What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects approximately 50 people out of every 100,000 in North America and Europe. It is similar to ulcerative colitis, and causes inflammation throughout the entire digestive tract, with inflammation most concentrated in the small intestine.
Crohn’s disease is notable as it’s not clear what causes it because of the quantity of the genes and mechanisms involved, rather than a lack of evidence as is the case with many other syndromes. Over 70 different genes, and therefore the proteins they code for, are implicated in some sort of dysfunction in individuals with Crohn’s disease.
Several of the genes have unknown function, but many are known to be involved in the body’s response to digestive bacteria. Specifically, the innate immune system has no response to the bacteria, but the adaptive immune systems mistakenly perceives a threat warning from the innate immune system anyway, and launches an attack on those bacteria and the tissue on which they feed. Because of this immune response, the lining of any part of the digestive tract with bacteria, which is all of it, can become affected.
There are also some theories that fault the drastic changes to the human diet over the last century compared to the preceding several millennia as part of the rise in prevalence of Crohn’s disease. Analogous to this is the fact that there are significantly fewer symbiotic parasites present in the bowels of people in developed nations as opposed to undeveloped nations, and the rates of Crohn’s disease mirror these trends. Furthermore, when these harmless parasites are introduced to individuals with Crohn’s, their symptoms subside in a quantifiable way.
All of these things put together lead scientists and researchers to believe that Crohn’s disease is an umbrella or spectrum of many related conditions rather than one exclusive and homologous pathology. As we make progress in defining the cause of Crohn’s disease, undoubtedly more and better treatments will arise as well.
CBD, the ECS, and Crohn’s disease
As we have discovered over the last quarter century, the endocannabinoid system plays many crucial roles in the functioning of the digestive, immune, reproductive, and central nervous systems. In fact, its prevalence in these systems is what allows the phytocannabinoids in medical marijuana, most of which CBD, to exert so many profound therapeutic effects on disorders of these systems.
In addition, their inter-relatedness also plays a role, because cannabinoid modulation of one system, such as the immune system, can play a role in the way immune system cells behave in another system, such as the digestive tract. There is much crossover, so when an imbalance causes a syndrome, like Crohn’s disease, often times natural remedies with many active ingredients are more effective than single-compound drugs that only affect one specific system or mechanism.
In the digestive tract, CB1 and CB2 receptors, located in muscle and endothelial (lining of the digestive tract) cells respectively, essentially modulate the level of activity of these cells. In Crohn’s disease, these receptors are generally under-active, so genes are activated less frequently. This causes a lack of the proper proteins and enzymes that are necessary to both feed and maintain the bacterial culture in our gut. One of their roles is the “turning off” of certain antigens on these bacteria that trigger an immune response.
Additionally, these cannabinoid receptors are involved in the overactivity of the immune system as well. This means immune cells are more responsive than they should be, and bacteria produce more warning signals than they should, creating a compounding effect that produces much of the inflammation of Crohn’s disease.
CBD raises the activity level of gut cells so they produce proper levels of the proteins that they normally don’t produce. It also lowers the activity of immune cells, and makes them more selective in their migration toward antigens. Its pain-relieving ability on the individual nerve level also reduces the negative effects of Crohn’s even if it can’t completely regulate the protein function in the biosphere of our gastrointestinal tract. It’s safe to say that CBD is an effective natural remedy for Crohn’s disease and many other digestive disorders, and it has so far never once been contraindicated for use in anyone with Crohn’s disease.