New research has confirmed what cannabis-medicating IBS sufferers have known for a long time. After experimenting on mice, the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the University of Bath say that cannabinoids do help control and prevent intestinal inflammation.
This is the first-time scientists have reported a biological mechanism to explain why some marijuana users have reported beneficial effects from cannabis for conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Researchers hope that their findings will lead to the development of drugs and treatments for autoimmune gut disorders, which affect millions of people around the world.
The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. “There’s been a lot of anecdotal evidence about the benefits of medical marijuana, but there hasn’t been a lot of science to back it up,” said Beth A. McCormick, PhD, vice chair and professor of microbiology & physiological systems at UMass Medical School. “For the first time, we have an understanding of the molecules involved in the process and how endocannabinoids and cannabinoids control inflammation. This gives clinical researchers a new drug target to explore to treat patients that suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, and perhaps other diseases, as well.”
The researchers discovered that gut inflammation is regulated by two important processes, which are constantly in flux and responding to changing conditions in the intestinal environment. The first process, identified in previous scientific research, promotes an aggressive immune response in the gut that destroys dangerous pathogens, but which can also damage the lining of the intestine when immune cells attack indiscriminately.
The second, first described in this paper, turns off the inflammation response via special molecules transported across the epithelial cells lining the gut by the same process already known to remove toxins from these cells into the intestine cavity. Crucially, this response requires a naturally-produced molecule called an endocannabinoid, which is very similar to cannabinoid molecules found in cannabis.
If the endocannabinoid isn’t present, inflammation isn’t kept in balance and it can run unchecked, as the body’s immune cells attack the intestinal lining.
The study showed that cannabis use introduces cannabinoids into the body, effectively mimicking endocannabinoids.
“We need to be clear that while this is a plausible explanation for why marijuana users have reported cannabis relieves symptoms of IBD, we have thus far only evaluated this in mice and have not proven this experimentally in humans. We hope, however, that these findings will help us develop new ways to treat bowel diseases in humans,” said professor Randy Mrsny from the University of Bath Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology.