Study Shows Cannabis Oil Improves Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease

Eight weeks of treatment with cannabis oil caused a significant reduction in Crohn’s disease symptoms compared to a placebo.

Cannabis oil can reduce pain and improve quality of life in patients diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, according to a new study recently presented at the European Gastroenterology Conference.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. Most common in adults 19-40 years, the disease can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition.

To assess the effects of cannabis on Crohn’s disease, researchers in Israel used a randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 45 people with moderately severe cases of the disease. For eight weeks, the participants with either given cannabis oil or placebo. Their symptom severity, quality of life, and inflammation in the gut were measured before, during, and after treatments.

“Cannabis has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of medical conditions, and studies have shown that many people with Crohn’s disease use cannabis regularly to relieve their symptoms,” said lead researcher Dr. Timna Naftali, speaking at the conference. “It has always been thought that this improvement was related to a reduction in inflammation in the gut and the aim of this study was to investigate this.”

Naftali and her colleagues found that subjects given the cannabis oil experienced a significant reduction in symptoms and a significant improvement in quality of life measures compared to the placebo group. Sixty-five percent of patients receiving cannabis oil met strict criteria for clinical remission after the eight weeks, compared to 35 percent of the placebo recipients.

The study did not reveal, however, any effects of cannabis oil on gut inflammation.

“We have previously demonstrated that cannabis can produce measurable improvements in Crohn’s disease symptoms but, to our surprise, we saw no statistically significant improvements in endoscopic scores or in the inflammatory markers we measured in the cannabis oil group compared with the placebo group,” said Naftali.

“We know that cannabinoids can have profound anti-inflammatory effects but this study indicates that the improvement in symptoms may not be related to these anti-inflammatory properties,” she added.

Looking Ahead

Naftali and her colleagues said they intend to further investigate the potential anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis and its potential therapeutic application for inflammatory bowel diseases.

They specifically want to look into cannabis’ interaction with the endocannabinoid system, a major regulatory network responsible for regulating balance in an array of functions, including immune response.

“There are very good grounds to believe that the endocannabinoid system is a potential therapeutic target in Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal diseases,” said Naftali. “For now, however, we can only consider medicinal cannabis as an alternative or additional intervention that provides temporarily symptom relief for some people with Crohn’s disease.”

Naftali acknowledged the small number of participants in her recent study and that “moving forward, larger and longer studies are required.” The new study has not yet been published in a peer-review journal.

Cannabis and Crohn’s Disease

Previous findings have also shown cannabis to be effective for managing symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease. Read an overview of the findings in this previous research through our education page.

Keep up with the latest cannabis-related studies on our news page.