Ongoing Research Funded by DHF

Does Cannabis Reduce Symptoms or Inflammation in Patients with IBD?

Principal Investigator: Madeline McGuire Bertha, MD, MS

Medical marijuana use has grown among patients attempting to tamp down the debilitating effects of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). However, no one knows if cannabis improves intestinal inflammation—critical to treating IBD. In fact, marijuana could be simply masking symptoms and delaying necessary medical treatment.

To determine if that’s the case, Northwestern Medicine researchers led by internal medicine resident Madeline McGuire Bertha, MD, MS, will compare patients in symptomatic remission (feeling well/ without symptoms) who use marijuana to those in symptomatic remission who do not use it. The researchers suspect that while patients using cannabis feel fine, they actually may have a higher level of dangerous, underlying inflammatory activity than their perceived “lack of intestinal distress” might imply.  

Supported by a grant from the Digestive Health Foundation, the investigators will use blood and fecal tests to assess levels of intestinal inflammation in the two groups. In particular, they will focus on measuring a blood marker of inflammation, C-Reactive Protein, and a stool marker, fecal calprotectin. If the study hypothesis holds true, the IBD patients using marijuana as a proposed alternative or complementary therapy will be found to have significantly higher levels of these inflammatory markers compared to non-cannabis users who experience no symptoms.

Findings of this study will help to advance the limited data assessing the therapeutic efficacy of cannabis on objective markers of intestinal inflammation in patients with IBD. These research efforts could have important clinical and societal implications as medical marijuana becomes more widespread. New knowledge in this area could help both ordering physicians and patients to make more informed choices about the use of medical marijuana for treating IBD.

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