Introduction: Cannabis use among inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients is common. There are many studies of various laboratory models demonstrating the anti-inflammatory effect of cannabis, but their translation to human disease is still lacking.Areas covered: The cannabis plant contains many cannabinoids, that activate the endocannabinoid system. The two most abundant phytocannabinoids are the psychoactive Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and the (mostly) anti-inflammatory cannabidiol (CBD). Approximately 15% of IBD patients use cannabis to ameliorate disease symptoms. Unfortunately, so far there are only three small placebo controlled study regarding the use of cannabis in active Crohns disease, combining altogether 93 subjects. Two of the studies showed significant clinical improvement but no improvement in markers of inflammation.Expert opinion: Cannabis seems to have a therapeutic potential in IBD. This potential must not be neglected; however, cannabis research is still at a very early stage. The complexity of the plant and the diversity of different cannabis chemovars create an inherent difficulty in cannabis research. We need more studies investigating the effect of the various cannabis compounds. These effects can then be investigated in randomized placebo controlled clinical trials to fully explore the potential of cannabis treatment in IBD.
Keywords: Cannabis; Crohn’s disease; inflammatory bowel disease; marihuana; ulcerative colitis.
Methods: In a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, single-centre trial, patients received orally either cannabis oil containing160/40 mg/ml cannabidiol/tetrahydrocannabinol [CBD/THC] or placebo for 8 weeks. Disease parameters, including the CD activity index [CDAI], and simple endoscopic score for CD [SES-CD], were assessed before and after treatment. In a subgroup of patients, blood samples were collected for CBD and THC plasma levels.
Aims: Despite reports that medical cannabis improves symptoms in Crohn’s disease [CD], controlled studies evaluating disease response are lacking. This study assessed the effect of cannabidiol [CBD]-rich cannabis oil for induction of remission in CD.
Results: The study included 56 patients, age 34.5 ± 11 years, men/women 30/26 [54/46%],30 in cannabis and 26 in placebo groups. CDAI at recruitment and after 8 weeks was 282 (interquartile range [IQR] 243-342) and 166 [IQR 82-226], and 264 [IQR 234-320] and 237 [IQR 121-271] [p <0.05] in the cannabis and placebo groups, respectively. Median quality of life [QOL] score improved from 74 for both groups at baseline to 91 [IQR 85-102] and 75 [IQR 69-88] after 8 weeks in the cannabis and placebo groups, respectively [p = 0.004]. SES-CD was 10 [IQR 7-14] and 11 [IQR7-14], and 7 [4-14] and 8 [IQR 4-12] [p = 0.75] before and after treatment, in the cannabis and placebo groups, respectively. Inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein [CRP], calprotectin) remained unchanged.
Conclusions: Eight weeks of CBD-rich cannabis treatment induced significant clinical and QOL improvement without significant changes in inflammatory parameters or endoscopic scores. The oral CBD-rich cannabis extract was well absorbed. Until further studies are available, cannabis treatment in Crohn’s disease should be used only in the context of clinical trials.