Ulcerative colitis is one of a few different forms of Irritable Bowel Disease, otherwise known as IBD. However, the condition is distinct from other similar disorders such as Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
While Crohn’s Disease is defined as persistent inflammation throughout any region of the digestive gut, ulcerative colitis (UC) is strictly confined to inflammation of the colon – aka the large intestine. Also, while Crohn’s Disease involves inflammation of all layers of the digestive gut, UC is limited to inflammation of the colon lining only.
UC must also not be mistaken with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is a disorder of the muscle contractions of the colon. While these two conditions share similar symptoms, they are ultimately distinct in nature.
In this article, we talk about the possible use of CBD oil for ulcerative colitis, and whether or not the natural cannabis compound may present itself as a viable treatment option based on recent studies and research publications. Current sufferers of UC will know that conventional pharmaceutical medications for the disorder are both costly and representative of dangerous side effects. As such, many have been actively seeking alternative forms of treatment, with CBD appearing as one of the most promising and intriguing options.
First Things First: What is CBD… And is it Legal?
For those UC patients who are still entirely in the dark as to what CBD is, it is essentially a natural component of the cannabis plant. However, it deserves little affiliation with the stereotypical perception of cannabis, as it produces no high whatsoever.
Rather, in the limited amount of years that it has been studied, CBD appears to be strictly therapeutic in nature. In other words, it seems to possess many of the health and healing properties of cannabis, without causing any of the mind altering effects.
CBD oil, which has become the most popular form of CBD as a therapy, is essentially a natural extract from raw cannabis plant material. It can either be made from actual strains of marijuana (which contain THC), or it can be made from industrial hemp, which is a similar but genetically distinct form of the plant.
On a federal level, CBD products that are extracted from industrial hemp are legal to possess and use in all 50 U.S. states. On the state level, however, there are still a few regions where use and possession of the compounds is not so widely accepted. In North Carolina, for example, a vape store owner was recently arrested for selling bottles of CBD oil, even though the oil was sourced from perfectly legal industrial hemp.
Regardless, it’s important to point out that the majority of top U.S. CBD oil manufacturers are shipping to all 50 states. No matter what part of the country you live in, it is easy to order online and have product shipped to your home.
What is Ulcerative Colitis – And How is it Typically Treated?
As we’ve mentioned, Ulcerative Colitis is defined as persistent inflammation of the colon, aka the large intestine. This chronic inflammation may range from mild to severe, and in the latter instances, it is common for the colon’s inner lining to develop painful lesions, sores, and other forms of irritation.
UC symptoms are relatively uniform in nature, and can include:
- Loose and urgent bowel movements
- Persistent diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody stool
- Abdominal pain/cramping
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Low energy and fatigue
- Inhibited growth and development (in children)
It’s important to point however that symptoms of ulcerative colitis are non-persistent in nature; a victim may go several weeks or even months with no symptoms at all, only to experience a severe flare-up seemingly out of nowhere.
How is Ulcerative Colitis Currently Treated?
There are currently a wide range of treatment options available for patients with ulcerative colitis. These may range from strong prescription pharmaceuticals in the most severe cases, to generic OTC drugs in milder instances.
Prescription medications commonly include:
- Antibiotics such as metronidazole and ciprofloxacin
- Aminosalicylates (5-ASAs) that function by reducing inflammation in intestinal lining
- Corticosteroids that may reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system
- Immunomodulators that suppress the body’s immune response
- Biologics that target a specific pathway to reduce inflammation
Non-prescription medications for UC may include generic over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as antidiarrheals, anti-inflammatory analgesics (pain relievers), and even nutritional supplements that work to lower instances of chronic intestinal inflammation.
In more severe instances that are not responsive to conventional treatment, surgery may be required to remove portions of the large intestine that are most affected. In some instances it is possible to cure ulcerative colitis with surgical removal of the colon (via a process known as a proctocolectomy), but invasive surgery always presents the risk of dangerous infections – particularly among elderly patients.
What Causes Ulcerative Colitis?
In terms of factors that may influence the onset or development of ulcerative colitis, doctors and researchers still have not been able to pinpoint an exact cause of the disease. It’s thought that initial onset may stem from an immune response to a bacterial or viral infection of the colon; in most instances this inflammatory response will subside after the infection has cleared, but for whatever reason, inflammation seems to persist long-term in those that develop symptoms of the disease.
Genetics also seems to play a significant role in the onset of UC, as roughly 20% of patients are known to have a close relative with the disorder. Moreover, it appears that white males with ethnic European origins are most at risk for the disease, although it commonly affects both males and females.
The most recent figure from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation suggests that nearly 1 million Americans are currently suffering from the disorder.
CBD for Ulcerative Colitis – How Might it Work?
Simply put, CBD for ulcerative colitis is showing promising signs as a natural therapy because of its widely-recognized ability to function as an anti-inflammatory. The National Institute of Health’s PubChem database, for example, lists cannabidiol (the scientific name for CBD) as being “devoid of psychoactivity,” and as having both analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties.
Moreover, few people know that the U.S. government currently holds a patent on CBD for (among other things) its role as an anti-inflammatory agent: “Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties … [making them] useful in the treatment of a wide variety of oxidation-associated diseases, [including] inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”
What’s equally as intriguing, however, is the fact that the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is known to have an abundance of receptors located throughout the digestive system – including the lining of the colon.
While more research is needed in order to work out the exact mechanisms of the physiological pathway, it’s believed that CBD may interact with naturally-occuring receptors in the intestinal lining to combat the “unwarranted” immune response consistent with ulcerative colitis, thereby reducing the persistent inflammation that is symptomatic of the disease.
Unfortunately, there have not yet been multi-stage clinical trials on the use of CBD oil for ulcerative colitis. The FDA has recently approved a CBD-based drug called Epidiolex for the treatment of intractable forms of epilepsy, but as of now, physicians are unable to prescribe the cannabis-based medication for any ulcerative colitis patients.
Of course, some UC patients have already been self-treating their condition with various forms of CBD oil, with varied degrees of success. It is our hope that Epidiolex (or other similar forms of CBD-based medications) may one day gain approval for the treatment of ulcerative colitis, but until then, we must rely on the small amount of research that has already been completed.
Current Research on CBD for Ulcerative Colitis
Even though the requisite clinical trials are still lacking, there have been a surprising number of specific scientific investigations carried out on the effects of CBD for ulcerative colitis. Here is a list of several of the most relevant ones:
- 2011 report in PLOS One claims that CBD presents a “new therapeutic strategy” in treating Inflammatory Bowel Disease.This investigation has without a doubt presented the most crucial evidence pointing to the possibility of CBD as a treatment for ulcerative colitis. The goal of the study was to monitor the effects of CBD on intestinal biopsies from actual patients with ulcerative colitis, as well as intestinal segments of mice with IBS-like symptoms. Results showed that CBD was able to “counteract the inflammatory environment” in both instances, which led researchers to claim that the natural compound presents a “new therapeutic strategy” in treating various forms of IBS, including ulcerative colitis.
- 2006 publication in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation claims that the ECS may act as a “therapeutic target” against Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.While this study did not outwardly monitor the effects of CBD on an ulcerative colitis condition, it did recognize the fact that cannabinoids have been used for centuries to treat gastrointestinal disorders, including intestinal inflammation. Moreover, it suggested that the endo-cannabinoid system (which CBD interacts with to maintain regulatory health), “conveys protection against GI tract inflammation,” and therefore represents a “promising therapeutic target against different GI disorders … including inflammatory bowel diseases.”
- 2009 study in the Journal of Molecular Medicine shows CBD to be protective against rat models of colitis.After first recognizing the notion that current pharmacological treatments for inflammatory bowel conditions are “disappointingly unsatisfactory,” this study examined laboratory models of colitis in rats and concluded with a claim that CBD (which was defined as a “safe and non-psychotropic ingredient of marijuana”), exerted “pharmacological effects and mechanisms [that were] potentially beneficial for the inflamed gut.”
- 2010 publication in Pharmacology and Therapeutics shows the ECS to have “organ-specific actions” throughout the digestive gutThis study not only verified the fact that the endocannabinoid system is “widely distributed throughout the gut,” but also that its pharmacological agents show “therapeutic potential” in preclinical models of GI disorders, and are involved in the regulation of – among other things – “gastroprotection and intestinal inflammation” of the digestive system.
Final Thoughts on CBD Oil for Ulcerative Colitis
As you can see, it takes no fabrication of evidence to show that CBD could have very real potential to treat the onset symptoms (and perhaps even the underlying causes) of ulcerative colitis, as well as other inflammatory bowel conditions. Advanced clinical studies will no doubt be needed in order for the cannabis-based compound to gain more traction among GI doctors, but for those patients who are currently suffering from UC and have been experiencing inadequate results with their current treatment regimen, it may very well be an alternative option worth looking into.
There are several high-quality CBD oil manufacturers currently selling legal products to all 50 U.S. states, but as always, we recommend that everyone do their own research (or better yet speak with their physician) in order to find a product that will work for them.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that none of the information in this article should be taken as medical advice, and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.