All embarrassment aside, suppositories are becoming hot commodities in the world of cannabis medicine.
Already, DIY recipes are making their way around the internet and early prototypes are hitting dispensary shelves.
But, do cannabis suppositories even work? If so, what are they used for?
Before you stick our favorite plant in some weird places, here are a few things you need to know about cannabis suppositories.
How do suppositories work?
The word “suppository” is most often used to describe a medicine that is inserted rectally.
While they may sound unpleasant, suppositories can be real lifesavers for individuals who struggle to keep down or effectively digest medicines.
When consumed rectally, medicines enter the body through the absorptive tissues that line the rectum and lower intestinal tract.
Some medicines, like cannabis suppositories, may also act locally in some cases.
Suppositories can also be used vaginally, providing relief or beneficial effects to the local area. Many common spermicides are suppositories, as well as some antibiotic and antifungal treatments.
What are cannabis suppositories?
While some progressive dispensaries and care centers offer cannabis-infused suppositories to their customers and patients, many medical cannabis consumers make their own suppositories using molds in the comfort of their own homes.
Cannabis suppositories are often made using high-potency cannabis extracts or isolates. These isolates are infused into a solid oil, like coconut oil or cocoa butter, to form a rounded pill-like shape.
This pill, of course, will eventually be inserted into the rectum or the vagina.
Some recipes or brands may use different types of fats or emulsifiers to give their suppositories an improved consistency for insertion.
Are cannabis suppositories effective?
Unsurprisingly, researchers haven’t focused much attention on cannabis-infused suppositories.
While botanical suppositories have been used to treat illness for centuries, there have been no significant human or animal studies on whether or not cannabis suppositories actually work.
In Cannabis Revealed, Dr. Bonni Goldstein, an esteemed medical cannabis physician, writes, “I rarely recommend THC-rich cannabis through the rectal route because we are still uncertain of the amount of medicine that gets into the system.”
While there are many claims that rectal cannabis suppositories “improve absorption”, the lining of the rectum is not where the bulk of nutrient absorption takes place in the gastrointestinal tract.
That’s why the small intestine is so important!
To make medicinal suppositories more effective, drugs are often combined with other agents that will improve absorption.
As Goldstein mentions, some research has found that THC alone was not easily absorbed in the rectums of monkey models.
However, when THC was modified with a compound called hemisuccinate, the effectiveness of the medicine was enhanced.
In fact, with hemisuccinate, THC was more readily absorbed by the rectum and into the bloodstream than it was when consumed orally.
Unfortunately, the tools to make cannabis compounds more easily absorbed in the intestine are not currently available to the average medical cannabis patient.
Why some people may still find relief with rectal cannabis suppositories
Yet, while the verdict is out on how well the body processes cannabis compounds via the anus, there may still be reasons why some patients find relief with cannabis suppositories.
The gastrointestinal tract, the rectum included, features many places for cannabis compounds to “land”.
These landing locations are called cannabinoid receptors, named after the cannabis plant.
Cannabinoid receptors are widely found in nerve cells of the gastrointestinal tract, in cells of the intestinal lining, and in immune cells throughout your gut.
In preclinical research, cannabis compounds successfully calmed gastrointestinal inflammation and slowed motility in the region.
For this reason, suppositories may be of interest for the treatment of those with painful GI conditions like Crohn’s Disease and IBS.
Another interesting way cannabis compounds may affect the gastrointestinal effect is via their antimicrobial capabilities.
The colon is home up to a thousand microbial species, most of which we humans know very little about.
These intestinal microbes are responsible for breaking down fiber into small and nutritious fatty acids.
They’re also responsible for manufacturing a wide variety of neurotransmitters that may contribute to your emotional and physical health.
Emerging rodent research suggests that cannabis compounds may alter the gut microbiome, but at this point, there isn’t a whole lot of information on how and to what significance.
While this basic science may not provide proof that cannabis suppositories work, these mechanisms perhaps explain why some medical cannabis patients prefer this unusual delivery method.
What about vaginal cannabis suppositories?
Arguably, the vagina is more sensitive to medicines and creams than the rectum.
In order to maintain a healthy environment, vaginal cannabis suppositories may need to be made with more specialized ingredients that maintain the proper pH of the region.
When the vaginal pH is disrupted, the canna-curious may accidentally make themselves more prone to bacterial and yeast infections.
However, while clinical research and scientific evidence on vaginal cannabis preparations are lacking, cannabis-infused lubricants and vaginal suppositories have been making waves in the United States.
While evidence is entirely anecdotal, many consumers pick up vaginal cannabis suppositories for relief from common ailments like menstrual cramps, pain during intercourse, and simply as a pumped-up lubricant.
Unlike rectal suppositories, which typically contain high doses of cannabis compounds, vaginal suppositories are typically less potent and are often used more as a natural remedy than a serious medical tool.
However, it is entirely possible that cannabis-infused vaginal suppositories may one day be studied for their potential ability to treat more serious ailments, including endometriosis and cervical cancers.
Yet, while early cellular evidence shows that the herb may be helpful for treating these conditions, there is no clinical research on whether or not vaginal suppositories are actually useful for this purpose.
What are the risks of cannabis suppositories?
As it turns out, sticking herbs and oils up your nether regions may come with some risks.
Notably, no one knows for sure exactly how the potent chemical compounds in the plant work.
For example, cannabis-infused suppositories may sound particularly appealing to patients suffering from colorectal cancer.
After all, the anti-cancer potential of the cannabis plant has been making headlines for the past several years.
Scientific research on the topic shows that there’s more to the story than often told.
While some early research suggests that cannabis compounds may have anti-tumor effects on colorectal cancer cells, other research has found that synthetic cannabis-like compounds can aggravate and stimulate colon cancer growth in the laboratory.
So, while some may be inspired to experiment, it’s also important to acknowledge that, at this point, cannabis suppositories are a shot in the dark.