WE’VE GOT GUTS
For 1.4 million Americans who suffer from ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, medical marijuana might offer some promise.
Annual colonoscopies, daily medication, periodic flare ups requiring extended treatment and, often, hospitalization. Excessive weight loss, bloody diarrhea, painful cramping, loss of bowel control. This is life with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), suffered by 1.4 million Americans and for which there is no cure–only treatment options that sufferers find costly, lacking in efficacy, and with unpleasant, even dangerous, side effects.
I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, one of the types of IBD, when I was 25-years-old. I was in my first year of teaching middle school, often running to the student bathroom at the end of the hall in the middle of class, unable to make it all the way to the staff facilities. After months of seeking medical help, I ended up in the emergency room because I couldn’t stop vomiting and passing bloody diarrhea.
After a week of not being allowed to eat solid food, I received a sigmoidoscopy (similar to a colonoscopy but not as extensive) which confirmed my doctor’s suspicions: I had IBD. For the past 15 years, I have undergone extremely intrusive rectal scopes. I take maintenance medications that often fail, and I’m back to running for the bathroom again. I am at an exponentially higher risk for colon cancer, hence the yearly test. I have tried various holistic treatments such as meditation and aloe pills, but inevitably I experience another flare up.
One particular alternative treatment that is unavailable in my state, yet investigated by a growing number of IBD sufferers, is the medicinal use of cannabis.
During the second half of this decade, medical marijuana is gaining legal ground in the United States. While federally still illegal, many states have passed laws allowing for prescription pot as treatment for a wide variety of illnesses. California lead the charge, legalizing medical marijuana 20 years ago; since that time, medical practices dedicated to the use of cannabis have flourished.
Medical marijuana is now legal in 25 states as well as the District of Columbia. Four of those states, as well as DC, have legalized recreational use. In spite of increased legality, however, official advocacy groups such as the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America are hesitant, if not entirely opposed to endorsing its usage, which is more than likely the result of the still-existent federal ban on medical marijuana.
While weed may be most commonly recognized as an alternative treatment for nausea, particularly for chemotherapy patients, its usage as an anti-inflammatory is gaining ground as researchers learn about stimulating the body’s naturally-occurring cannabinoid receptors. By studying how cannabinoids relieve nausea and pain, researchers discovered the physiological effects in addition to the known psychoactive properties.
“There are an abundance of cannabinoid receptors in GI tissue, both on immune cells and GI cells, says Dr. Jordan Tishler. “Cannabis has been very effective in inflammatory disorders at treating both the underlying disease as well as the symptoms.” At his Boston-area medical practice, Inhale MD Health and Wellness, the Harvard-educated Dr.Tishler utilizes cannabis to treat his patients for any number of illnesses, both physical and psychological, including Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)…