Intestinal Disorders

Using CBD for Digestive Problems

Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBD) actually refers to several different types of digestive issues that create inflammation in the stomach and intestinal tract. They are likely caused by infections or dietary factors. Most of those affected by IBDs are usually female between the ages of 15-35. Patients with these conditions may benefit from dietary changes, but should also try and lower their stress as this can worsen their condition. Medications that suppress inflammation and the immune system are sometimes prescribed but can have serious side effects. These disorders include the following conditions:

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a condition in the small and large intestine. IBS can be brought on (or made worse) by stress, food allergies, and intestinal inflammation. 

Crohn’s Disease is an autoimmune inflammatory disease of the bowel wall. Crohn’s patients have an overactive immune system that attacks the normal parts of the intestinal tract. 

Ulcerative Colitis is another autoimmune inflammatory disease of the lining of the colon and rectum. 

Diverticulitis occurs when pouches in the wall of the large intestine become inflamed and painful, often as a result of bacterial overgrowth. The pouches themselves form naturally as we age which is called diverticulosis.

Clinical Studies Results Positive for Cannabis

NOTE FOR FIRST TIME READERS: Cannabinoids – such as THC, CBD – and terpenes are the main medically active components in cannabis (aka marijuana). For more information on these components, and much more about the plant, see our section on the Science of Cannabis.

The gastrointestinal tract (GI) houses 80% of the immune system. It also contains cannabinoid receptors that are part of the endocannabinoid system in all humans. Cannabis is both an anti-inflammatory and an immune modulator that can benefit the endocannabinoids that are found throughout the digestive system, which makes it a good choice of medicine for IBDs.

In 2011 researchers compared GI tract samples from healthy people and IBD patients. They found that as the disease progresses in IBD patients the presence of CB2 cannabinoid receptors increases in their GI tract. They also found that the CB1 receptor helps to heal wounds in the lining of the gut. In other words, IBD patients’ bodies demand more cannabinoids to fight the disease.

In addition, the CB1 receptor has specifically been found to inhibit the motility of (i.e. calm) the intestine. Therefore, cannabis can improve bowel movement by helping reduce diarrhea and intestinal spasms.

In one study, CBD was shown to normalize the flow of food and nutrients through the intestines by decreasing the inflammation. A normal flow of food means less diarrhea and constipation. One dose of synthetic THC relaxed the colon and eased post-eating cramping when compared to a placebo in a human study.

It has also been found that the cannabinoids promoted healing in the gastrointestinal membrane, which may explain why many colitis patients report an improvement of their symptoms when they use cannabis. A recently published report concluded that Crohn’s patients using medical marijuana had reduced the impact of the disease and had less need for prescription drugs or surgery. 

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease patients report that using medical cannabis relieves painful cramps and increases their appetite. This last effect is very important because Crohn’s patients are often undernourished. 

What Types of CBD Products Are Best?

Both THC and CBD are effective for IBD, as they are both anti-inflammatory agents. Ingestion of cannabis, through edibles or CBD oils, is a good way to improve gut health as the medicine is delivered directly to the digestive tract. For example, a digestible cannabis capsule is released into the small intestine, providing long-lasting relief for up to 8 hours. This is ideal for an overnight dose.

Typical regimens would have 10-25 mg of cannabinoids per dose 3x/day. If digestion is problematic, turn to tinctures for easy absorption. For colon disorders, there are cannabis rectal suppositories that provide direct relief to the affected area.

Some patients actually make their own suppositories if they can’t find them at their local dispensary. The 10-25 mg of cannabinoids dosage applies here as well. For stress reduction suggestion, see the Stress section.

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  • Aviello G, Romano B, Izzo AA. Cannabinoids and gastrointestinal motility: animal and human studies. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. 2008, Aug: 81-93.
  • Borelli F, et al. Cannabidiol, a safe and non-psychotropic ingredient of the cannabis plant Cannabis sativa, is protective in a murine model of colitis. Journal of Molecular Medicine. 2009, 87: 1111-1121. 
  • Esfandyari T, et al. Effects of a cannabinoid receptor agonist on colonic motor and sensory functions in humans: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. American Journal of Physiology/Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. 2007, 293: 137-145.
  • Izzo AA, Coutts AA. Cannabinoids and the digestive tract. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology. 2005, 168: 573-598.

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