Some extracts from cannabis, known as cannabinoids, closely resemble molecules that occur naturally in our body.
Patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may benefit from cannabis-based drugs.
Anecdotally, people with IBD who have been users of cannabis have reported that their symptoms get better when they use the drug.
Dr Karen Wright and colleagues from England examined gut samples from healthy people and IBD patients.
The investigators looked for the presence of 2 receptors, CB1 and CB2, known to react to natural cannabis-like compounds produced by the body.
|IBD patients had more CB2 receptors, that react to cannabis-like compounds produced by the body|
CB1 and CB2 receptors switch immune responses on or off, and CB1 receptors also help to promote wound healing in the lining of the gut.
The investigative team found that both the patients and the healthy people had similar numbers of CB1 receptors in their gut.
However, the IBD patients had far greater numbers of CB2 receptors.
Dr Wright concludes, “This gives us the first evidence that very selective cannabis-derived treatments may be useful as future therapeutic strategies in the treatment of Crohn's and ulcerative colitis.”
“The psychoactive effects and the legal implications associated with herbal cannabis use made it unsuitable as a treatment.”
“However, it might be possible to make a synthetic cannabis-like drug that has all of the therapeutic benefits and none of the other actions of cannabis.”
"Targeting drug development to components of the in-built cannabinoid system could be the way forward.”
Cannabis-based medicines are already used for multiple sclerosis in some countries.
Dr John Zycheck, from the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, England, has been granted £2 million to study these drugs for multiple sclerosis.
Dr Zycheck also comments, "There is no reason why clinical studies could not be undertaken at a fairly early stage because we are already testing cannabinoids for a variety of different conditions.”
"Cannabinoids do have an effect on the gut by slowing gut transit, which we see in our patients with multiple sclerosis."
In addition, Dr George Kunos from the US National Institutes of Health said, “An alternative approach could involve testing compounds that amplify the action of the body's natural cannabinoids by blocking their normal destruction in the gut.”
“Animal studies suggest that it is compounds blocking the enzyme fatty acid amidohydrolase that do this.”
Researchers agree that more work is needed to check whether these drugs would reduce inflammation and to work out a dose that is strong enough but not toxic.