After Trying Almost Everything Else, I’m Testing Medical Marijuana Extracts for My Crohn’s Disease
It lacks the THC that gets you high—instead it's high in cannabidiol, or CBD. But can it help where other drugs have failed?
I’ve lived with colitis and then Crohn’s disease for the better part of three decades. Chronic digestive diseases can knock your health sideways when they flare. Even between flares, I eat a restricted GI-friendly diet (diet details to come in our November 2018 print issue) as part of my efforts to stay in remission.
The other part is medicine. Lots of medicine—sulfa drugs I gobble by the fistful, steroids that perforate my hip bones, infusions that cripple my immune system, more pills to heal my immune system, and biologics I jab into my stomach once a month.
Yet for all the meds I’ve sluiced through my bloodstream hoping for long-lasting relief, I’d been strangely reluctant to try one all-natural compound that may help treat the effects of Crohn’s and a host of other diseases: CBD, or cannabidiol. It’s the therapeutic element of medical marijuana.
If asked, “Is medical marijuana right for you?” the 1988 me wouldn’t even have to think. “Yes, dude. Yes it is,” he would answer. But 2018 me had reservations. My few encounters with the substance as an adult have led to hours-long bouts of sphincter-clenched terror and paranoia: Trying to remember to breathe, hiding under the sofa, pretty sure I’d be the first person in history to die from a one-hitter.
But that neurotic feeling was the THC talking, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Medical marijuana products come in an array of strengths, some with tiny, almost negligible levels of THC, but loaded with the CBD that’s said to relieve pain, fight inflammation, and treat many other maladies—such as Crohn’s, some limited studies suggest.
So with the help of some West Coast cannabis product purveyors, I recently sampled various CBD heavy edibles and smokables over 30 days to see if they’d help my condition. Here’s what I tried from three particular producers, and how it went:
Henry’s stylish packaging shocked me. I’m not sure what I expected (some scrawny, crooked joints in a used Glad bag? That’s how we rolled in ‘88), but I realize now how ignorant I was about the sophisticated state of the legal cannabis market.
Without the slightest whiff of illicitness, Henry’s package looks like something you'd order from a high-end men’s toiletries boutique—artisanal, tasteful, and established. Their tidy, conical joints come in little glass tubes capped with corks to preserve freshness. Though Henry’s offers several strains of marijuana each season that vary in potency, I tried their Ritual strain, which has a 25:1 ratio of CBD to THC (meaning they’re not meant to get you high).
The smoke tastes like weed (because it is), but I was happy to find the effects were ultra-mild: I was relaxed, but not at all stoned. Best of all, for several hours these seemed to relieve some pain and irritation I get from Crohn’s. Just a couple puffs did the trick, so each half-gram joint lasted me four or five days. Henry’s 3-packs go for $30 at dispensaries, amply cost-effective for my needs.
This company makes an edible cannabis powder. You can mix it into foods or beverages, though I found it magically delicious straight from the jar (it tastes like weed-infused sweet cream, and melts like butter on your tongue).
Each tiny spoonful contains about 5 mgs THC—a very mild, subtle, and pleasant buzz by any reckoning. The company touts Mondo as a stress reducer you can take at work and ostensibly improve your performance. That may be the case for some, but I depend on stress at work.
Carefully calibrated doses of caffeine and cortisol from 9 to 5 deliver that barely-balanced-on-the-chair’s-back-legs feeling, and any THC at all would throw me off. Still, Mondo would be just the thing at home when I feel like a touch more kick than CBD-only products.
This company specializes in CBD-infused products, with what came to seem like industry-standard posh packaging. I tried their High CBD Gumdrops, with 20 mgs CBD per berry/citrus-flavored confection. Like the CBD-heavy smokes from Henry’s, these helped me chill and relieved some extra-intestinal pain for a few hours, without clouding my head.
The company says it can take up to an hour to feel the effects. I noticed them within about 20 minutes: a gentle, soothing sensation, similar to the afterglow of a deep mediation session: I felt alert, centered, and focused, but also calm and content.
I also tried their body lotion. The pump-top bottle dispenses 2 mgs CBD-infused lotion per squeeze. The lotion itself is creamy and absorbent, with a pleasant, masculine scent.
Lord Jones touts the analgesic and anti-inflammatory powers of CBD in topical form. I was skeptical at first. CBD lotion seemed like a reach, maybe more powerful as a placebo. I rubbed it into my hands, wrists, and neck, where I get a lot of the chronic extra-intestinal arthritis pain that comes with Crohn’s. And by God, it worked much better than the military-grade Tylenol I usually take. (While NSAIDs like Advil and Aleve are more effective than acetaminophen for arthritis, Crohn’s patients can’t use them because they can inflame the GI tract.)
Because I doubted the lotion would work at all, I feel safe discounting my experience as due to a placebo effect. But even if I found out it was mostly psychological, I wouldn't complain. I had four hours of real pain relief.
One month of treatment one one person is too small a sample size to be able to confidently claim there's a therapeutic benefit of using CBD for Crohn's—or even for my personal iteration of the illness. But as the smoke cleared from my 30-day experiment, I can say I see real potential benefits in a CBD regimen. It quieted my symptoms and eased pain more effectively than certain pharmaceuticals. Perhaps a long-term regimen would allow me to stop taking some (or all) prescribed meds. Funny to think that cannabis may be the answer after all. The 1988 me would be stoked.