Next time your tummy aches, consider reaching for one of two things: peppers, or pot.
This was the conclusion drawn by a new study from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, wherein researchers discovered that a chemical found in both hot peppers and cannabis can calm inflammation in your digestive tract. The discovery – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – could lead to new treatments for Type 1 diabetes, colitis, and other disorders that jeopardize your stomach functions.
Now bear with us, because things are about to get a little scientific.
Apparently, capsaicin (the chemical that gives hot peppers their heat) binds to certain receptors in your digestive tract. The result of this fusion is the production of a chemical called anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid that is chemically similar to THC but produced within the body.
It turns out anandamide also binds to another receptor in your digestive tract and stimulates a certain white blood cell known as a macrophage that lowers immune response and therefore curbs inflammation.
Researchers learned all this by feeding hot chillies to mice with Type 1 diabetes and watching as the chillies effectively cured them of their disease. Giving the mice anandamide had the same effect.
It’s likely that eating cannabis edibles would have the same effect, which is something the researchers plan to start investigating.
“I’m hoping to work with the public health authority in Colorado to see if there has been an effect on the severity of colitis among regular users of edible weed,” said senior author Pramod Srivastava.
“If the epidemiological data shows a significant change [since marijuana legalization in 2012], that would make a testable case that anandamide or other cannabinoids could be used as therapeutic drugs to treat certain disorders of the stomach, pancreas, intestines, and colon.”
The same gut receptors for cannabinoids exist in the brain – specifically in the region responsible for getting you high when you consume cannabis. The reason for these receptors’ existence in the brain is still unknown, but this new research helps clear the fog somewhat.
This is the first time a major immune function has been identified for cannabinoids, which could mean your digestive and nervous systems are involved in something of a biological correspondence based on these shared receptors, according to Srivastava.
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