Can Medical Marijuana Help Your Celiac Disease?
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.
Priyanka Chugh, MD, is a board-certified gastroenterologist in practice with Trinity Health of New England in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Celiac disease symptoms frequently include abdominal pain, which can be severe, and occasionally include nausea. There’s also some evidence that medical marijuana can combat both pain and nausea in other conditions. So, can consuming marijuana—either by smoking it or in edible form—help with symptoms of celiac disease that are not controlled by the gluten-free diet?
Although there’s some anecdotal evidence that marijuana might help with celiac disease symptoms—a few people with celiac say consuming cannabis curbs abdominal pain, helps them gain weight, and even may alleviate diarrhea—there’s no real medical evidence for any of these possible effects. Although some people report a benefit, there haven’t been any medical studies to show whether marijuana is beneficial or harmful for people with celiac disease. Marijuana use also carries real risks.
Therefore, if you have ongoing symptoms of celiac disease, you shouldn’t assume marijuana will help you, despite the fact that some people say it might based on their own experiences. Read on for what the medical literature shows about medical marijuana, symptoms, and autoimmune conditions, and for what you should know before you decide to talk with your doctor about getting a prescription for it.
What Is Medical Marijuana?
Marijuana refers to both the whole, unprocessed cannabis plant (including the flowers and the leaves) and extracts derived from the plant. People who consume marijuana by smoking it, vaporizing (vaping) it, or eating it describe a “high” that generally leaves them relaxed and more content.
Marijuana use makes many people drowsy, but it also can improve perceived alertness and increase sensory awareness. Different varieties of cannabis can have different effects.
Medical marijuana is cannabis used for medical purposes. It’s legal in more than half of U.S. states for doctors to prescribe marijuana to treat specific conditions and symptoms.
Medical Marijuana’s Effects on Chronic Pain, Nausea, and Weight Gain
There’s no suggestion that medical marijuana can cure celiac disease or even treat it—the gluten-free diet is the only treatment currently available for celiac. But it’s possible that marijuana might have an effect on some celiac symptoms.
For example, it’s common for people with celiac disease to say they have abdominal pain. This pain may result from bloating and excess gas, and it occurs both in people who have undiagnosed celiac and those who are diagnosed and following the gluten-free diet.
Medical marijuana often is used to treat chronic pain and has been explored as a possible treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Medical researchers have found good evidence for low-dose marijuana in the treatment of nerve pain. However, they haven’t shown that it helps in other types of chronic pain, including chronic abdominal pain.
Nausea is a less common symptom of celiac disease, but some people with the condition report experiencing nausea, especially if they’ve been badly glutened. Medical marijuana commonly is used by cancer patients to alleviate nausea that often comes from treatment, and those who experience nausea from other conditions say cannabis sometimes can be helpful, as well. There are anecdotal reports from people with celiac disease who say consuming marijuana helps them combat nausea, but medical studies haven’t yet explored this issue.
Finally, many people with celiac disease are underweight when first diagnosed. Since a well-known side effect of marijuana is “the munchies,” it’s possible that consuming cannabis could help some people regain the weight they’ve lost prior to diagnosis. However, gaining weight usually isn’t a problem once someone is diagnosed and begins eating gluten-free; in fact, lots of people complain that they gain too much weight.
Negative Effects of Medical Marijuana
All drugs have side effects, and medical marijuana is no exception. Researchers have found that headaches, sleepiness, unease or agitation, confusion, and poor concentration all are associated with cannabis use.
Medical marijuana use also is associated with poor memory and impaired attention and learning, especially at higher doses. Fatigue, throat irritation (for those smoking marijuana or using a vaporizer), and anxiety also were reported following use. Since medical marijuana is relatively new, scientists aren’t certain how long-term use will affect people.
The high obtained from marijuana will impair driving skills similarly to the way alcohol impairs driving skills and will increase your risk of an accident. And, you should remember that marijuana is illegal in many states, so using it places you at legal risk as well.
Medical Marijuana for Autoimmune Conditions
Although researchers haven’t studied medical marijuana treatment in people with celiac disease, there are studies showing that cannabis might help with certain autoimmune diseases (celiac disease is an autoimmune condition), including multiple sclerosis. Celiac disease shares some links with other autoimmune conditions, and those who have one autoimmune condition are more likely to develop another.
In multiple sclerosis, multiple studies have found that medical marijuana can slow or halt the erroneous nerve signals that cause pain, muscle stiffness, and muscle spasms. However, there’s also medical evidence that cannabis use can make cognitive problems in multiple sclerosis worse.
Researchers are investigating the active compounds in cannabis to see if they possibly can serve as a way to calm the immune system. This research ultimately might have implications for all autoimmune conditions, including celiac disease, but it’s just in its beginning phases.
Is Marijuana Gluten-Free?
Yes, marijuana is gluten-free. The actual plant, found in the Cannabaceae family, is known scientifically as cannabis and is most closely related to hemp. Cannabis is not closely related at all to the gluten grains wheat, barley, and rye.
Hemp, a grain substitute that’s found in gluten-free baked goods, can be subject to gluten cross-contamination because of the way it’s grown. Many farmers who cultivate hemp also cultivate gluten grains, and they use the same fields and the same equipment for both hemp and their gluten grains.
The same issues don’t apply to marijuana. The farmers growing weed (both legally and illegally, depending on the state) generally aren’t also growing grains like wheat and corn. So pure marijuana should be gluten-free.
However, you should be cautious with marijuana edibles if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Plenty of those, ranging from cannabis brownies to cookies and more elaborate pastries, do contain gluten in the form of wheat flour. Always check with the supplier—if marijuana is legal where you live, you may be able to find gluten-free edibles such as chocolate candies or gummies.
A Word From Verywell
Medical marijuana is not legal in every U.S. state, and celiac disease is not on any state’s list of approved diagnoses that allow you to obtain medical marijuana. However, an increasing number of states are legalizing marijuana for all adult use, and in some states, you can obtain a medical marijuana card with a diagnosis of “chronic pain” or “nausea.” So depending on where you live, a celiac diagnosis isn’t strictly necessary, assuming your doctor believes you might benefit from using the drug.
But would you benefit? There’s no proof that you would, since there haven’t been any studies that specifically looked at whether cannabis assists in relieving symptoms in people with celiac disease. In addition, there are some risks associated with marijuana use: heavy use can lead to problems with attention, memory, and learning, especially in younger people. Some studies also have found negative effects on the heart and lungs of marijuana users.
If you have ongoing celiac disease symptoms and you’re considering trying marijuana, you first should make sure you’re following a strict gluten-free diet—cleaning up your diet can help eliminate lingering problems. If after doing this you continue to have symptoms, you should talk to your doctor about whether you have another condition in addition to celiac, since symptoms can overlap.
Once you’ve ruled out these potential causes for continuing symptoms, if you’re still interested in trying medical marijuana, then you should discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.Learn whether marijuana is gluten-free, and whether it can help you combat symptoms of celiac disease, such as abdominal pain and nausea.
Updated on May 25, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Celiac disease is a type of autoimmune disorder — a severe condition that may occur in genetically predisposed individuals for whom gluten ingestion results in small intestine damage. Estimates show celiac disease affects one in 100 individuals worldwide, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. In the U.S., 2.5 million people are undiagnosed and have a higher risk of long-term health complications. Symptoms of celiac disease can be unpleasant. Fortunately, medical marijuana for celiac disease can help.
How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Celiac Disease
Studies show cannabinoid receptors can help heal intestinal lining damage in people with celiac disease. Therefore, researchers suggest targeting CB2 receptors in individuals who suffer from celiac disease. Many individuals have experienced relief from their stomach pain, and in some cases have even reported being disease-free after using medical marijuana for celiac disease.
While there’s no suggestion medical cannabis can cure the condition, and a gluten-free diet is currently the only treatment option available for celiac disease, it’s possible cannabis may have a positive impact on some celiac symptoms.
For instance, it’s common for celiac disease patients to experience abdominal pain. Excess gas and bloating are often the cause of this pain and occur in both individuals with undiagnosed celiac disease and those who have received a diagnosis and are following a gluten-free diet.
Patients use medical weed often for treating chronic pain, and many have explored it as a potential treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Researchers have also found good evidence medical pot can treat nerve pain at low doses.
What Side Effects and Symptoms of Celiac Disease Can Medical Marijuana Treat?
Some symptoms medical cannabis for celiac disease can treat include:
- Abdominal/stomach pain
- Joint pain
Symptoms of celiac disease often include abdominal pain, which can sometimes be severe, including nausea. Some evidence shows cannabis can combat both nausea and pain in other conditions.
There’s anecdotal evidence showing marijuana for celiac disease can help ease symptoms in patients, with many reporting consuming the herb helps them gain weight, while curbing abdominal pain and even alleviating diarrhea.
Nausea, while not as common as other symptoms of the condition, is a side effect for some patients, especially when they have consumed a large amount of gluten. Cancer patients commonly use cannabis to alleviate nausea, and those experiencing nausea due to chemotherapy and other conditions state the herb is often helpful.
A lot of individuals with celiac disease, when first diagnosed, are underweight. As you may have heard, marijuana creates “the munchies,” and therefore it’s quite possible consuming medical weed could help these individuals gain their weight back.
The depression and anxiety linked with this condition are also symptoms marijuana can help with.
You can experience side effects with all drugs, and cannabis for celiac disease is no exception. Some side effects associated with marijuana use include:
- Agitation or unease
- Poor concentration
- Impaired learning and attention and poor memory, particularly at higher doses
Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Many cannabis doctors suggest Indica strains to treat symptoms of celiac disease. Indica helps slow down muscle contractions, relaxes the muscles, makes digestion easier and eases stomach pain.
Some effective medical marijuana and celiac disease strains include:
Strains for Nausea
- Death Star (Indica-dominant)
- Chocolope (Sativa)
- Sunset Sherbet (hybrid)
Strains for Abdominal/Stomach Pain
- Afghan Kush (Indica)
- Granddaddy Purple (Indica)
- White Widow (hybrid)
Strains for Depression
- Pineapple Express (hybrid)
- Harlequin (hybrid)
- Jack Herer (Sativa)
Strains for Anxiety
- Granddaddy Purple (hybrid)
- Amnesia Haze (hybrid)
- Northern Lights (Indica)
Strains for Insomnia
- Godfather OG (Indica)
- Purple Urkle (Indica)
- Granddaddy Purple (Indica)
Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for the Side Effects and Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Using CBD can help celiac disease patients gain back their appetite and gain weight, because the anti-emetic and anti-inflammatory effect of CBD allows users’ bodies to absorb food nutrients better, reversing the symptoms described previously.
While there are various ways to obtain your CBD, the most recommended and common is with CBD oil. Using it sublingually will allow the CBD to reach your bloodstream faster, and your intestinal tract acids won’t degrade it. That maximizes CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, enabling the patient to obtain the essential nutrients they require for a balanced diet without the common discomforts.
Other methods of medical marijuana for celiac disease use include:
- Transdermal patch
Start the Medical Marijuana for Celiac Disease Relief Process
You don’t have to struggle with your symptoms of celiac disease anymore. With more states legalizing medical marijuana, you’ll find a lot more dispensaries opening their doors to help fulfill your cannabis needs. But, since there are so many dispensaries, how do you know which one is best?
Here at Marijuana Doctors, our cannabis doctors are specially trained and qualified to help you through your entire medical cannabis treatment journey. Book an appointment today and let us connect you with one of our doctors to help get you started.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease, also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, coeliac or sprue, is an immune reaction to consuming gluten, a protein in barley, wheat and rye.
In people with celiac disease, eating foods that contain gluten triggers an immune response in their small intestine. This reaction, over time, damages the lining of their small intestines and prevents nutrient absorption. Intestinal damage can result, and you can feel tired and weak. It can also lead to severe complications.
Nutrient malabsorption can affect children’s development and growth, along with the symptoms you see in adults.
Celiac disease doesn’t have a cure, but for most patients, adhering to a strict gluten-free diet helps them promote intestinal healing and manage their symptoms.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is not the same as a food allergy, and the symptoms you experience will differ. For instance, if you have wheat allergies, you might have watery or itchy eyes or have a difficult time breathing after consuming something that contains wheat.
In contrast, if you have celiac disease and you accidentally consume something containing gluten, you might experience intestinal issues like constipation, diarrhea or gas, or you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of bone density
- Mouth ulcers
- An itchy, blistery rash called dermatitis herpetiformis
- General fatigue
- A headache
- Joint or bone pain
- Weight loss
In kids, intestinal issues are a lot more common than they are in adults. Symptoms in children may include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weight loss
- Steatorrhea, or pale, foul-smelling stool
- Swelling or bloating in the belly
Not everybody with the condition will experience these symptoms. Some may have no issues at all, making diagnosis difficult.
Causes of Celiac Disease
An interaction between gluten, genes and other environmental factors leads to celiac disease. However, medical professionals have yet to determine the exact cause. Gastrointestinal infections, infant feeding practices and gut bacteria could contribute to celiac disease development.
In some cases, celiac disease becomes triggered or active for the first time after:
- Severe emotional stress
- Viral infection
When your immune system overreacts to food with gluten, this reaction can damage the minuscule projections similar to hair that line your small intestine. These projections, which are called villi, absorb vitamins, minerals and other food nutrients you consume. If you have damaged villi, no matter how much you eat, you can’t obtain enough nutrients.
Certain gene variations seem to raise the risk of developing celiac disease. However, having these gene variants doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get the disease, which suggests other factors must be involved.
Risk factors of developing celiac disease include:
- A family member with the condition or with dermatitis herpetiformis
- Autoimmune thyroid disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Turner syndrome or Down syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Microscopic colitis
- Addison’s disease
Types of Celiac Disease
There are two main types of celiac disease: classical and non-classical.
Classical Celiac Disease
With this type, individuals have symptoms and signs of malabsorption, which include:
- Growth failure in children
- Weight loss
Non-Classical Celiac Disease
With this type, individuals might experience mild gastrointestinal symptoms without obvious signs of malabsorption, or might have unrelated symptoms. They might suffer from abdominal pain and distension and other symptoms like:
- Chronic fatigue
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Numbness, tingling or pain in feet or hands
- A chronic migraine
- Reduced bone mass and fractures
- Elevated liver enzymes, also called unexplained chronic hypertransaminasemia
- Vitamin deficiency — including B12 and folic acid
- Dental enamel defects
- Unexplained infertility
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
- Depression and anxiety
The many ways celiac disease may impact individuals, along with the lack of primary care residency programs and training in medical schools, both contribute to a poor diagnosis in the U.S. Presently, estimates show 80 percent of the population with celiac disease remains undiagnosed.
Physical Effects of Celiac Disease
You can develop celiac disease at any age after you’ve started eating foods or taking medications containing gluten. Celiac disease can lead to other severe health issues if left untreated, including:
- Neurological conditions, including migraines and epilepsy
- Intestinal cancers
- Other autoimmune disorders, like multiple sclerosis and Type I diabetes
- Loss of bone density and calcium
- Miscarriage and infertility
- Lactose intolerance
Celiac disease in children can also lead to:
- Delayed puberty
- Failure to thrive
- Dental enamel defects
- Weight loss
Mental Effects of Celiac Disease
Individuals with untreated celiac disease can also suffer from a wide range of psychological issues. They may have difficulty adjusting to a new chronic illness diagnosis or trouble dealing with gluten-free diet adherence. Greater severity of symptoms, behavioral or emotional symptoms or significant impairment in function are all signs of the potential need for mental health treatment. These may include:
- Feeling extremely guilty or worthless
- Loss of pleasure in life
- Having massive mood swings
- Crying a lot for no apparent reason
- Experiencing a change in sleeping or eating patterns
- Feeling easily angry or irritated
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities and hobbies
- Having very low energy
- Withdrawing from others
- Seeing images or hearing voices other people don’t experience
- Experiencing agitation or racing thoughts
- Wanting to harm another person or yourself
- Thinking others are plotting against you
Depression and other related mood conditions are also common among people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. One study published in Psychiatry Quarterly found dysthymic disorder, major depressive disorder and adjustment disorders occurred more often in a group of patients with celiac disease, compared to controls. A subsequent study supported increased dysthymia prevalence in celiac disease, compared to controls.
Another study showed individuals with celiac disease have a higher chance of receiving a subsequent depression diagnosis, but not bipolar disorder, as opposed to individuals without celiac disease.
Celiac Disease Statistics
- Estimates show one in 133 people in the U.S., or around 1 percent of the population, has celiac disease.
- Women and men of all races and ages can develop celiac disease.
- Estimates show 83 percent of individuals in the U.S. with celiac disease are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed with other disorders.
- Five to 22 percent of individuals with celiac disease have another first-degree relative with celiac disease.
Celiac Disease History
Around 8,000 years after the first reported case of the illness, medical professions gave celiac disease its name. Living in the first century CE, Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a Greek physician, wrote about “the coeliac affection.” He gave it the name “koiliakos” after the Greek word for “abdomen,” which is “koelia.”
In the early 19th century, Dr. Mathew Baillie — who was likely unaware of Aretaeus — reported his observations of adults with a chronic diarrheal disorder causing malnutrition and a gas-distended abdomen. Those people seemed to benefit significantly from living nearly entirely on rice, according to Baillie’s observations, but his report went almost unnoticed.
Seventy-five years later, Dr. Samuel Gee, a top British authority in pediatric diseases, took full credit for celiac disease’s modern description when giving a lecture on the “celiac affection” to medical students — now the disorder’s milestone description.
Current Treatments Available for Celiac Disease and Their Side Effects
A lifelong, strict gluten-free diet is currently the only treatment for celiac disease. Along with wheat, other foods containing gluten are:
- Graham flour
Your doctor might refer you to a dietitian who will work with you to create a healthy gluten-free diet plan. Once you eliminate gluten from your diet, your small intestinal inflammation typically begins to lessen, generally within a few weeks, although you could start feeling better in a matter of days. Complete villi healing and growth might take a few months to a few years. Small intestine healing seems to happen quicker in children than in adults.
If you are deficient in certain vitamins or minerals, like calcium, iron, folate, zinc, niacin, vitamin D, fiber, vitamin B12 and others, you may require supplements. Besides becoming deficient in some nutrients due to eliminating certain foods from your diet, you typically won’t experience any side effects from treating your celiac disease.
Recent Developments in Celiac Disease
With improving insight into the celiac disease pathogenesis, medical researchers have suggested a few potential drug targets. Newer strategies include:
- Reduction of mucosal permeability
- Degradation of gluten intraluminally
- Inhibition of the transglutaminase 2 enzyme
- Modulation of the immune responses to many cytokines
- Blocking antigen presentation by HLA-DQ8 or HLA-DQ2