Cannabis oil significantly reduced the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and improved patients’ quality of life, but did not ease the underlying gut inflammation as was expected, researchers in Israel reported.
These results — from what the team described as a randomized and placebo-controlled study — were presented at the recent United European Gastroenterology (UEG) Week 2018, held in Vienna.
“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,” Timna Naftali, the study’s lead researcher, and a specialist in Gastroenterology at Meir Hospital and Kupat Holim Clinic at Tel Aviv University, said in a press release.
“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 added.
The Israeli research team recruited 46 people with moderately severe Crohn’s disease, who were divided into two groups: one taking cannabis oil – containing 15% cannabidiol (CBD) and 4% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – and another one given placebo, each for eight weeks.
Symptom severity and quality of life were recorded before, during and after the treatment using validated measures.
Gut inflammation was evaluated by endoscopy, a procedure that uses a flexible tube with a light and a camera attached to examine the digestive tract, and by measuring inflammatory biomarkers in blood and stool samples.
Results indicated that the group taking cannabis oil had a significant reduction in symptoms compared to placebo. A total of 65% of these patients achieved clinical remission, meaning no signs of the disease were observed, as did 35% in the placebo group. Treated patients also reported significant improvements in their quality of life.
But the researchers found no statistical differences between the two groups in endoscopic scores or levels on inflammatory biomarkers.
“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,” Naftali said.
The researchers plan to further explore the anti-inflammatory potential of cannabis in treating inflammatory bowel disease.
“There are very good ground to believe that the endocannabinoid system is a potential therapeutic target in Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal diseases,” Naftali said. “For now, however, we can only consider medicinal cannabis as an alternative or additional intervention that provides temporary symptom relief for some people with Crohn’s disease.”