What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the bowel wall along the length of the gastrointestinal tract (from the mouth to the anus), which can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea and fatigue.
The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can be located in any area of the digestive tract, although it is usually in the small intestine and colon. If left untreated, it can even spread into the deeper layers of the bowel over time.
More than 85,000 Australians suffer from IBD and most often develop in people aged between 15 and 30. It is however becoming more common in children under the age of 9.
Crohn’s disease can be painful and deliberating. If left untreated, it may lead to life-threatening complications, and surgery may be required.
What are the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease?
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease may differ from person to person, but some common ones include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in stool
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Mouth sores
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease may start off as mild, but they can increase to severe very suddenly. Periods of remission, where there are no symptoms, can also occur.
The symptoms of Crohn’s disease may become more severe as the disease progresses. More serious symptoms may include:
- Anal fissures
- Ulcers on the body (usually between the mouth and anus)
- Inflammation of the joints and skin
- Shortness of breath
What causes Crohn’s Disease?
The causes of Crohn’s disease are currently unknown. It was initially believed that stress and diet were the main causes of the disease, but it has now been found that they are contributing factors, not the direct cause.
Some risk factors for developing Crohn’s disease include:
- Age – it can develop at any age but is more likely to develop during adolescence or early adulthood. The majority of people who are diagnosed are under 30 years old, but children as young as 9 years can also suffer from symptoms.
- Family history & genetics – If you have a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, you are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Ethnicity – Despite it being able to affect every ethnic group, caucasian people are at the highest risk of developing the disease.
- Cigarette smoking – This is the most important and controllable risk factor in developing Crohn’s. It has been shown to lead to more severe symptoms and a greater risk of requiring surgery.
- Frequent use of NSAIDs – While they do not cause Crohn’s disease, medications such as Nurofen, Voltaren and Aleve can lead to the inflammation of the bowel, which can worsen the disease.
Medicinal CBD for Crohn’s Disease
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, the use of CBD in the treatment of Crohn’s disease has been found to be positive.
A 2020 paper published by the University of Sydney looked into the use of medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (1). This was the first nation-wide study of its kind in Australia, and used one of the largest sample sizes.
The researchers used an anonymous online survey to examine 838 participants on their opinions and attitudes towards the use of medical cannabis. They found that 25.3% of respondents had used medical cannabis for the treatment of their IBD, and most of them (92.7%) reported that it was effective in reducing their symptoms.
It was also found that the majority of respondents accessed their medicinal cannabis illegally, with only three respondents using legal pathways to obtain their medication. This clearly shows a need to update the accessibility of medical cannabis.
Despite this survey containing high anecdotal proof of the effectiveness of cannabis in the treatment of Crohn’s disease-related pain, further clinical research is required to confirm these results.
A review of multiple studies focused specifically on medical cannabis on Crohn’s disease (2). They found that around 15% of IDB patients used medical cannabis to ease their symptoms, and two out of the three studies they reviewed found significant clinical improvement in the presentation of Crohn’s disease.
A more recent study in 2021, looked specifically into the effects of CBD oil on Crohn’s disease (3). Their double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial divided participants into two groups – one which took CBD and one which took a placebo. They found that the group that took CBD had significant clinical improvements, such as reduced abdominal pain and fatigue. The overall quality of life was also improved for both groups of participants.
Could CBD cure Crohn’s Disease?
It isn’t currently clear whether CBD is able to cure Crohn’s disease or other forms of IBD. This is mainly due to the lack of peer-reviewed research in the field and the small sample sizes used in most studies. Further research is required to determine the initial cause of Crohn’s disease and subsequently which medications are most effective in eliminating it.
However, there is much anecdotal proof for the effective use of CBD and medical cannabis for the treatment of Crohn’s-related pain and symptoms.