Overview of Interstitial Cystitis
Interstitial cystitis, or painful bladder syndrome is a condition that causes severe bladder pressure and pain and causes the need to urinate frequently. The chronic condition is more common in women than in men. Interstitial cystitis causes a person to feel the need to urinate more often and when the bladder is holding smaller volumes of urine.
The pain associated with interstitial cystitis is typically located in the pelvic region and in the area between the vagina and anus in women or between the scrotum and anus in men. The symptoms associated with interstitial cystitis typically fluctuate, flaring up in response to things like long periods of sitting, stress, exercise, sexual activity and menstruation. Interstitial cystitis can lead to the stiffening of the bladder wall, which reduces bladder capacity and makes a person have to urinate more frequently. Having to urinate frequently and experiencing pain commonly interferes with daily life.
The cause of interstitial cystitis is unknown, but a defect in the protective lining of the bladder, which allows toxic substances in urine to irritate the bladder wall, has been associated with the condition.
There is no cure for interstitial cystitis. However, medications and other therapies, like nerve stimulation, bladder training, and stretching of the bladder, can help in managing symptoms.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Interstitial Cystitis
Research suggests that cannabis can help reduce bladder inflammation and urinary frequency because of its impact on the body’s endocannabinoid system. Both cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, have been found to be located in human bladders (Wang, Wang & Bjorling, 2013). Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), two major cannabinoids found in cannabis, activate the CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. In an animal study, researchers discovered that the activation of CB2 receptors with cannabinoids were effective at inhibiting inflammation. Bladder swelling was reduced and urinary frequency was inhibited in the group that received cannabinoid treatment. These findings suggest that THC and CBD, which activate the CB2 receptors, could help in the treatment of chronic bladder diseases like interstitial cystitis (Wang, Wang & Bjorling, 2014). Another study confirmed that activating CB2 receptors with a cannabinoid inhibited the severity of bladder inflammation (Wang, Wang & Bjorling, 2013). In animal studies, THC and other cannabinoids were found to inhibit electrically-evoked bladder contractions, which suggests a relationship between CB1 receptors and bladder function (Pertwell & Fernando, 1996) (Fullhase, et al., 2014).
The administering of THC and CBD were found to significantly decreased urinary urgency and the number and volume of incontinence episodes in multiple sclerosis patients with bladder dysfunction. In addition, pain and quality of sleep significantly increased (Brady, et al., 2004). Another study also found that cannabis significantly reduced urge incontinence episodes in multiple sclerosis patients (Freeman, et al., 2006).
Cannabis has also proven effective for managing the pain associated with interstitial cystitis. A case study found that a 31-year-old woman diagnosed with chronic cystitis and who’s pain had proven intractable to other treatments for about 20 years experienced a significant reduction in pain when taking oral THC. Throughout treatment, the patient had to reduce dosage because of psychotic side effects, confusion and bad dreams. However, once the dosage was reduced, the patient continued to experience a reduction in pain, but with diminished side effects, and remained stable for six months until completion of the case study (Krenn, Daha, Oczenski & Fitzgerald, 2003). An animal study also showed that THC was effective at suppressing pain in hypersensitive bladder disorders like interstitial cystitis (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 2006).
Brady, C.M., DasGupta, R., Dalton, C., Wiseman, O.J., Berkley, K.J., and Fowler, C.J. (2004, August). An open-label pilot study of cannabis-based extracts for bladder dysfunction in advanced multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis, 10(4), 425-33.Retrieved from
Freeman, R.M., Adekanmi, O., Waterfield, M.R., Waterfield, A.E., Wright, D., and Zajicek, J. (2006, November). The effect of cannabis on urge incontinence in patients with multiple sclerosis: a multicentre, randomised placebo-controlled trial (CAMS-LUTS). International Urogynecology Journal and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, 17(6), 636-41.Retrieved from
Fullhause, C., Campeau, L., Sibaev, A., Storr, M., Hennenberg, M., Gratzke, C., Stief, C., Hedlund, P., and Andersson, K.-E. (2014, January). Bladder function in a cannabinoid receptor type 1 knockout mouse. BJU International, 113(1), 144-151. Retrieved from
Krenn, H., Daha, L.K., Oczenski, W., and Fitzgerald, R.D. (2003, January). A case of cannabinoid rotation in a young woman with chronic cystitis. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 25(1), 3-4. Retrieved from
Pertwee, R.G., and Fernando, S.R. (1996, August). Evidence for the presence of cannabinoid CB1 receptors in mouse urinary bladder. British Journal of Pharmacology, 118(8), 2053-8. Retrieved from
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. (2006, May 21). Marijuana-derived Drug Suppresses Bladder Pain In Animal Models. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 17, 2017 from
Wang, Z.-Y., Wang, P., & Bjorling, D. E. (2013). Activation of cannabinoid receptor 2 inhibits experimental cystitis. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 304(10), R846–R853. Retrieved from
Wang, Z.-Y., Wang, P., and Bjorling, D.E. (2014, April). Treatment with a cannabinoid receptor 2 agonist decreases severity of established cystitis. The Journal of Urology, 191(4), 1153-1158. Retrieved from