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There are a variety of ways people attempt to find relief from acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), including diet changes, over-the-counter pills or pharmaceutical medications, but many people are turning to more natural methods. This is now leading to many asking how CBD (Cannabidiol) or a combination of CBD and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) can help treat acid reflux.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach (esophagus). This backwash (acid reflux) can irritate the lining of your esophagus. As many as 10% of adults have acid reflux episodes once a day and 44% at least once a month.
Acid reflux is a chronic problem that involves “tightening of the sphincters in your throat and a little bit lower in your esophagus, says Three Wells Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Deborah Malka. “You can definitely benefit from the muscle relaxant activities of CBD.”
When Does Acid Reflux Occur?
Often, people suffering from acid reflux experience symptoms (see below) after a large meal, perhaps late at night. Foods that contain black pepper, garlic, raw onions, tomatoes or spicy foods in general or beverages like alcohol, especially red wine, coffee or orange juice may spark your acid reflux.
If you’re suffering from acid reflux you’re not alone. In fact, the American College of Gastroenterology says that over 60 million Americans experience the heartburn affiliated with acid reflux at least once a month, and at least 15 million as often as daily.
Five Symptoms of Acid Reflux
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- The feeling of food caught in your throat
How CBD and/or THC May Help
Our stomachs contain cannabinoid receptors that are part of the endocannabinoid system. These receptors bind with the cannabinoids in cannabis. When this happens, the CB1 receptor tells the stomach to stop producing stomach acid, thus helping relieve acid reflux.
Cannabis/cannabinoids protect the gastric mucosa by virtue of its antisecretory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and vasodilatory effects. As far back as 1978, it was shown that acute and long-term cannabis treatment reduced the rate of gastric ulceration in rats that were put under stress using restraints.
A review of the gastrointestinal effects of cannabinoids in 2001 states “The digestive tract contains endogenous cannabinoids (anandamide and 2-arachidonylglycerol) and cannabinoid CB1 receptors can be found on myenteric and submucosal nerves.
Activation of CB1 receptors inhibits gastrointestinal motility, intestinal secretion, and gastric acid secretion.” The study concludes that “The enteric location of CB1 receptors could provide new strategies for the management of gut disorders.”
In addition to affecting stomach acid, the muscle relaxant properties of cannabis make it useful for treating acid reflux. The stomach sphincters become more relaxed thereby reducing reflux.
When the CBD reacts with the endocannabinoid system, it reduces the secretion of acids that would otherwise cause actual burn when dealing with the symptoms of acid reflux. There are also anti-inflammatory properties in CBD which make it a useful treatment in individuals with acid reflux. Cannabis can also reduce stress and help patients relax, which is also beneficial in the treatment of ulcers.
Choosing the Right Strain
These three indica-dominant cannabis strains below are commonly used by people with gastrointestinal pain based on their reputation for alleviating pain and relaxation:
- Holy Grail Kush
- Hash Plant
Choosing the Right Delivery Methods and Dosage
The delivery method people choose varies by person. Below are the most common:
- Smoking: You’ll experience the quickest relief when you smoke your cannabis, but like all forms of smoking, you run the risk of irritating your lungs or throat with smoking.
- Vaporizing: Like smoking, vaping also offers you with fast relief, but it doesn’t expose you as much to the harmful effects of smoking.
“Smoking is…irritating to the airways and your throat. I would stick with vaporizing if you wanted to inhale it all, and avoid smoking altogether for your upper GI symptoms, says Dr. Malka.
- Tinctures: Tinctures allow you to measure your exact dose. Plus, you can add cannabis tinctures to your food or drinks or take them sublingually for quick symptom relief.
“A tincture is a good method of delivery to treat upper digestive disorders because it is absorbed directly into submucosal tissues upon swallowing,” Dr. Malka says. “Tinctures can also be delivered as a mouth spray for immediate relief.”
- Capsules: While slower acting, you might choose capsules if you’re looking for a more controlled dose.
“As far as dosage, a CBD/THC 1:1 mix or THC-dominant products would be best”, Dr. Malka says. Typical doses start at 10 mg of cannabinoids, by tincture, which may translate to 4-6 mouth sprays/dose. Newer sublingual mints or mouth strips might also be useful.
“You can definitely use a CBD/THC mix,” she said. “It’s always good to have a little bit of THC when you’re talking about gastrointestinal disorders.”
Possible Side Effects
Side effects will vary based on the ratio of CBD and THC and the dosage, but, in general, side effects of CBD may include paradoxically, sedation or problems with sleep, gastrointestinal distress, or dry mouth and eyes. Side effects of THC may include dry mouth, dry/red eyes, hunger, drowsiness and impaired memory.
If you’ve been suffering from acid reflux and over-the-counter or pharmaceutical remedies haven’t worked, or you’re looking for a more natural option, CBD and THC may be something to explore.
- Abdel-Salam O. Gastric acid inhibitory and gastric protective effects of Cannabis and cannabinoids. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine. 2016, 9(5): 413-9.
- Hornby PJ, Prouty SM. Involvement of cannabinoid receptors in gut motility and visceral perception. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2004, 141(8): 1335–1345.
- Nalin DR, et al. Cannabis, hypochlorhydra, and cholera. The Lancet. 1978, 312(8095): 859-862.
- Mayo Clinic