STORRS, Conn. — If Pepto Bismol or Tums don’t do the trick for you when your belly is brewing, a new study finds that a strange duo just might. Researchers say that chili peppers and marijuana interact with the same receptors in the stomach to calm an irritated gut.
The study, conducted at the University of Connecticut, involved the research team feeding mice capsaicin, the active ingredient found in chili peppers — and the very one that creates that spicy burning sensation we associate with chili peppers. They found that the chemical was binding with TRPV1, a certain receptor on cells within the gastrointestinal tract. When this happens, anandamide, a compound chemically comparable to cannabinoids found in marijuana, is created.
Anandamide causes the immune system to calm the gut down, including the esophagus, stomach, and pancreas. The chemical also binds with another receptor to bring in immune cells that counter inflammation.
Mice that were fed capsaicin showed less gut inflammation and were even cured of Type 1 diabetes.
Testing also showed that when researchers fed the mice anandamide directly, it produced similar results.
The researchers say that the human brain has receptors for both anandamide and cannabinoids, a link that requires further investigation as it could procure a test to see how or if the chemicals can be used as therapeutic drugs for stomach disorders.
“This allows you to imagine ways the immune system and the brain might talk to each other. They share a common language,” says Pramod Srivastava, professor of immunology and medicine at the university, in a press release.
Srivastava said he hopes to work with public health authorities from Colorado in the future to see if marijuana could also help bowel diseases, such as colitis. Human trials would also be needed to see if the success with capsaicin curing diabetes could be replicated.
The study was published in April in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.