As a long-time advocate for the medical applications of Cannabis as a natural medicine I’ve noticed that a rather overwhelming number of people these days who suffer from so-called gastro-intestinal ‘diseases’. I say so-called not because I am an expert, or a doctor, or a scientist, but because the person I love most in the world has been on a very long and painful ten-year journey during which she has been continually failed by every expert, scientist and doctor we have asked for help – although there have been a few who sincerely tried to be helpful.
During this journey we have had to basically help ourselves because as I’m sure you know if you have a medical problem that can’t be easily ‘cured’ most doctors quickly lose patience with you and can’t wait for you to disappear and stop ruining their self-image as infallible healers. So for years my wife and I have spent hundreds of hours researching the literatures of medicine, science, nutrition, folk-medicine, healing arts, and anywhere else we could think of looking, trying to discover what makes sense and what doesn’t.
I would like to share some of what we believe are useful discoveries we’ve made that complement the almost magical properties of Cannabis and some of the other medicinal plants that we believe are gifts of the Great Spirit to the People of the world.
Your gut, as you know, is a long tube running from your mouth to your anus. It’s natural to think of your gut as being inside your body, but think about that for a minute and you’ll realize that whatever is inside your gut, that 36′ or so of tube, is actually outside your body. In a very real sense, the walls of your gut are the outside of your body very much like your skin, and whatever is inside your gut is not very different from whatever is on your skin – both are outside your body.
The reason this is important to visualize is that when your gut is compromised, what is inside your gut, much of which is naturally supposed to be kept outside your body, can move into your body in ways that nature did not intend. In other words, the purpose of your gut is to process your food and then allow ONLY the things your body needs to come through the wall of the gut and enter your body. These are mostly nutrients and water, and the rest of what is in your gut – the waste or non-useful materials that are supposed to be excreted – are meant by nature to be kept OUT of your body.
Just like when your skin is broken and you get an infection because foreign materials (and bugs) have moved into your body through the broken barrier of the skin, and your body rallies its defenses, led by inflammation, its #1 defense, when your gut is compromised materials (and bugs) that are supposed to be kept outside can move into your body where they trigger the body’s immune system defenses.
The skin and the walls of the gut are obviously both somewhat permeable. In other words, you can absorb certain kinds of things through your skin, but your gut tissues are designed to be much more absorptive. One big difference between your skin and your gut is that the tissues of the gut are very specialized and are designed to allow nutrients from your food through so that you can be nourished. And that is where the beginnings of so many of our GI ‘diseases’ occur. When the gut tissues are compromised, and the barriers that have previously only allowed fully digested nutrients to move through the gut wall now allow other materials, like undigested proteins, to move through the wall, the body’s immune system is triggered and all kinds of hell break loose.
Good Bugs/Bad Bugs
One of the realities of our gut is that it is absolutely chock full of bugs. All kinds of bacteria thrive in our gut, which as far as the bugs are concerned is divided into two sections – the upper gut and the lower gut. To oversimplify a little – not much – the good bugs live in your upper gut and the bad bugs live in your lower gut. The good bugs are all those species that are involved in keeping you healthy, helping you digest your food, creating hormones that help regulate your body’s functions, communicating back & forth with your brain, and importantly, keeping the bad bugs where they belong by colonizing the upper gut so completely that there is no place for the bad bugs to get a foothold even if they wanted to.
Now you take some antibiotics. It doesn’t really matter what kind – any anti-biotic will do. What happens? Well of course the anti-biotic is designed to kill bacteria and while some (very few) antibiotics kill only bad bugs like those causing an infection somewhere in your body, many antibiotics kill bugs rather indiscriminately. One of the realities of life is that it is harder to kill bad bugs than it is to kill good bugs, so anytime that strong systemic antibiotics are used there is a big die-off of the good bugs in the upper gut, whereas the bad bugs in the lower gut hang in there.
But the story doesn’t end there, unfortunately. After the battle there is lots of open territory in your upper gut where colonies of good bugs used to live, and the bad bugs somehow know that this is the case (remember, these bugs communicate with each other) and they begin migrating upwards, staking out ground as they advance. And keep in mind that the bad bugs doing this are the ones who survived the antibiotics – only now they are resistant and much harder to kill.
One of the reasons that these are bad bugs, or pathogens, is that they don’t live in harmony with their host. When they are kept down in the lower gut, there are strong natural barriers to keep them from breaking down the tissues of the gut wall wherever they establish their colonies, but in the upper gut there are no such defenses and before long these colonies of bad bugs begin creating weak spots in the wall of the upper gut. They do this in various ways – by secreting acids that eat through the tissues, by killing off the specialized cells that regulate nutrient transport, and by slipping through the gut wall themselves to make a new home somewhere comfy like your heart or brain. Medicine even has a name for this situation – SIBO, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth. And the almost invariably prescribed ‘cure’ for SIBO? Well, you guessed it. More anti-biotics. If the phrase ‘vicious cycle’ is running through your mind at this point, you’re on target.
Many people already know about the importance of taking wide-spectrum Pro-Biotics to help restore the good bugs in your intestines after taking any kind of anti-biotic. Most doctors will not tell you this – they just prescribe or use these ‘medicines’ on you and then let you walk away to deal with the almost inevitable consequences. If I were a more cynical person I might suspect that they do this because it is good for business – they ‘cure’ or ‘protect’ you with anti-biotics and then because your gut has been compromised you are literally forced to come back to them because you now have all kinds of other problems that they can also charge you for ‘curing’. But that would be really cynical of me, wouldn’t it?
Please realize if you don’t already that it isn’t enough to just eat yogurt containing acidophilus bacteria – in nature there are thousands – maybe millions – of different kinds of bacteria and other micro-organisms that live in your gut, and just like in a forest or meadow diversity is the key to ecosystem health, so too in your gut. There are many different brands of wide-spectrum Pro-Biotics, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good one. My advice – for what its worth – is to look for a brand that has at least 3-4 billion bacteria per dose and has at least 6 different species of bacteria.
The Problem With ‘Medicines’
If you are one of millions of people who have been diagnosed with gastrointestinal disease you already know that none of the expensive, often toxic ‘medicines’ and ‘treatments’ actually help much although, as my wife and I can testify, the ‘system’ is set up to keep draining you financially until there is nothing left at which point you are cast aside, with your life ruined and your health unimproved. Medical marijuana advocates also know that not only medical marijuana but other inexpensive natural medicines can help tremendously, and although there is still no cure for these diseases, Cannabis offers a better more natural way of managing the symptoms than what any of the conventional treatments and “medicines” have to offer.
Before I get into some of the things that my wife and have found actually can make a huge difference in your health if you are living with a compromised gut, let me first bring up what we have learned about an undiagnosed problem directly related to a compromised gut that actually can be very effectively diagnosed and managed, and that affects at least 10-15 million people in North America alone without most of them knowing they are slowly being literally eaten alive.
It all begins with your body’s immune system. I don’t pretend to understand this complex system of defenses, but I do know one important thing, and that is that the immune system can sometimes go a little crazy and start doing things it was never supposed to do – like attacking the body itself rather than attacking outside threats to the body that have somehow entered or invaded the body. This is called an auto-immune response, headed by inflammation, and is I believe at the root of a huge undiagnosed problem that I hope anyone who suffers from any kind of gut issues will think about carefully.
Many if not most people who suffer from intestinal diseases also have been diagnosed, or just simply know from their own experience, that they are either sensitive to or intolerant of gluten. Briefly gluten is a naturally occurring protein found concentrated in wheat and related grass seeds – what we call grains in our diet. Without going into detail, which is readily available elsewhere, modern wheat bears little if any resemblance to its natural ancestors. The two biggest ways that modern wheat varies is that it is extremely high on the glycemic index, and it is extremely high in gluten.
But this post isn’t about gluten, so let me move to the key point I want you to know. When the body is gluten-sensitive or intolerant this can only occur because the gluten is moving from inside your gut through the wall of the gut as an undigested protein, and the immune system which is always on high alert for foreign proteins (like foreign bacteria) sees it and attacks. The results are so unpleasant that many people try, and some succeed, in switching to a gluten-free diet. But here is the important point. What these folks, and those who don’t stop eating gluten, don’t realize is that the gluten protein molecule is a precise double for a protein found in the human thyroid, and once the immune system has been triggered to attack a gluten molecule that has migrated through the intestinal wall it is forever on the outlook for precisely that protein. Whenever it detects that protein it will attack and destroy it.
Which means (I know you’re ahead of me here) that once your immune system is trained to attack gluten it will start attacking your thyroid too and will not stop until your thyroid is destroyed. There is a name for this process and it is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and it is estimated that 10-15 million people in North America have it and don’t know it and so, of course, are not treating it. The really strange part of this is that while your immune system is attacking and destroying your thyroid, the most common tests for thyroid function that doctors order – the T3 and T4 tests – will almost always show that your thyroid is normal. Unless your doctor orders two tests for thyroid antibodies there is no way to know whether or not your thyroid is being destroyed by your body’s immune system. Be prepared for your doc to say “You don’t need that test – your Thyroid levels are normal.” I would guess that well over 90% of the docs in America would say just that. Maybe they aren’t idiots, but they are incredibly irresponsible to take that position. Of course it is all driven by insurance companies who are forever pressuring doctors who order “unnecessary” tests. In the case of Thyroid antibody tests, which even if you pay 100% of the cost yourself will run about $60, there is simply no excuse for not ruling out – or in – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
But once you have these simple, inexpensive tests, if they reveal that you do have Hashimoto’s, a small miracle will come your way. Once you begin hormone replacement therapy, which is as simple as a very small dose of thyroid hormone every day, you will be amazed at how much better you begin to feel almost immediately. Many of your gastrointestinal symptoms will in fact begin to diminish and disappear. If you have been going through these painful, unpleasant, debilitating symptoms for many years, and many people have, it will seem almost too good to be true. And while it is not too god to be true, it is still not enough – there is more that you must do. But at least you will now be getting significant relief.
The Role of Diet
I’ve already promised that I won’t try to propose some universal cure for GI “diseases” like IBS, colitis and Crohns. For many readers it is enough that medicinal marijuana provides daily relief, and some may not want to go to the trouble of going further in self-treatment, especially through making dietary changes that can be difficult. But for those who are motivated I would like to make a few recommendations for things you might try. No promises, but these methods have worked for my wife and for others.
We’ve already discussed the role of gluten in triggering your body’s immune system, but for people with a compromised gut, whether from bacterial overgrowth due to misuse of antibiotics or for whatever reason, it is very important to ensure that no proteins can make it through your gut walls into your bloodstream because while the immune system is on guard for many different kinds of things, foreign life forms (except viruses, which may or may not be a life form) are always protein-based, and so any proteins – not just gluten – that get through the gut wall barrier trigger a massive immune response led by whole-body inflammation. This inflammation isn’t easy to understand or diagnose – it can mask itself as weight gain or as a wide range of other symptoms which appear to have no specific origin. Also whole-body inflammation isn’t like an infected finger or toe – it isn’t localized and therefore doesn’t stand out from the surrounding tissue. It is everywhere, and it is so subtle that most of us never spot it the way we would an infected finger.
Fortunately there is a relatively simple change that you can make that will reduce the migration of proteins through the gut wall and therefore greatly reduce the inflammation that always accompanies immune system’s inflammatory auto-immune response and that, in turn, lies at the heart of so much of what we call disease – especially disease that appears to Western medicine to have no specific cause. If it isn’t a bug or virus causing the disease, or an injury, or a cancer, or degeneration of an organ – then Western medicine is pretty much stumped. While many doctors are beginning to appreciate the role of inflammation in these diseases without an obvious origin, allopathic (Western) medicine still has very few effective tools for dealing with inflammation, which means that you are pretty much on your own.
But, here’s what you can do. It is called partitioning your diet, and the principles are simple. You divide your meals into two parts. Part one is the protein, and Part two is everything else. Since undigested proteins are one of the major triggers of immune system’s auto-immune response leading to inflammation, divide your meals into a protein part which you eat first, and then wait 30 minutes for your stomach acid to break it all down into the smallest possible components that can then be processed by the enzymes in your upper gut so that no undigested protein remains to penetrate the compromised wall of your upper gut. It takes about 30 minutes for the protein component of your meal to be broken down. Since so many ‘treatments’ of GI problems involve taking ‘medicines’ like Omeprazole that act to reduce stomach acid, if you are taking any of these drugs you may need to look into natural digestive aids like enzymes to help you break this protein down once it makes it into your upper gut. It is important not to drink liquids during the time your protein meal is in your stomach – this dilutes the stomach acid and defeats the goal of complete breakdown of the proteins.
Once you’re confident that your stomach has emptied go ahead and enjoy the your veggies and, if you can tolerate them, maybe non-gluten grains like rice and quinoa – although some people simply have to get all grains out of their diet. If you have had a compromised gut for a while you may also have developed multiple food allergies. Some of these can seem very strange. My wife, for example, reacts very strongly to all citrus, to pineapple, dairy and simple carbs like potatoes. She has decided that she just has to adjust to life without these things in her diet and is strong-willed enough to stick to her decision. I know that there are times she would kill for a bag of potato chips or a pizza with triple cheese, but she has made the decision that she would rather not be sick and so these things are gone forever. I hope that you, reading this, are not forced to such extremes but if you are I hope and pray that you will find the strength to treat yourself right and do whatever is necessary.
In honor of the central theme of the role of marijuana in self-treatment of a wide range of disease, let me offer three research citations that show that Marijuana plays its therapeutic role by reducing inflammatory responses – in other words, by regulating the immune system to reduce its auto-immune activities. These studies point to why so many people who are using Marijuana to treat their inflammatory diseases, whether of the bowel or elsewhere in the body, are having so much relief.
I’m writing this post to urge you not to stop there, but if you are not already taking some of the other steps covered here to treat the underlying cause of the inflammatory response rather than simply treating it with Marijuana, you might benefit greatly from doing so. The changes that you have to make to get further relief may or may not be drastic – everyone is different. But since you already know that there is at least one natural way to treat a medical problem that has the best minds in Allopathic medicine pretty much stumped, why not consider going even further and acting to remove some, if not all, of the major underlying causes of the problem that arise from what you eat and how you eat.
Israel Med Assoc J. 2011 Aug;13(8):455-8.
Treatment of Crohn’s disease with Cannabis: an observational study.
Naftali T, Lev LB, Yablecovitch D, Half E, Konikoff FM.
Institute of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Meir Medical Center, Kfar Saba affiliated with Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel. firstname.lastname@example.org
The marijuana plant cannabis is known to have therapeutic effects, including improvement of inflammatory processes. However, no report of patients using cannabis for Crohn’s disease (CD) was ever published.
To describe the effects of cannabis use in patients suffering from CD.
In this retrospective observational study we examined disease activity, use of medication, need for surgery, and hospitalization before and after cannabis use in 30 patients (26 males) with CD. Disease activity was assessed by the Harvey Bradshaw index for Crohn’s disease.
Of the 30 patients 21 improved significantly after treatment with cannabis. The average Harvey Bradshaw index improved from 14 +/- 6.7 to 7 +/- 4.7 (P < 0.001). The need for other medication was significantly reduced. Fifteen of the patients had 19 surgeries during an average period of 9 years before cannabis use, but only 2 required surgery during an average period of 3 years of cannabis use.
Journal of Molecular Medicine (Berlin). 2009 Nov; 87(11):1111-21. Epub 2009 Aug 20.
Cannabidiol, a safe and non-psychotropic ingredient of the marijuana plant Cannabis sativa, is protective in a murine model of colitis.
Borrelli F, Aviello G, Romano B, Orlando P, Capasso R, Maiello F, Guadagno F, Petrosino S, Capasso F, Di Marzo V, Izzo AA.
Department of Experimental Pharmacology, University of Naples Federico II, via D Montesano 49, 80131 Naples, Italy.
Inflammatory bowel disease affects millions of individuals; nevertheless, pharmacological treatment is disappointingly unsatisfactory. Cannabidiol, a safe and non-psychotropic ingredient of marijuana, exerts pharmacological effects (e.g., antioxidant) and mechanisms (e.g., inhibition of endocannabinoids enzymatic degradation) potentially beneficial for the inflamed gut. Thus, we investigated the effect of cannabidiol in a murine model of colitis. Colitis was induced in mice by intracolonic administration of dinitrobenzene sulfonic acid. Inflammation was assessed both macroscopically and histologically. In the inflamed colon, cyclooxygenase-2 and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) were evaluated by Western blot, interleukin-1beta and interleukin-10 by ELISA, and endocannabinoids by isotope dilution liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Human colon adenocarcinoma (Caco-2) cells were used to evaluate the effect of cannabidiol on oxidative stress. Cannabidiol reduced colon injury, inducible iNOS (but not cyclooxygenase-2) expression, and interleukin-1beta, interleukin-10, and endocannabinoid changes associated with 2,4,6-dinitrobenzene sulfonic acid administration. In Caco-2 cells, cannabidiol reduced reactive oxygen species production and lipid peroxidation. In conclusion, cannabidiol, a likely safe compound, prevents experimental colitis in mice
Arthritis Res Ther. 2008;10(2):R43. Epub 2008 Apr 16.
Characterisation of the cannabinoid receptor system in synovial tissue and fluid in patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Richardson D, Pearson RG, Kurian N, Latif ML, Garle MJ, Barrett DA, Kendall DA, Scammell BE, Reeve AJ, Chapman V.
Centre for Analytical Bioscience, School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK. email@example.com
Cannabis-based medicines have a number of therapeutic indications, including anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. The endocannabinoid receptor system, including the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and receptor 2 (CB2) and the endocannabinoids, are implicated in a wide range of physiological and pathophysiological processes. Pre-clinical and clinical studies have demonstrated that cannabis-based drugs have therapeutic potential in inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and multiple sclerosis. The aim of this study was to determine whether the key elements of the endocannabinoid signalling system, which produces immunosuppression and analgesia, are expressed in the synovia of patients with osteoarthritis (OA) or RA.
Thirty-two OA and 13 RA patients undergoing total knee arthroplasty were included in this study. Clinical staging was conducted from x-rays scored according to Kellgren-Lawrence and Larsen scales, and synovitis of synovial biopsies was graded. Endocannabinoid levels were quantified in synovial fluid by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The expression of CB1 and CB2 protein and RNA in synovial biopsies was investigated. Functional activity of these receptors was determined with mitogen-activated protein kinase assays. To assess the impact of OA and RA on this receptor system, levels of endocannabinoids in the synovial fluid of patients and non-inflamed healthy volunteers were compared. The activity of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), the predominant catabolic endocannabinoid enzyme, was measured in synovium.
CB1 and CB2 protein and RNA were present in the synovia of OA and RA patients. Cannabinoid receptor stimulation of fibroblast-like cells from OA and RA patients produced a time-dependent phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)-1 and ERK-2 which was significantly blocked by the CB1 antagonist SR141716A. The endocannabinoids anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonyl glycerol (2-AG) were identified in the synovial fluid of OA and RA patients. However, neither AEA nor 2-AG was detected in synovial fluid from normal volunteers. FAAH was active in the synovia of OA and RA patients and was sensitive to inhibition by URB597 (3′-(aminocarbonyl) [1,1′-biphenyl]-3-yl)-cyclohexylcarbamate).
Our data predict that the cannabinoid receptor system present in the synovium may be an important therapeutic target for the treatment of pain and inflammation associated with OA and RA.