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New Study: Cannabis May Help Treat Type 1 Diabetes, Colitis and Crohn’s Disease

Findings in a new study indicate that the endocannabinoid system plays an instrumental role in maintaining the immunological health of the gut.

A new study from researchers at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine has found that cannabinoids are involved in maintaining the health of the digestive tract. The study, published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, discovered that an endocannabinoid naturally produced by the body, anandamide, effectively reduces inflammation and cures Type 1 diabetes in mice.

In the study, the mice were given capsaicin, a key ingredient found in chili peppers. The capsaicin, once ingested, bound with the TRPV1 receptor, which in turn stimulated the production of anandamide. It was the anandamide that calmed down the immune system. The researchers discovered the same gut-calming results when feeding the mice anandamide directly.

Anandamide is a neuromodulatory lipid and one of the major endocannabinoids involved in ensuring the proper functioning of the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating an array of physiological processes, including immune response.

The researchers found that once the anandamide was produced or administered, it interacted with the endocannabinoid system’s receptors in the digestive tract to stimulate the production of a white blood cell called a macrophage to elicit an anti-inflammatory response. This inflammation-limiting effect cured the mice of Type 1 diabetes, suggesting it could also be beneficial for treating colitis, Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory-related diseases.

Medical Marijuana Research

One of the study’s researchers suggested that consuming cannabis, which contains phytocannabinoids that are chemically analogous to endocannabinoids like anandamide, would likely deliver the same result.

“I’m hoping to work with the public health authority in Colorado to see if there has been an effect on the severity of colitis among regular users of edible weed,” said Pramod Srivastava, senior author and Professor of Immunology and Medicine at UConn School of Medicine.

Srivastava plans to investigate whether the prevalence of inflammatory-related stomach diseases in Colorado has dropped since the state ended prohibition on recreational marijuana.

“If the epidemiological data shows a significant change [since adult use marijuana was legalized in 2012], that would make a testable case that anandamide or other cannabinoids could be used as therapeutic drugs to treat certain disorders of the stomach, pancreas, intestines and colon,” he said.

Previous studies have found the endocannabinoid system responsible for regulating the immune system. Others indicate that modulating the endocannabinoid system through the administering of cannabis and its cannabinoids returns the immune system to homeostasis and effectively reduces inflammation. Two major cannabinoids found in cannabis – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – have shown to interact with the cannabinoid receptors that are located in the brain to regulate inflammation.

“This allows you to imagine ways the immune system and the brain might talk to each other. They share a common language,” said Srivastava.

You can read the entire study, “Endocannabinoid system acts as a regulator of homeostasis in the gut,” via the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

Learn more about the research investigating cannabinoids through our education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis-related studies by regularly visiting our news feed.