have an effect on CD activity. In summary, evidence is gathering that manipulating the endocannabinoid system can have beneficial effects in IBD, but further research is required to declare cannabinoids a medicine. We need to establish the specific cannabinoids, as well as appropriate medical conditions, optimal dose, and mode of administration, to maximize the beneficial effects while avoiding any potential harmful effects of cannabinoid use.
© 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel.