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Can Cannabis Help Treat Ulcers?

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Researchers believe cannabis may have the potential to help those suffering from ulcers, but the research is still in very early phases. While direct studies on ulcers and cannabis haven’t been conducted, we know that the endocannabinoid system is involved in the homeostasis of the gut, including factors related to ulcers like inflammation and gastric acid secretion. 

Research also shows that cannabis may be able to help those with irritable bowel conditions (which have ulcers as a symptom), reducing symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, stress, inflammation, weight loss, and poor appetite. Cannabis has been shown to help with nausea in other research, so may offer nausea relief for those with ulcers as well. 

Still, some point out that research also shows cannabis can increase inflammation in some conditions, which could be a risk factor for those with ulcers. In addition, cannabis’ ability to reduce pain could mask ongoing inflammation — so patients using cannabis might not seek the medical help needed to treat ulcers appropriately.

How cannabis works on ulcers

When it comes to ulcers, and gut health in general, the endocannabinoid system may also play a role. In fact, research suggests that the endocannabinoid system is key to maintaining homeostasis in the gut, and in particular, can help modulate its inflammatory responses. The endocannabinoid system’s receptors and the endocannabinoids which activate them can be found throughout the GI tract and are involved in a number of its functions such as relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, gastric acid secretion, gastric emptying, gastrointestinal motility and fluid secretion. 

When the endocannabinoid system is disrupted, however, it can lead to irritable bowel diseases like crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — two conditions associated with the development of ulcers. 

In these conditions, researchers have noted that levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide were much lower in inflamed areas of the gut, while CB1 receptors (which are activated by anandimide) and enzymes (which break down endocannabinoids) were increased. Given this, some scientists believe that cannabinoids might be able to help reverse this deficiency, reduce inflammation and prevent ulcers.  

And there is some reason to believe that stimulating the endocannabinoid system could help with ulcers. For one thing, activating endocannabinoid receptors CB1 or CB2 can reduce intestinal inflammation, one factor in ulcer development, decreasing pain and sensitivity. And research on animals has also shown that anandamide (as well as with other chemicals that activate CB1) can play a protective role against stomach ulcers caused by alcohol, stress, or NSAID’s, actually preventing the formation of ulcers. 

Given these factors, scientists believe targeting the endocannabinoid system with the cannabinoids in cannabis could potentially improve conditions for those with ulcers or ulcer related conditions like crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

Research on ulcer/ulcer symptoms and cannabis

While our understanding of the endocannabinoid system suggests cannabis may be able to help with ulcers and their symptoms, it’s important to review the clinical studies before making a firm determination about whether cannabis can help. Unfortunately, there is very little clinical data looking at this question. 

What we do have is a few studies looking at how cannabis use impacts irritable bowel diseases — which can include ulcers as a symptom. For these conditions, at least, the research suggests cannabis may help. 

For one thing, population-based surveys suggest that many patients are using cannabis for irritable bowel diseases:

  • A 2007 survey on 214 patients in Spain with irritable bowel diseases found that nearly 10% of these patients used cannabis.
  • A 2011 survey from Canada on 291 patients found that 47% of patients reported using cannabis to manage their condition — reporting benefits like relief of abdominal pain, diarrhea and poor appetite.
  • A 2013 survey in the US found that 12.3% of irritable bowel disease sufferers were using cannabis, and 2014 study found that 91% of patients indicated that their symptoms improved with cannabis use — citing benefits like less abdominal pain and cramping, less stress and high levels of well-being. Some 35.7% even reported that cannabis worked better than corticosteroids. 

Observational studies also suggest cannabis may help. In one study on patients with crohn’s disease, for example, all 30 patients reported that cannabis use improved their medical well-being, 21 patients saw notable improvement in their crohn’s disease according to objective measures, and 22 were able to discontinue the use of corticosteroids.

In another observational study, 13 patients with irritable bowel disorders were given cannabis for 3 months. Researchers found that cannabis use improved quality of life, and led to increases in patient’s weight, and decreases in disease activity related to crohn’s disease.

In addition to these studies, other research on humans and animals suggests that cannabis can lower the production of gastric acid output. Since too much gastric acid can be a factor in ulcer development, this could mean cannabis can help protect the gut from this damage. Researchers point out that cannabis seems to help avoid ulcers by both reducing acid output and protecting against the effects of acid (as well as alcohol, stress and NSAIDs) by reducing inflammation. 

Cannabis is also well known for its ability to relieve nausea. Since this is a common symptom with ulcers, using cannabis may help reduce this factor as well. 

Still, much more research on humans with ulcers should be conducted before we can say for sure what impact cannabis has on ulcers. At this point, the research is very limited and there isn’t enough data to say for sure whether cannabis can help to either prevent or treat ulcers and their symptoms.

CBD and ulcers 

While there aren’t many studies looking at CBD for ulcers, some researchers have pointed out that CBD, a cannabinoid in cannabis with less disorienting side effects than THC, may also be able to help those who can’t tolerate THC’s effects. Animal research suggests that CBD can also reduce inflammation in the gut, and thus may be able to help with these conditions with less side effects. CBD’s ability to aid in pain and nausea relief may also make it helpful for relieving ulcer symptoms. 

Still, until we have more studies looking at how CBD impacts those with ulcers, it is hard to say whether CBD can help.

Potential side effects of cannabis use

While cannabis has potential to help with ulcers and their symptoms, it can also come with a variety of side effects — including temporary psychoactive effects like euphoria, mental confusion, paranoia, memory issues and slowed cognitive skills. It can also cause uncomfortable effects like dry mouth and eyes, increased appetite, heart palpitations, and drowsiness. These were usually rated as mild in patients with irritable bowel diseases using cannabis. 

For ulcer patients, it’s also important to note that while cannabis usually reduces inflammation, it has shown pro-inflammatory properties in some research as well. In addition, there is a worry from some researchers that cannabis’ pain relieving properties might mask ongoing inflammation — resulting in patients not seeking adequate care for their ulcers.

 Cannabis side effects: fatigue, memory, appetite, reaction time, mood, paranoia, addiction

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