If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, or UTI, then you understand the pain of interstitial cystitis (IC), a bladder condition marked by urinary urgency, frequency and pelvic pain. But unlike a UTI, which can be cured with antibiotics, interstitial cystitis has no cure, and the millions of (mainly) women who suffer from it are, for the most part, left to deal with the condition on their own.
I know this because I’m one of those women, and my journey with IC, also known as painful bladder syndrome, has been a textbook case of mystery and misdiagnosis.
It started over a decade ago with a urinary tract infection that just wouldn’t go away. For nearly a year, I was in and out of walk-in-clinics and off-and-on antibiotics, but no matter how many prescriptions I downed, the pain, urgency and frequency always returned.
Mysteriously, every time my urine was tested for bacteria – the tell-tale sign of a UTI – it came back clean. Meanwhile, I was getting out of bed to pee constantly, sometimes 20 times a night.
Sometimes I go months without symptoms, and sometimes I find myself in a ‘flare’ that ends in the emergency room, with internal bleeding and swollen kidneys, but still no infection. Why?
No one’s really sure – not my family doctor, not my urologist, and not my rheumatologist, physiatrist, naturopath, physiotherapist, or the numerous other experts I’ve consulted for this, and potentially related conditions. That’s just how it is.
Interstitial cystitis is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning it’s only given after other potential causes – like a UTI, bladder cancer, kidney stones, endometriosis or a sexually transmitted infection – have been ruled out. There’s only one ‘clincher’, the presence of either glomerulations (superficial hemorrhages) or of Hunner’s ulcers (distinctive patches of inflammation) on the bladder wall. I have Hunner’s ulcers, but more than 90 per cent of diagnosed IC patients don’t express either of these so-called classic IC signs.
It’s also possible that IC is not one condition, but a related set of symptoms with a variety of causes. Researchers aren’t even sure what kind of condition it is, but they have a few guesses: the top contenders are that it’s a neurological condition, an autoimmune attack or a reaction to toxic substances or bacteria that haven’t been identified yet, or aren’t picked up by current tests.
What I do know is this: I’m not uncommon. The Interstitial Cystitis Association reports that three to eight million American women and one to four million American men may have IC. They don’t provide Canadian stats, we can guess that the numbers are similar here, affecting up to six per cent of women and almost one per cent of men.
Often IC patients experience other conditions concurrently, most commonly fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies and food intolerances, celiac disease, chronic fatigue, lupus, pelvic floor dysfunction, vulvodynia and endometriosis.
Without knowing the exact cause of the condition, it’s hard for doctors to know how to treat it, and every patient responds uniquely to different methods. Classic therapies include dietary modifications, pelvic floor physiotherapy, bladder retraining, antihistamines, antidepressants, antispasmodics and analgesics. Some patients may opt to receive medications directly into the bladder via catheter.
For me, the best treatments so far have been strict dietary modifications and cannabis. The last was a bit of a surprise. I’ve always liked cannabis, and although getting high on weekends was a pleasant distraction from my pain, I never saw it as a practical way to deal with a chronic condition, mainly because I didn’t want to be high every day. It wasn’t until I started taking a regular dose of non-intoxicating CBD oil, which I’d been prescribed for another condition, that I experienced a wonderful side effect – my first extended remission from IC. That prescription helped so much, I switched careers – now I spend my days exploring why cannabis so many conditions, and sharing those stories here.
There are clinical explanations for my positive experience with cannabis, and researchers are just starting to tease them out. One promising finding shows that like other organs, the bladder walls are lined with cannabinoid receptors, the “locks” that allow cannabinoids, or the “keys” to turn.
Cannabis extracts have been shown to help multiple sclerosis patients suffering from incontinence, while more recent studies suggest that the endocannabinoid system – composed of the bodily receptors that process cannabinoids – “is implicated in many gastrointestinal and urinary physiological and pathophysiological processes, including epithelial cell growth, inflammation, analgesia, and motor function.”
The same study goes on to say that modulating the endocannabinoid system might help patients with a range of gastrointestinal and bladder conditions. Its authors write that any drug that can inhibit endocannabinoid system degradation or raise the body’s levels of endocannabinoids -which CBD does – “are promising candidates for gastrointestinal and urinary diseases.”
Early research is promising, but there isn’t enough yet to form a full picture. I’d like to better understand why cannabis seems to reduce my flares, but for now, I know it’s helping, and that’s enough.
Personal anecdotes are no match for peer-reviewed studies, but the fact is there’s still a lot we don’t know about IC. In that respect, it’s not that different from the many painful conditions – largely suffered by women – we know little about, such as fibromyalgia, or endometriosis.
I look forward to increasing research that can explain why I experience pain, and why cannabis helps it. But until that day, I get a certain philosophical satisfaction from the fact that a drug we don’t know that much about seems to help so many conditions we don’t know much about either, including IC.
Living with interstitial cystitis, or painful bladder syndrome, feels like having a UTI that never goes away. For me, cannabis helps.
Cannabis Helps Interstitial Cystitis (IC)
Home » Cannabis Helps Interstitial Cystitis (IC)
Medical Marijuana Used For Treatment of Interstitial Cystitis
What is Interstitial Cystitis(IC) and can Cannabis Help?
Interstitial Cystitis(IC) is an inflammation of the urinary bladder that is not caused by bacteria. It results in repeated discomfort or pain in the bladder and the surrounding pelvic area. The symptoms can resemble a normal bladder infection, but the bacteria that causes the inflammation are always never found. Even when bacteria are found, they don’t play a significant role and therefore, rarely respond to antibiotics treatment.
Thousands of people suffer from this condition and more than 90% of them are women. This condition mostly occurs in people between the ages of 20 and 65, but sometimes, it is also found in kids. Many women experience an increase in IC symptoms when their hormone levels change during menstruation, birth control or menopause.
Also known as Painful Bladder Syndrome, Interstitial Cystitis is very difficult to diagnose in patients as the symptoms vary from case to case, and even vary in the same patient over time. Because of this, doctors often find it hard to diagnose IC and can be very annoying to their patients.
The cause of IC is relatively unknown but from many theories and available data, it is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur because the immune system looks at the body’s own cells and substances as strange. The body will then form antibodies against its own tissues.
Patients with bladder pain syndrome often have a combination of the symptoms such as pain during sex, frequent urination, pain in the pelvis, back and groin, a continuous painful urge to urinate, pain in the urethra, pressing painful feeling in the lower abdomen, pains in the vaginal and penis.
Treating IC with Marijuana
Interstitial Cystitis has no known cure and the treatment is mainly aimed at reducing the symptoms. However, several studies have revealed that cannabis helps Interstitial Cystitis as medical marijuana can be used to effectively reduce the pain of bladder inflammation and lower urinary frequency in IC patients because of its effect on the body’s endocannabinoid system.
Marijuana is a popular choice for treating chronic pains because of its several active plant chemicals including Cannabidiol (CBD), Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabinol (CBN) and Cannabichromene (CBC). And because of its psychoactive effects and ability to impact the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 in the body, THC is the most used cannabinoid. It possesses anti-inflammatory properties that can be very helpful to IC patients.
In 2014, a 29-year-old IC patient, Dana Dwight claimed she turned to marijuana and got great success after taking different medications for years without getting real results. Dana said that marijuana gave her a new lease of life and helped her disassociate herself from the pain of her disorders.
This has made the investigation of medicinal marijuana in treatment of cystitis has been very promising. Now, all this is still in the study stage, but it has been seen that some formats in which marijuana can be used for this is through vaporizers, infusions or prepared in tablets.
Over the last few years, medical marijuana has gained a lot of attention and though a lot of states allow medical marijuana for chronic pains treatment, it is only Illinois that has actually approved marijuana as an alternative treatment for Interstitial Cystitis. Though investigations into the effectiveness of marijuana in the treatment of IC are still in the initial stage, the results have been promising so far.
The Best Marijuana Strains for Interstitial Cystitis
Healthcare professionals recommend marijuana to treat inflammation, pain and improve sleep quality in IC patients. Some of the best marijuana strains for IC sufferers include:
- LA Confidential
- Critical Mass
- White Widow
How To Get Medical Marijuana for IC
If you are a resident of a legal state and want medical marijuana to treat Interstitial Cystitis (IC) or other medical conditions, you will first need to consult with a certified doctor in order to get your med card. To get started, simply fill out the MMJ patient registration form, press submit and a physician or clinic representative will contact you as available.
Medical Marijuana Used For Treatment of Interstitial Cystitis What is Interstitial Cystitis(IC) and can Cannabis Help? Interstitial Cystitis(IC) is an