Cannabis is well-known for its ability to treat nausea, abdominal pain, and other gastrointestinal issues. In fact, many US states legalized medical marijuana for the treatment of chemotherapy-related nausea decades before the plant was accepted broadly as a viable medicine. But now, new research shows that medical cannabis could also be effective at treating GI disorders in specific populations.
A new Danish research study, recently published in the Psychological Medicine journal, found that cannabis can reduce the risk of digestive disorders and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) among individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Julie Aamand Olesen of the Copenhagen Research Center for Mental Health (CORE) at University Hospital, Denmark set out to explore the links between cannabis and schizophrenia using data collected by the Danish government. Olesen and her colleagues used the Psychiatric Central Research Registry of Denmark to identify 21,066 individuals who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia since 1955. The researchers also collected data on 176,956 healthy controls from the Danish Civil Registration System.
The researchers found that patients with schizophrenia were more likely to develop digestive organ disorders, including IBD and gut-brain interaction disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and dyspepsia. However, patients who were diagnosed with cannabis use disorder (CUD) were actually less likely to develop these disorders than patients who did not use cannabis regularly.
The study reports that 23 percent of patients with schizophrenia were at risk for developing gut-brain interaction disorders or IBD by age 60. But among patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and CUD, that risk decreased to 17.8 percent. In the healthy population, only 14 percent were at risk of developing these disorders. The risk of developing IBD was found to be 3.4 percent for schizophrenia patients and 2.9 percent for the general population, but only 2.4 percent for patients with schizophrenia and CUD.
The research is observational in nature, so the conclusions that can be drawn from it are limited. The study is particularly limited by the fact that researchers have no idea how much, how often, and what specific forms of cannabis the CUD-diagnosed patients were using. The study does, however, confirm previous research implicating the role of the endocannabinoid system in schizophrenia.
“The endocannabinoid system disruptions seen in schizophrenia, possibly mediated through use of antipsychotics, may thus be at least partially countered by use of cannabis, alleviating the increased risk of disorders of the digestive organs otherwise associated with schizophrenia,” the researchers concluded, according to Psychiatry Advisor.
Prior research has linked schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions to disturbances in the body's normal processing of fats. Studies have also found that specific fatty-acid-binding proteins are critical for the normal development of the body's endocannabinoid system. Researchers know that the endocannabinoid system also plays an important role in gut-brain interactions, so it makes sense that cannabis could play a role in helping individuals who have deficient endocannabinoid systems.