Celiac disease is a common digestive disorder, affecting approximately 1 in 100 people worldwide. It has a variety of symptoms and some potentially severe long-term complications.
In this article, we investigate whether cannabis can help celiac disease. Here’s all you need to know.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Sometimes known as celiac sprue, celiac disease is a serious digestive disorder. It makes the immune system react to gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, barley, and many other products. However, it is not the same as gluten intolerance or wheat intolerance.
When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, their immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine. This generates inflammation and damages the villi, tiny structures that increase the surface area of the intestine for optimal nutrient absorption.
Eventually, the loss of villi can lead to malnutrition and other complications. Meanwhile, a host of other symptoms can occur.
Celiac Disease Symptoms
There is a wide range of possible celiac disease symptoms, and they vary considerably from person to person. Digestive complaints are among the most common, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Foul-smelling stools
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
Other symptoms of celiac disease include:
- Dry mouth or mouth ulcers
- Itchy rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
Some further complications of the condition include:
- Increased risk of osteoporosis
- Nervous system disorders
- Fertility issues and recurrent miscarriages
- Increased risk of intestinal cancer, lymphoma, and liver disease
In children, celiac disease can cause:
- Slow growth
- Delayed puberty
- Damaged tooth enamel
Although the list of celiac disease symptoms is long and varied, some people with the condition never experience any issues. Therefore, many people with celiac disease never receive a diagnosis.
What Causes Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an immune system disorder. However, it is slightly different from most autoimmune conditions as problems only occur after consuming gluten.
It is genetic, meaning people with a family history of celiac have a high chance of developing the disease. It is also more common in women and people of Caucasian descent.
Conventional Celiac Disease Treatments (Not Cannabis)
The only way to relieve celiac disease is by eating a gluten-free diet. However, this is not as simple as it sounds. Many everyday items, including some cosmetics, toothpaste, and supplements, contain hidden gluten.
Therefore, people with celiac disease need to take great care when shopping and read ingredients labels carefully.
Can Cannabis Help Celiac Disease?
The only way to truly alleviate celiac disease is by avoiding gluten altogether. However, it can take up to two years for one’s digestive system to heal after starting a gluten-free diet. During this time, patients may still experience some celiac disease symptoms. Could cannabis help?
A 2020 study for the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology had some interesting findings regarding cannabis use among celiac patients. It reviewed data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey between 2009 and 2014.
Just over 59% of the survey’s participants reported having ever used cannabis. Of these, 46% of control (non-celiac) participants reported routine (at least monthly) use. In comparison, only 6% of diagnosed celiac patients reported routine use.
However, a staggering 66% of undiagnosed celiac patients used cannabis regularly. Furthermore, 51% of non-celiac people who avoided gluten reported routine cannabis use.
What this suggests is that people may be using marijuana to manage celiac symptoms before receiving an official diagnosis. However, once they begin to avoid gluten more stringently, the need to medicate may reduce.
So, how does cannabis help celiac disease? To understand this, we must look to the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its role in the digestive system.
The Endocannabinoid System in Celiac Disease
The ECS is a highly complex biological system that helps the body to maintain a state of homeostasis. It is composed of chemicals called endocannabinoids and cell receptors, known as CB1 and CB2. When endocannabinoids bind with CB1 and CB2 receptors, they trigger a host of reactions that help keep the body in balance.
The ECS is present in the majority of tissues, including the digestive system. In fact, the intestines contain a very high concentration of endocannabinoids. One of their primary roles here is controlling inflammation.
A 2013 study in PLoS One found that people with active celiac disease had higher-than-average levels of CB1 and CB2 receptors in their intestines. In comparison, celiac patients who had been following a gluten-free diet for 12 months had normal levels.
These results suggest that celiac disease increases activity in the ECS, possibly as a response to increased inflammation. Various studies on the ECS and inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, have shown similar changes.
This is where cannabis could potentially help celiac disease. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD interact with the ECS to provide a range of benefits. One of these is reducing inflammation, a critical factor in many digestive disorders.
However, the potential for cannabis to help celiac disease does not end there. It may also alleviate a variety of other symptoms.
Cannabis for Celiac Disease Symptom Relief
Unfortunately, there are few studies specifically on marijuana or CBD for celiac disease. However, there is plenty of research on some of its symptoms.
Humans have used cannabis for pain for thousands of years. Nowadays, it is still one of the most common reasons people use medical marijuana.
The evidence from clinical studies is somewhat mixed. However, many patients claim that cannabis effectively relieves their pain, even where other treatments have failed.
Another common reason for turning to medical marijuana is nausea. To date, most of the research has focused on sickness due to chemotherapy treatment. However, there is strong evidence that both THC and CBD can relieve nausea. Therefore, it may be of use to celiac patients.
Appetite and Weight Gain
The relationship between cannabis and weight gain is a complex one.
On the one hand, research suggests it increases appetite and may induce weight gain in patients with HIV/AIDS or cancer. However, it appears that healthy people who use it regularly actually have lower-than-average body weight. This is despite consuming more calories overall!
Therefore, it seems that cannabis has a regulatory effect on body weight rather than increasing it in general. There is no evidence to support marijuana causing weight gain in celiac patients. However, it could improve appetite and make it easier to increase nutritional intake. Of course, it is essential to make healthy choices and avoid snacking on junk food.
There is some evidence that cannabis, specifically CBD, could help with symptoms of depression. Again, these effects are down to the way that cannabinoids interact with the ECS, this time in the brain.
However, consuming too much cannabis can have adverse effects on one’s mood. Possible side effects include increased anxiety and paranoia. Therefore, using marijuana for depression is a delicate balancing act and dependent on consuming an appropriate dose.
There is little research available on cannabis and fatigue. However, plenty of people report having more energy after consuming certain strains.
Can Cannabis Help Celiac Disease? Final Thoughts
There is currently limited research on how marijuana might help celiac disease. However, there is plenty of evidence that it can relieve specific symptoms, including inflammation, nausea, and pain.
Furthermore, scientists have found signs that celiac disease affects the endocannabinoid system, suggesting that cannabis could play a role. We hope that in the future, new studies will shed more light on its potential benefits.
Always consult a physician before using cannabis for celiac disease or any other medical condition. They will ensure that it is safe and appropriate for you.
If you have had success treating celiac disease with marijuana or CBD, let us know in the comments.