More and more, researchers are investigating the beneficial effects of marijuana on a variety of diseases. In Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology this week, researchers in Israel reported their findings from a study of how cannabis affects patients with Crohn's disease.

Cannabis sativa has been reported to benefit inflammatory bowel diseases, the researchers wrote. The team wanted to see if it was possible to induce remission in Crohn's patients through cannabis treatment.

Crohn's disease may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract and cause a wide variety of symptoms, from abdominal pain and diarrhea to arthritis and skin rashes. Susceptibility to the disease is thought to have a genetic component, but also involves interactions between a person's environment, immune systems, and microbial populations. There is currently no cure, and though remission is possible, the disease often recurs. The disease can be managed through certain lifestyle changes like adjustments to a patient's diet. Doctors sometimes prescribe antibiotics to manage any infections a Crohn's patient may develop, and corticosteroids are sometimes used to treat inflammation. According to the Mayo Clinic, however, those corticosteroids can have severe side effects ranging from excessive facial hair and insomnia to high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and glaucoma, if used for prolonged periods of time.

In this new study, the researchers analyzed data from 21 Crohn's patients who did not respond to standard therapy. Eleven participants were given cannabis, and 10 were given a placebo. The researchers observed a clinical response in 10 of the 11 patients in the cannabis group, but in only four of the 10 in the placebo group. Further, the researchers wrote, three of the patients in the cannabis group were weaned off from steroid dependency, and the patients in the cannabis group also reported sleeping and eating better.

"Although the primary endpoint of the study (induction of remission) was not achieved, a short course (8 weeks) of THC-rich cannabis produced significant clinical, steroid-free benefits to 11 patients with active CD, compared to placebo, without side effects," the team wrote. "Further studies, with larger patient groups and a non-smoking mode of intake, are warranted."

Naftali, T, Lev, LB, Lansky, EP, Sklerovsky, BF, Konikoff, FM. Cannabis Induces a Clinical Response in Patients with Crohn's Disease: a Prospective Placebo-Controlled Study. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2013. doi:10.1016. Accessed May 14, 2013.