Study shows how cannabis works to treat some bowel conditions

Published Nov 1, 2020 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Rasi Bhadramani

The great scientists of UT Southwestern are involved in new research that may be able to help those who are suffering from IBS. Scientists now know that the endocannabinoids produced in our body share the same makeup as the chemicals that are present in weed. These chemicals have been shown to shut down the genes used by some pathogenic intestinal bacteria to multiply, colonize, and cause new diseases.

The study, which was published in Cell, explained how cannabis works and which parts of the plant that can be used to lessen the symptoms of various bowel issues. The research is promising and could be the new path to success in the fight against gastrointestinal infections by providing an IBS treatment.

What is an endocannabinoid?

The lipid-based neurotransmitters or endocannabinoids were discovered in 1992. An endocannabinoid can have many roles within the body, including regulating immunity, appetite, and mood. It is interesting to note that cannabis and its derivatives are not new to playing a part in relieving chronic gastrointestinal conditions. Some of these ongoing conditions include inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

Vanessa Sperandio believes that it was unknown whether or not endocannabinoids can affect susceptibility to those pathogenic gastrointestinal infections. However, the study that Sperandio, along with her colleagues, completed proves it even though the research was conducted on mice that were genetically altered to be able to produce a potent endocannabinoid mammalian endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) in numerous organs, including the intestines.

The study was performed by infecting the modified mice and their littermates with a bacterial pathogen, Citrobacter rodentium. This pathogen attacks the colon, and once there, it can cause diarrhea and inflammation. The modified mice developed only mild symptoms, while the unmodified littermates had much more severe gastric distress.

The mutant mice upon examination showed much less inflammation and fewer signs of infection. Lower fecal loads of C rodentium were significant, and the mice cleared the infection days faster than their unmodified cage mates. When the unmodified mice were treated with a drug that raised the levels of 2-AG, it was noticed that the intestines of the unmodified mice produced similar positive effects.


Other parts of the study that were conducted by Sperandio’s team revealed that increased levels of 2-AG were also able to reduce the effect of Salmonella typhimurium in the mice and thereby slow Escherichia coli. Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli is a dangerous gastrointestinal bacterium that infects humans and expresses the traits needed for a successful infection.

However, when researchers treated mammalian cells in Petri dishes with a Food and Drug Administration approved compound tetrahydrolipstatin, which is sold commercially under the name Alli the cells, they became more susceptible to bacterial pathogens. When more experiments were conducted, the results indicated that 2-AG showed these effects on C rodentium, E. coli, and Typhimuriumby blocking QseC, a bacterial receptor.

Final words

Perhaps through Sperandio and her research team's studies, their findings could help us to understand more about the positive effects of cannabis on inflammatory bowel conditions, a problem that many people live and suffer from today. The research into cannabis and its health qualities is ongoing, and with the proper funding to continue this investigation, who knows what other health issues this fantastic plant will be shown to relieve.

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