In Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) the immune system mistakes food and bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract (GI) for foreign matter and responds with white blood cells. This results in chronic inflammation of the lining of the bowels. The GI tract is responsible for the digestion of food, absorption of nutrients and elimination of water. IBD is considered a “complex disorder” with environmental and genetic factors playing a role in its development. About one million people in North America and 25 million in Europe suffer from this debilitating condition. People with IBD often go through periods of time when the disease is in remission alternating with times the disease is active and flares up.
Both Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis fall under the umbrella of IBD. They share symptoms but differ in terms of the affected part of the digestive system. Crohn’s disease, typically found at the end of the small intestine and beginning of the colon, can affect any part of the GI tract from mouth to anus. Symptoms include persistent diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pain, fever, rectal bleeding and fatigue. Weight loss is another factor since symptoms worsen after a meal. Sometimes surgery is required. Surgery, however, does not guarantee a cure: 30% of patients see a recurrence of symptoms within 3 years and 60% within 10 years.
Unlike Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis is confined to the colon. Symptoms include loose and bloody stools, cramping and abdominal pain, urgent bowel, fatigue, loss of appetite and, in some cases, anemia due to blood loss. Unlike Crohn’s, surgery is almost never required.
There is no standard regimen for treating those with IBD except to prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs such as immune-suppressants which, if successful, can prompt relief of symptoms and even remission of the disease. Essentially they work to suppress the immune system’s abnormal inflammatory response which causes the symptoms allowing the intestinal tissues to heal. There can be, however, fairly serious side-effects. For instance, regularly prescribed corticosteroids can cause headache, nausea, high blood pressure, rounding of the face, increased risk of infection, weight gain, acne, mood swings, psychosis, cataracts, stretch marks, high blood sugar, weakened bones, sleep difficulties, and serious hip problems. About 70% of Crohn’s sufferers will require surgery. As well, a chronic illness like IBD is emotionally draining. Flare ups occur unexpectedly and are painful, inconvenient and embarrassing. There is a great deal of attendant stress.
Cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychotropic element of cannabis and hemp, has proven to be very useful in helping those with IBD manage their symptoms by addressing multiple facets of the disease. CBD reduces the severe inflammation and discomfort suffered by IBD patients. The pain relief aspect of treatment with CBD is significant because, while painful in and of itself, arthritis can often accompany this ailment. CBD also has an anti-bacterial effect which is important for people with chronic gastrointestinal conditions because opportunistic infections are often present. Moreover, it increases the metabolic intensity of cells helping to digest food faster and preventing fecal masses from staying too long in the colon. IBD sufferers also experience tremendous stress and CBD is highly effective at helping patients deal with stress. All this benefit without side effects.
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