A common link between chili peppers and marijuana could have implications for how we treat diabetes and colitis, as well as other conditions in the digestive tract, according to a new study from the University of Connecticut.
The study was published in the April 24 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers say chemicals found in the peppers and marijuana interact with the same receptor in our stomachs.
Scientists first focused on the chemical capsaicin, which is responsible for the hot sensation of eating a chili pepper. They fed capsaicin to mice, and “found the mice fed with the spice had less inflammation in their guts.”
Here’s a rundown of what happened next:
When they looked carefully at what was happening at a molecular level, the researchers saw that the capsaicin was binding to a receptor called TRPV1, which is found on specialized cells throughout the gastrointestinal tract. When capsaicin binds to it, TRPV1 causes cells to make anandamide. Anandamide is a compound chemically akin to the cannabinoids in marijuana. It was the anandamide that caused the immune system to calm down.
Knowing that the brain also has anandamide receptors, researchers began to “imagine ways the immune system and the brain might talk to each other” through the common language of the anandamide, explained Pramod Srivastava, professor of immunology and medicine at UConn School of Medicine.
Researchers found that a greater presence of anandamide led to a greater presence of macrophages, immune cells that curb inflammation.
The researchers actually managed to cure mice with Type 1 diabetes by feeding them chili peppers. When they skipped to feeding the mice anandamide directly, they observed a similar gut-calming result.
Researchers want to head to Colorado, where pot is legal, so they can further study the effects of ingesting marijuana on anandamide in the body.
“I’m hoping to work with the public health authority in Colorado to see if there has been an effect on the severity of colitis among regular users of edible weed,” Srivastava said in a press release.
The findings could have implications for various conditions found in the stomach, pancreas, intestines and colon.