Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects around 500,000 people in North America.
In a first-of-its-kind clinical trial, an 8-week treatment regimen involving daily smoking of marijuana 'cigarettes' resulted in a reduction in overall disease severity in 10 of the 11 patients that were studied. 5 of these patients experienced complete remission of their disease.
The results were published online in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology
and authored by scientists at the Meir Medical Clinical in Israel. Israel has one of the most fastest growing medical marijuana programs in the world
, with over 11,000 registered patients as of today -- up from just 400 in 2009.
While the researchers say that their study was the first placebo-controlled trial -- the "gold standard" when it comes to medical research -- to investigate the effects of marijuana use on patients with Crohn's disease, other studies have produced similar results
Based on findings from both animal and human research, experts suggest that cannabis could play a role in the treatment of Crohn's and other inflammatory bowel diseases
by regulating intestinal hyperactivity, inflammation and pain.
Marijuana's medical properties come directly from compounds known as cannabinoids, including the well-known tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) molecule. Interestingly, the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant have been shown to mimic the activity of endocannabinoids - cannabinoids that are produced naturally by the human body.
Similarly, studies have identified a variety of digestive functions that can be modulated by cannabinoid activity, especially in inflammatory disease states.
Although the findings of the current study provide considerable support for the use of marijuana as a Crohn's disease treatment, the authors call for more studies to "look into the role of cannabinoids in controlling inflammation and symptoms in inflammatory bowel disease."
Indeed, larger studies may be able to provide stronger confirmation or perhaps refute the findings of the newest study, which failed to demonstrate complete remission of Crohn's in the majority of the treatment group.
Still, the authors concluded their research by stating, "a short course of THC-rich cannabis produced significant clinical, steroid-free benefits to 11 patients with active Crohn's disease, compared to placebo, without side effects."