Cannabis and cannabis oil for the treatment of Crohn’s disease
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is a long‐term condition that results in inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, occurring anywhere from the mouth to the anus. Common symptoms include fever, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and weight loss. Crohn’s disease is characterized by periods of relapse when people are actively experiencing symptoms and periods of remission when the symptoms stop.
What are Cannabis and Cannabinoids?
Cannabis is a widely used drug which acts on the endocannabinoid system. Cannabis contains multiple components called cannabinoids. The use of cannabis and cannabis oil containing specific cannabinoids produces mental and physical effects such as altered sensory perception and euphoria when consumed. Some cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, do not have a psychoactive effect. Cannabis and cannabidiol have some anti‐inflammatory properties that might help people with Crohn’s disease.
What did the researchers investigate?
The researchers studied whether cannabis is better than placebo (e.g. a sugar pill) therapy for treating adults with active Crohn’s disease or Crohn’s disease that is in remission.
What did the researchers find?
The researchers extensively searched the literature up to 17 October 2018 and found three studies (93 participants) that met the inclusion criteria. One ongoing study was also identified. All of the studies were small in size and had some quality issues. One small study (21 participants) compared eight weeks of treatment with cannabis cigarettes containing 115 mg of D9‐tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to placebo cigarettes containing cannabis with the THC removed in participants with active Crohn’s disease who had failed at least one medical treatment. Although no difference in clinical remission rates was observed, more participants in the cannabis group had improvement in their Crohn’s disease symptoms than participants in the placebo group. More side effects were observed in the cannabis cigarette group compared to placebo. These side effects were considered to be mild in nature and included sleepiness, nausea, difficulty with concentration, memory loss, confusion and dizziness. Participants in the cannabis cigarette group reported improvements in pain, appetite and satisfaction with treatment.
One small study (22 participants) compared cannabis oil (10 mg of cannabidiol twice daily) to placebo oil (i.e. olive oil) in participants with active Crohn’s disease who had failed at least one medical treatment. No difference in clinical remission rates was observed. There was no difference in serious side effects. Serious side effects included worsening Crohn’s disease in one participant in each group.
One small study (50 participants) compared cannabis oil (composed of 15% cannabidiol and 4% THC) to placebo oil in participants with active Crohn’s disease. Positive differences in quality of life and the Crohn’s disease activity index were observed.
The effects of cannabis and cannabis oil on Crohn’s disease are uncertain. No firm conclusions regarding the benefits and harms (e.g. side effects) of cannabis and cannabis oil in adults with Crohn’s disease can be drawn. The effects of cannabis and cannabis oil in people with Crohn’s disease in remission have not been investigated. Further studies with larger numbers of participants are required to assess the potential benefits and harms of cannabis in Crohn’s disease. Future studies should assess the effects of cannabis in people with active and inactive Crohn’s disease. Different doses of cannabis and formulations (e.g. cannabis oil or pills) should be investigated.