Forget Baking Soda: New Study Suggests Cannabis and Chili Peppers for Gut Disorders

February 15, 2018

We don’t typically associate cannabis and chili peppers, although they’re both responsible for different kinds of “high.” But, as it turns out, the two are uniquely similar; scientists have had luck in using both chilies and cannabis for gut health.

Eating spicy chilies stimulates the release of compounds called endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. And we’ll assume you already know a little bit about the cannabis high, right? But how could you use chilies and cannabis for gut health?

New research is finding that both could play an important role in fighting some of the toughest gut disorders. Crohn’s, inflammatory bowel disease, and type 1 diabetes are just a few identified so far. Autoimmune disorders are notoriously difficult to diagnose and harder still to treat, making this great news for the 24 million Americans that have been diagnosed.

In some regards, the notion that cannabis might help gut disorders is hardly new. In fact, people have turned to cannabis for relief from stomach and digestive ailments for a long time--as in thousands of years. The first medical texts that describe using cannabis for gut health date back to 1500 BCE. Crazier still: evidence suggests that by then, the practice was already over a thousand years old.

But chili peppers? We thought those were for upsetting stomachs, not curing them! So, what gives?

Your Gut: What Happens to an Ecosystem Out of Balance

We're looking specifically at this study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). In it, researches charts a direct link between your nervous system and a healthy and happy gut. How are the two connected? By helping to maintain an intestinal environment that’s friendly to foreign bodies.

Wait…we thought the body was supposed to protect against invaders, right? It is, with one major exception—food!

Obviously, when we eat, we want our guts to be tolerant of these “foreign bodies” because they include food! The problems begin when our immune system becomes oversensitized—a syndrome not yet completely understood—and it begins attacking “friendly” cells, attempting to repel the “invader” (that is, the perfectly healthy food we’ve just eaten) when it shouldn’t. The result is a slew of painful, potentially debilitating autoimmune disorders.

Chilies: Packing Heat in More Ways Than One

Where do chilies enter the picture? It turns out that capsaicin, a molecule in chilies, actually produces a chemical "heat." That heat, in turn, stimulates our immune system. Scientists wanted to test this hypothesis by giving capsaicin to mice with type 1 diabetes, thinking it would increase their autoimmune response.

As so often occurs in the field of research, the opposite happened, and that’s where it got really interesting. The capsaicin spurred the mice’s guts to produce anandamide, an endocannabinoid that controls appetite and energy, among many other functions. The mice grew healthier, experienced less gut inflammation, and even became “cured” of diabetes.

Cannabis for Gut Health

Exciting as this finding was, it presented a problem: to have the same beneficial effect as that experienced by the mice in the experiment, humans would have to consume a massive— and painful—amount of chilies! So scientists looked for another molecule that might perform the same function in our bodies. And what they found—surprise!—was THC.

Just as our bodies produce anandamide, cannabis plants produce THC. Further experiments on mice showed that orally administered THC was as effective as capsaicin in healing gut inflammation and other autoimmune conditions.

Needless to say, it’s going to take a good deal more research and experimentation before we fully understand the mechanisms by which cannabis can contribute to your gut health and even heal major disorders. Then again, it’s possible that all it will do is to demonstrate what the Chinese physicians of 3500 years ago knew all along.

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