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There are a variety of ways people attempt to find relief from ulcers, including diet changes, over-the-counter pills or pharmaceutical medications, but many people are turning to more natural methods. This is now leading to many asking how CBD (Cannabidiol) or a combination of CBD and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) can help treat ulcers.
According to the Harvard Medical School, ulcers affect more than 4 million people in the United States each year; 1 in 10 individuals develop an ulcer at some time.
Different Types of Ulcers
While you may hear the term ulcer used in general terms. There are several types of ulcer depending on their location in the body. A peptic ulcer is a sore on the lining of your stomach, small intestine or esophagus. An esophageal ulcer occurs in the lower part of your esophagus. A peptic ulcer in the stomach is called a gastric ulcer. A duodenal ulcer is a peptic ulcer that develops in the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). An esophageal ulcer occurs in the lower part of your esophagus.
GERD and its Relationship to Ulcers
The underlying issue for both GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), commonly referred to as acid reflux and ulcers is the same—acid. The backup, or reflux, of stomach acids into the esophagus that occurs with, can wear away (erode) the lining of the esophagus and cause sores, called ulcers.
A common misconception is that stress or spicy foods cause ulcers. While they do not cause ulcers, they can make your symptoms worse. With an ulcer, you feel a burning stomach pain (epigastric) that occurs 1-3 hours after eating, especially spicy food.
Common Symptoms of Ulcers
The most common ulcer symptom is burning stomach pain. Stomach acid makes the pain worse, as does having an empty stomach. The pain can often be relieved by eating certain foods that buffer stomach acid or by taking an acid-reducing medication, but then it may come back. The pain may be worse between meals and at night. Other symptoms include:
- Feeling of fullness, bloating or belching
- Intolerance to fatty foods
How CBD and/or THC May Help
Our stomachs contain cannabinoid receptors that are part of the endocannabinoid system. These receptors bind with the cannabinoids in cannabis. When this happens, the CB1 receptor tells the stomach to stop producing stomach acid, thus helping relieve acid reflux.
Cannabis/cannabinoids protect the gastric mucosa by virtue of its antisecretory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and vasodilatory effects. As far back as 1978, it was shown that acute and long-term cannabis treatment reduced the rate of gastric ulceration in rats that were put under stress using restraints.
A review of the gastrointestinal effects of cannabinoids in 2001 states “The digestive tract contains endogenous cannabinoids (anandamide and 2-arachidonylglycerol) and cannabinoid CB1 receptors can be found on myenteric and submucosal nerves.
Activation of CB1 receptors inhibits gastrointestinal motility, intestinal secretion, and gastric acid secretion.” The study concludes that “The enteric location of CB1 receptors could provide new strategies for the management of gut disorders.”
In addition to affecting stomach acid, the muscle relaxant properties of cannabis make it useful for treating acid reflux. The stomach sphincters become more relaxed thereby reducing reflux.
When the CBD reacts with the endocannabinoid system, it reduces the secretion of acids that would otherwise cause actual burn when dealing with the symptoms of acid reflux. There are also anti-inflammatory properties in CBD which make it a useful treatment in individuals with acid reflux.
Cannabis can also reduce stress and help patients relax, which is also beneficial in the treatment of ulcers.
“THC, in particular, is really useful for ulcers because there are some theories that ulcers show an altered activity of endocannabinoid receptors,” says Three Wells Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Deborah Malka. “THC, in particular, is stimulating and it actually can help normalize the activity of the endocannabinoid receptors in the gut, and for ulcers that’s really important.”
Choosing the Right Strain
These three indica-dominant cannabis strains below are commonly used by people with gastrointestinal pain based on their reputation for alleviating pain and relaxation:
- Holy Grail Kush
- Hash Plant
Choosing the Right Delivery Methods and Dosage
The delivery method people choose varies by person. Below are the most common:
- Smoking: You’ll experience the quickest relief when you smoke your cannabis, but like all forms of smoking, you run the risk of irritating your lungs or throat with smoking.
- Vaporizing: Like smoking, vaping also offers you with fast relief, but it doesn’t expose you as much to the harmful effects of smoking.
“Smoking is…irritating to the airways and your throat. I would stick with vaporizing if you wanted to inhale it all, and avoid smoking altogether for your upper GI symptoms, says Dr. Malka.
- Tinctures: Tinctures allow you to measure your exact dose. Plus, you can add cannabis tinctures to your food or drinks or take them sublingually for quick symptom relief.
“A tincture is a good method of delivery to treat upper digestive disorders because it is absorbed directly into submucosal tissues upon swallowing,” Dr. Malka says. “Tinctures can also be delivered as a mouth spray for immediate relief.”
- Capsules: While slower acting, you might choose capsules if you’re looking for a more controlled dose.
As far as dosage, “you don’t need a lot,” Dr. Malka says. “I would start with maybe 5 mg of THC three times a day. You can do that by tincture, by edible or sublingual mouth sprays to get your THC dose.
“As always, if you’re bothered by the psychoactivity (of THC) you can add CBD to the mix, so 5 mg of THC and 5 mg of CBD three times a day would be a good way to start.”
Possible Side Effects
Side effects will vary based on the ratio of CBD and THC and the dosage, but, in general, side effects of CBD may include paradoxically, sedation or problems with sleep, gastrointestinal distress, or dry mouth and eyes. Side effects of THC may include dry mouth, dry/red eyes, hunger, drowsiness and impaired memory.
If you’ve been suffering from ulcers and over-the-counter or pharmaceutical remedies haven’t worked, or you’re looking for a more natural option, CBD and THC may be something to explore.