Managing the symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis (UC) can help patients live a more comfortable life. Though there are many conventional treatments to try, medical marijuana may also improve the quality of life of someone suffering from the condition. In this blog post, we’ll examine the symptoms, conventional treatment and medical marijuana treatment for UC.
What is Ulcerative Colitis?
UC is one of many inflammatory bowel diseases that occurs when the lining of the rectum and colon become irritated. When the large intestine becomes irritated, it also can become inflamed, which leads to symptoms of UC. Although UC always affects the rectum, it can also impact the entire colon for some.
Ulcerative colitis is the result of an immune system responding abnormally. Normally, proteins and cells that make up an immune system protect a body from infection. However, the immune system of someone with UC acts very differently, and mistakes bacteria and food in the intestines as an unwanted substance and sends white blood cells to the intestinal lining. This causes chronic inflammation.
Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis
Nearly half of people with UC experience symptoms which may include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Blood in stool
- Frequent diarrhea
- Loose or urgent bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Weight Loss
- Exhaustion or fatigue
UC symptoms tend to come and go and there can sometimes be extended periods of time between flare-ups where no symptoms occur. This makes it a challenge for physicians to prescribe an effective course of treatment.
Conventional Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis
The primary goals of treatment for UC are to manage symptoms, induce a remission and prevent a future flare-up. Many doctors will prescribe four primary drug categories to achieve these goals:
- Biologic Agents
Though these conventional treatments can effectively reduce or eliminate the symptoms of UC, they can also come with severe side effects including weight gain, osteoporosis, rashes, nausea, liver abnormalities, low white blood cell counts and liver and bone marrow toxicity.
Physicians will often recommend removal of the large intestine to those who have not responded well to medications or have experienced upsetting side effects. As with all surgery, serious complications exist, including bleeding, infection, damage to nearby structure such as the bladder or uterus (in femailes) and often results in requiring a temporary or permanent colostomy bag.
Without effectively managing symptoms, Ulcerative colitis can make a patient feel exhausted. They’ll be forced to cancel activities due to pain and fatigue and they’ll live in fear of making it to the bathroom. Depression is also common.
The good news is medical cannabis can offer patients a lifeline to manage symptoms.
Medical Marijuana for Ulcerative Colitis
Medical marijuana provides UC patients with a way to treat their symptoms with less dangerous side effects. Compounds in marijuana can closely mimic the endocannabinoids that naturally occur in the human body. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of American, these compounds decrease gastrointestinal inflammation. There’s also research that suggests THC found in medical cannabis can reduce the permeability of the epithelial lining which decreases inflammation and damage.
In 2013, a study tested the effects of medical marijuana for Crohn’s symptoms, which are very like those of Ulcerative colitis. Patients given medicinal cannabis went into remission and reported an increase in appetite and better quality of sleep.
A variety of strains of medical marijuana exist, and it’s vital for a patient to speak with their doctor to select one that suits them best. Three types most common to help UC are indica, sativa and hybrid strains.
Indica Strains (High CBD)
Indica strains often have a full-body, sedating effect. This makes indica best for treating the following symptoms:
- Chronic pain
- Muscle Spasms
- Joint swelling or stiffness
Sativa Strains (High THC)
Sativa strains increase physical and mental energy, making sativa strains the best for treating the following symptoms:
- Chronic Pain
- Appetite loss
Indica/Sativa Hybrid Strains (Mixed CBD/THC)
Hybrid strains contain the characteristics of both indica and sativa. Adding sativa to an indica strain can produce mental clarity and decrease sedative effects. Combining indica with a sativa strain will likely lower the possibility of feeling anxious from sativa.
Medical marijuana no longer has the stigma it once had – and for a very good reason! If you or a loved one is seeking a way to reduce the symptoms of UC, set up an appointment with Dr. Morgenstern to discuss your options.
*Please note that Indica and Sativa generally refer to what the plant looks like rather than the ingredients that it contains. While this naming convention is commonly used it is more accurate to refer to these strains as CBD predominant, THC predominant or Mixed.