Cannabis is already used to treat a range of conditions, from pain and nausea to mental disorders such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. And some users have reported it eases their symptoms of IBD, according to the authors of the study. They discovered that a molecule in cannabis bore a resemblance to one naturally released by the body to relieve gut inflammation.
IBD is an umbrella term used to describe serious conditions where the gastrointestinal tract is chronically inflamed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are the most common forms. While the former affects the colon and the rectum, the latter can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, but most often the area of the small intestine before the large intestine or colon.
Symptoms of IBD include diarrhea, stomach pain, blood in stools, weight loss and tiredness. Currently, those with IBD can take medications to treat their symptoms, while some may need surgery to remove the damaged parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
By studying mice, the researchers concluded that gut inflammation is regulated by two constantly changing processes that respond to conditions in the intestinal tract. The first causes the immune system to respond aggressively to dangerous pathogens but can also harm the intestinal lining if it is too zealous.
In the second process, which the researchers described for the first time, special molecules are transported across the epithelial cells of the gut (which are the first line of defense against harmful bacteria and viruses) to switch off inflammation. The process removes toxins from the inflamed cells in the intestinal cavity.