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Through decades of research, an Israeli physician and a leading cannabis researcher in her country has found evidence that marijuana can help relieve the symptoms of Crohn's disease, and is finding a treatment that's focused on forcing the disease into remission.

Dr. Timna Naftali discussed what her research has shown with regard to medicinal cannabis' role in relieving the symptoms of Crohn's disease on May 29, 2018, during a media conference hosted by Medical cannabis brand and research organization Tikun Olam at its New York office. Naftali visited the US to attend the Digestive Disease Week conference June 2-5, 2018, in Washington, DC.

Crohn's disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), affects up to 1.6 million Americans and is on the rise worldwide. Since there is no cure for IBD, even with surgery, Naftali explained that the goal is to force the disorder into remission.

Her first study in 2008 involved 21 long-term Crohn's disease patients.

“Half of them smoked two marijuana cigarettes a day and the others smoked a placebo of cannabis flowers containing no THC,” she said.

While early studies showed positive results, it was not until later that patients achieved remission.

In 2011, Naftali and her team conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Patients used Tikun Olam's Erez strain in this first-of-its kind research. Results showed improvement among the cannabis group.

“Complete remission was achieved in the control group by 5 of 11 subjects who used cannabis and 1 of 10 in the placebo group,” Naftali said. And, there were added benefits. “Several were weaned from steroid dependency, and the cannabis group reported improved appetite and sleep … all with no significant side effects.”

Naftali explained that the decline in symptoms among the cannabis group resulted from the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol (CBD) on the colon, and reduced anxiety among the patients. She reminded her visitors that in earlier studies, “people smoked marijuana, whereas now patients use CBD inhalers or edibles.”

The gastroenterologist at Israel's Meir Hospital and Kupat Holim Clinic noted that evidence demonstrates that manipulating the endocannabinoid system can have beneficial effects in IBD sufferers.

Evidence demonstrates that manipulating the endocannabinoid system can have beneficial effects in IBD sufferers. Click To Tweet

“People suffering from IBD have low levels of endocannabinoids that cannabis seems to provide, helping to reduce inflammation which triggers any one of the Crohn's symptoms,” Naftali said.

While Israel is at the forefront of medical cannabis research, Dr. Naftali told that the Israeli Ministry of Health does not fund cannabis studies. Tikun Olam and private funders support medical marijuana research, including Naftali's, in Israel.

Naftali said she'd like to see the Israeli Health Ministry exercise more control over dispensaries by connecting them more closely to physicians. As it is, the country's 30,000 medical cannabis patients choose their own strains among the 25 currently available in the Israeli market.

“The system needs to be more structured,” Naftali said. “Doctors should prescribe certain strains, certain strengths and keep data on cannabis treatment just as they do other prescription medications at pharmacies,” said Naftali. “That way, researchers and physicians can follow up on our patients.”