Treat deadly diarrheal diseases in children with new therapy
Some intestinal bacteria aggressive diseases pose a significant risk to human health and remain a major cause of infant mortality in developing countries. Bacterial pathogens attack the colon and cause severe inflammation and diarrhea. Diarrhea kills more than 2000 children every day, more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Diarrheal diseases are the second leading cause of death in children under 5. The antibiotics used to treat these infections often do more harm than good.
Not all bacteria are harmful. In order for pathogenic gut bacteria to colonize, multiply and cause disease, they must first activate certain specific genes that produce the necessary proteins. A recent study published in the journal Cell showed that cannabis can block these essential genes.
Extracts from the cannabis plant have long been used to relieve chronic gastrointestinal ailments, including diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Many years ago, scientists discovered that cannabinoids in the gut inhibit peristalsis and reduce the severity of diarrhea. Your body's endocannabinoid system also plays an important role in controlling gut inflammation, possibly by influencing the balance of certain gut bacteria.
The current study examined the ability of 2-AG, one of the endogenous compounds of cannabis in your body, to protect the gut against a particularly virulent strain of bacteria, Citrobacter rodentium. This pathogenic bacteria attacks the colon and causes marked inflammation and diarrhea. The study showed that the endocannabinoid 2-AG protected the animals in the study against extreme gastrointestinal disturbances such as inflammation and infection. The study also found that 2-AG attenuated Salmonella typhimurium infections and reduced the effectiveness of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, a particularly dangerous gastrointestinal bacteria that infects humans.
Bacteria have specific receptors that detect the presence of our endocannabinoids. The genes for cannabinoids are extremely old; they predate the divergence of vertebrates and invertebrates. When this ancestral receptor is stimulated by extracts from the marijuana plant, bacterial virulence is reduced. Researchers have also identified other promising mechanisms that may underlie the benefits of 2-AG against intestinal infections that are unrelated to its direct action on bacteria.
The results of this preliminary study are exciting because they indicate that safe and effective therapies for serious childhood gastrointestinal infections could be designed based on the ability of our endogenous cannabinoid system to influence the behavior of the three pounds of bacteria that reside in our colon.