When Joe Silverman developed Crohn’s disease at age 21, the symptoms started out mild. While the sight of blood in his stools initially freaked him out, what really bothered him was the frequent abdominal pain and bloating that occurred as his condition progressed to moderate and then severe. Dietary changes didn’t make a difference, so he began taking prescription oral anti-inflammatory drugs often used to treat certain bowel diseases, which alleviated but didn’t eliminate his discomfort. He started using prescription steroid suppositories to cope with flare-ups of the inflammatory bowel disease.
Even so, “I didn’t feel well—my mind was cloudy, and I was in pain,” says Silverman, now 47, the co-founder of the PSMC5 Foundation, which is dedicated to beating rare genetic disorders like the PSMC5 gene mutation (which his son has). So in 2013, he tried a new approach: he began getting intravenous infusions of an immunosuppressive drug at four- to eight-week intervals to reduce inflammation in the lining of his intestines. “It helped, but I still had nausea, brain fog, discomfort, and trouble sleeping,” says Silverman.
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In 2018, he decided to try something different as an adjunctive treatment, with his gastroenterologist’s blessing: medical marijuana in the form of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) capsules that he was able to purchase after getting a New York City medical marijuana license. “Within an hour and a half of taking them, I felt better,” Silverman says. “The bloating and pain went down, and my appetite came back.”
For centuries, marijuana, derived from the plant Cannabis sativa, has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes. On the therapeutic front, cannabinoids—a group of compounds that constitute the active ingredients in the marijuana plant—have been found to help alleviate chronic pain, as well as nausea and vomiting that stem from chemotherapy for cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even approved specific cannabinoid products for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. It stimulates appetite in patients with AIDS who have lost weight.