Each year, new research sheds light onto the many therapeutic uses of cannabis. From pain management to sleep aid, the herb seems to be the perfect remedy for a wide variety of ailments. But, how does the plant stack up against cystitis, or painful bladder syndrome? Some early evidence suggests that cannabinoid therapies may be an effective approach to the condition. Here’s how cannabis may help painful bladder patients.
What is cystitis?
Cystitis is a painful swelling of the bladder and the urethra. The condition is often caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI) and is most common in women. In some cases, cystitis is also caused by reactions to medications, spermicides, radiation, and other irritants.
Further, some experts suggest that there may be an underlying immune issue at the heart of the condition.
Symptoms of cystitis include:
- Burning or pain sensations during urination
- Persistent urge to urinate
- Frequent urination
- Blood in urine
- Pressure in lower abdomen
- Pelvic discomfort
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Interrupted sleep
- Stress and associated mental health troubles
How is cystitis treated?
Cystitis caused by a UTI is typically treated with antibiotics. However, cystitis caused by radiation, drug therapies, or other factors is treated in a variety of different ways.
One form of the condition that’s difficult to treat is interstitial cystitis (IC), which is also called painful bladder syndrome. Incidentally, this is the form of cystitis in which cannabis seems to hold the most potential.
There is no cure for interstitial cystitis, though there are a variety of medications prescribed to manage symptoms. Unlike other forms of the condition, there is no infection associated with interstitial cystitis.
The exact causes of the syndrome are unknown, but autoimmunity, allergy, tissue defects, and genetics are thought to contribute. Most people are diagnosed with painful bladder syndrome during their 30s.
The medications prescribed for cystitis leave much to be desired. The condition is frequently treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), tricyclic antidepressants, antihistamines, and pentosan polysulfate sodium.
All of these medications come with side effects. NSAIDS have long been associated with an increased risk of stomach ulcer. Pentosan polysulfate sodium can cause bleeding and easy bruising, along with rash and vision impairment.
Many patients hope to avoid dependence on pharmaceutical medications. But, is cannabis a safe alternative or addition to a treatment regimen? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is unknown.
However, some evidence suggests that cannabinoid therapies are something patients and professionals may eventually consider.
Does cannabis ease interstitial cystitis symptoms?
High-quality research on cannabis and interstitial cystitis almost non-existent. However, the herb has been found to relieve similar symptoms in other disorders.
A 2003 case study treated a young woman with two synthetic cannabinoid medications. The first, nabilone, is supposed to mimic the primary active compound in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Nabilone successfully reduced the pain of interstitial cystitis, but it caused three side effects. These included hallucinations, confusion, and bad dreams. The patient was then switched to dronabinol and experienced effective pain relief with no adverse side effects.
Dronabinol is another synthetic THC, which is often prescribed to cancer patients to relieve nausea and vomiting.
It’s important to note that synthetic cannabinoids are not the same as the compounds found in the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant consists of multiple compounds called cannabinoids, which work together to produce synergistic effects. Synthetic THC, however, is a man-made compound that is similar to a pure THC concentrate.
A more recent study shows promise for future cannabis therapies for cystitis. Pre-clinical research published in 2014 tested cannabinoid therapies in rodents with a drug-induced form of painful bladder syndrome. A cannabinoid receptor agonist effectively reduced pain in mouse models and reduced bladder inflammation.
Further, several additional pre-clinical studies have found that these receptors are present in the bladder and are instrumental in the function of the organ.
A cannabinoid receptor is a like a lock on a cell, and cannabinoid compounds are the keys. Psychoactive THC and other chemicals from the cannabis plant directly engage cannabis receptors, which is what gives them a therapeutic effect. If cannabinoid therapies also work in humans, the cannabis plant may prove to be a vital medicine.
While substantial studies on cannabis and cystitis are lacking, the herb has a few properties that may prove beneficial for patients with the syndrome. Here are three additional ways cannabis may lend a hand:
Both psychoactive and nonpsychoactive cannabis have potent anti-inflammatory properties. In a review entitled “Cannabinoids as Novel Anti-Inflammatory Drugs“, authors cite evidence that cannabis has immuno-modulated properties and may reduce immune-mediated damage to bodily organs like the liver.
In the event that painful bladder syndrome is caused by an autoimmune disease, the inflammation fighting properties may prove highly beneficial.
Chronic pain is one of the primary reasons patients seek medical cannabis authorizations. In fact, overdose rates from opioid painkillers are lower in medical cannabis states, adding evidence to the idea that many patients opt for cannabis over conventional pain management tools.
Other research has shown that cannabis may activate cell receptors that influence pain response. Because of this, cannabis is thought to be especially helpful in neuropathic pain and pain caused by inflammation.
3. Sleep & quality of life
Constant pain and frequent urination can disrupt sleep in a serious way. This can lead to increased mental and physical stress, which has a significant impact on the overall quality of life.
Cannabis may not only ease the pain and inflammation caused by conditions like cystitis, but it also extends the time a consumer spends in deep sleep.
Deep sleep represents the restorative phases of the sleep cycle, which are often lacking in those who experience sleep disturbance or insomnia. Just getting enough shut-eye can have a drastic improvement on a day to day mood and overall functioning.
Unfortunately, the research on cannabis and cystitis is slim pickings. Some of the herb’s more famous therapeutic properties may prove useful for those seeking new ways to manage their condition. However, high-quality evidence just isn’t there yet.
With all of the public interest in the herb, perhaps more information will come out in time. Meanwhile, please keep in mind that is important to talk with a health care professional before making changes to your treatment plan.
Cannabis strains for cystitis
There have yet to be certain cannabis strains designated for patients with conditions like cystitis. However, there are a few ways to make educated guesses about pain-relieving options. Here are a few strains often used for inflammation and pain:
- LA Confidential (good for sleep)
- Harlequin (high-CBD and nonpsychoactive)
- Cannatonic (high-CBD and nonpsychoactive)
- Critical Mass (available in high-CBD and good for sleep)
- Herijuana (good for sleep)
- Snowcap (good for the day)
- Haze (good for day)