Every year, tens of millions of Americans suffer from symptoms caused by gastrointestinal (GI) issues. The symptoms associated with GI disorders can be debilitating and represent a huge burden for those suffering.
Can CBD help? Current research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) can improve the quality of life for those afflicted with GI issues by relieving certain symptoms.
In this article, we’ll explore the underlying causes of GI issues, how CBD can help, and how you can incorporate CBD into your routine.
Happy Gut, Happy Mind and Body
Your digestive system is made up of a system of organs including your liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. But perhaps the star of the show is your GI tract, also called the digestive tract or the gut.
Your gut is critical for the process of breaking down the food you eat and extracting the energy and nutrients your body needs to grow and repair itself. But when it comes to the gut, there’s much more to the story than digestion.
Emerging evidence shows that your gut—along with the trillions of bacteria that make up your gut microbiota—is also important for fighting inflammation, protecting you against cancer, and regulating your immune system, weight, and mood,
That’s why it’s so important that we keep our guts healthy and happy.
Unfortunately, a large proportion of the population does not have a healthy or happy gut. Each year, tens of millions of Americans suffer from GI diseases.
GI diseases are a diverse family of disorders that affect the GI tract or gut. Some of the most prevalent GI diseases include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
CBD may be helpful for relieving the symptoms of GI-related diseases. But before we discuss treatment with CBD, let’s take a look at the unique symptoms and causes of each of these diseases.
Gastritis refers to inflammation in the lining of the stomach. Symptoms can include:
- Discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen
Gastritis can be caused by several different factors. Most cases of gastritis are caused by a bacterial infection from H. pylori.
Damage to the stomach lining, commonly caused by alcohol and over-the-counter NSAID medications like aspirin and ibuprofen, can also cause gastritis. And although less common, an autoimmune response like an allergic reaction from food can cause gastritis as well.
IBS is a GI disease characterized by painful, irregular bowel movements, frequent diarrhea and/or constipation, and bloating.
Although the exact cause of IBS is not known, doctors now classify IBS as a functional GI disorder. This means that IBS is caused by a problem with the brain-gut interaction or how your brain and gut work together. Researchers think that interactions between the brain and the gut regulate gut sensitivity, gut microbiota, and how food moves through the gut.
In the case of IBS, researchers believe that problems with the brain-gut interaction lead to food moving too slowly or too quickly through the digestive tract and an increase in sensations of gut pain.
Constipation is not exactly a disease, but it’s an incredibly common GI symptom. According to the U.S National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 16% of all adults and about 33% of adults over the age of 60 have symptoms of constipation.
Constipation is characterized by small, difficult, and painful bowel movements. Symptoms also include:
- Having fewer than three bowel movements per week
- Pain in lower your abdomen
Constipation can be caused by a wide variety of factors. The three main causes are:
- Certain medications or dietary supplements
- Certain health and nutrition problems like not eating enough fiber
- Lifestyle changes like traveling, pregnancy, or changes to your diet
IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) is often confused with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), but these are two distinct GI disorders. IBD is a general term used by doctors to describe GI disorders involving chronic inflammation of your digestive tract. It includes Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Crohn’s Disease is characterized by chronic inflammation in the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. Symptoms can include:
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Feeling tired
Ulcerative Colitis is characterized by chronic inflammation in the inner lining of the large intestine. These two diseases share many of the same symptoms.
The Need for Better GI Treatments
GI disease represents a significant financial burden on the U.S. healthcare system. And unfortunately, the rates of GI diseases appear to be increasing.
For example, the prevalence of IBD is increasing around the world in both Western and Asian populations. We still don’t know the exact cause. But researchers think the increase in IBD rates is caused by environmental factors such as increased antibiotic exposure and changes to diet and lifestyle.
With more and more people suffering from these debilitating diseases, the need for effective treatments is more critical than ever. Novel therapies that can help control GI symptoms could significantly improve the quality of life of millions of Americans.
That’s where CBD comes in.
What is CBD?
CBD is one of the hundreds of naturally occurring chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. You’ve probably heard of Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. This cannabis compound is well-known for the psychoactive effects that come to mind when most people think about cannabis.
But in recent years, researchers and consumers are starting to pay more and more attention to CBD. That’s because CBD contains many of the healing properties of THC and cannabis as a whole without the high.
While it may not be the miracle cure that some companies claim it to be, CBD is still a pretty impressive compound.
So far, researchers have shown that CBD has the potential to treat a wide variety of illnesses, diseases, and disorders including:
As a result, CBD has become an incredibly popular health supplement. The U.S. FDA even approved the first CBD-containing drug, Epidiolex, for treating severe forms of epilepsy.
How does CBD work?
CBD is a pretty amazing compound, but how does it work? It seems almost too good to be true that a single compound could potentially treat the symptoms of such a wide variety of ailments.
Humans have been using cannabis medicinally and recreationally for thousands of years. Yet only we’ve only just begun to understand how it affects the mind and body from a scientific standpoint. Here’s what researchers have learned so far.
The Endocannabinoid System
CBD—and many other cannabis compounds like THC—takes effect by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system is a biological system present throughout your entire body, from your brain to your gut. The endocannabinoid system is made up of three different types of molecules.
These are the molecules that control the endocannabinoid system by either stimulating it or, in some cases, dampening it.
CBD, THC, and over a hundred other molecules found in cannabis are classified as cannabinoid compounds. That’s because they have a similar chemical structure and the ability to interact with the endocannabinoid system.
Believe it or not, we also make our own cannabinoid compounds called endocannabinoids. Anandamide is one example of an endocannabinoid compound that’s thought to have a similar (though less intoxicating) effect to THC.
2. Cannabinoid receptors
Cannabinoids stimulate the endocannabinoid system by binding to certain cannabinoid receptors, like a key sliding into a lock. Cannabinoid receptors are located on the surface of certain cells throughout the body.
Certain enzymes are responsible for synthesizing and degrading cannabinoids. This helps regulate the endocannabinoid system by controlling the number of cannabinoids in our bloodstream.
We didn’t evolve this complex system just so our ancestors could get high. The endocannabinoid system actually has an important job to perform.
The main function of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain homeostasis or balance within our bodies by regulating our mood, appetite, temperature, immunity, sleep, and much more.
CBD: An Endocannabinoid Hijacker
When we consume CBD, it takes effect by entering our bloodstream and brain and interacting with our endocannabinoid system.
According to Dr. Bradley Alger in his 2013 research retrospective, “Getting High on the Endocannabinoid System,” CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids work “by muscling in on the intrinsic neuronal signaling system, mimicking a key natural player, and basically hijacking it for reasons best known to the plants.”
Luckily for us, this hijacking results in an almost endless array of therapeutic effects.
Can CBD Help Treat GI Issues?
CBD acts through our endocannabinoid system to elicit some remarkable therapeutic properties. But what about GI issues?
Let’s take a look at some of the evidence that demonstrates how CBD offers relief for the symptoms of common GI disorders.
Cannabis and GI Disease
According to a 2017 review, the GI tract contains all the pieces of the endocannabinoid system (cannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes), making it a good candidate for cannabis/cannabinoid treatment. Additionally, preclinical studies in mice show that cannabis/cannabinoids reduce the severity of colitis and relax intestinal hypercontractility (which can lead to intestinal cramping and diarrhea) through cannabinoid receptors and other components of the endocannabinoid system.
And as we’ve already covered here on CannaHealth, there’s also evidence that cannabis/cannabinoids can actually help people suffering from IBD. Several studies show that cannabis use is correlated with improvements in some IBD symptoms and overall quality of life.
The Evidence for CBD
Because hemp-based CBD is legal and doesn’t cause intoxication, it’s much more attractive as a supplement or medication than high-THC cannabis varieties. So can CBD on its own help relieve the symptoms of GI disease?
So far, the evidence points to ‘yes.’
A 2013 literature review highlights the importance of CBD as a new IBD drug candidate. According to the researchers, CBD represents a safe and inexpensive treatment containing the beneficial effects of cannabinoids on the gut without the psychoactive effects. Likewise, a 2016 study showed that high-CBD cannabis extract relieved inflammation and intestinal hypercontractility in mice.
Researchers have also shown that CBD has positive effects on other symptoms that could help improve the quality of life for those suffering from GI disorders. For example, CBD can help relieve pain, nausea, and anxiety.
Taken together, the evidence suggests that CBD is a promising therapy for treating the symptoms of GI disorders.
Is CBD Safe?
Legally-produced CBD is made from hemp, a low-THC variety of the cannabis plant. Because of its relationship to cannabis, many consumers still worry whether or not CBD is really safe.
CBD safety is an issue that we’ve covered before on CannaHealth. And so far, all of the current research shows that CBD has an excellent safety profile.
This 2018 study looked specifically at the side effects of CBD. The researchers found that adults tolerated CBD well with only some minor negative side effects.
And this 2017 review concluded that CBD is generally safe with fewer side effects than many commonly prescribed and over-the-counter medications. The most frequently reported negative side effects were tiredness, diarrhea, and changes in appetite.
Government organizations around the world also agree. In 2018, the FDA submitted CBD to its rigorous process of drug approval. In the end, the FDA approved CBD in the form of Epidiolex for treating certain severe forms of epilepsy.
And in 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a comprehensive review of CBD. The WHO concluded that “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.” The WHO also found that CBD has a very low potential for dependence or abuse.
How to Take CBD
With the popularity of CBD exploding, companies are thinking up more and more fun and creative ways to take CBD. Let’s take a look at some of the most common methods for taking CBD and which is best for treating GI issues.
CBD oil is probably the most popular and cost-effective choice for taking CBD. To make CBD oil, hemp plant material is put through an extraction process that isolates and concentrates fat-soluble cannabinoid compounds as well as terpenes.
CBD oil is usually ingested sublingually. This means you place and hold the oil under your tongue so it can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream through the mucous membrane in your mouth.
This method of taking CBD is faster and more effective than simply swallowing the oil and letting it absorb through your digestive system. And if you’re experiencing nausea from a GI disorder, this is probably a better choice than a CBD edible.
CBD oil is sold in its pure form but is also used as an ingredient in other CBD-rich products like topicals and edibles
Another option for taking CBD is CBD capsules. This is the most discreet way to take CBD—most CBD capsules look identical to fish oil supplements. However, because this method relies on your digestive system, it will take a longer time to feel the effect.
CBD Vape Pens
CBD vape pens offer an inhalable form of CBD. This method of taking CBD has a clear advantage over the other methods—it’s the most fast-acting and the least likely to upset the stomach. However, vaping is not as discreet as other methods for taking CBD.
CBD topicals are another popular choice for taking CBD. But it’s probably not the best method for treating GI symptoms. Topical creams and balms applied to the skin are unlikely to have a significant effect on the symptoms in your GI tract.
How Much CBD Should You Take for GI Issues?
It’s always a good idea to start with a lower dose of CBD (around 10 mg). That way you can gauge your response and slowly increase the dose 5 to 10 mg at a time. Once you feel a response, stop increasing the dose because you can develop a tolerance to CBD as with other medications.
Taking CBD twice a day (once in the morning and 12 hours later in the evening) is a good strategy to ensure you’ll feel the effects throughout the day and night.
It’s important to note that everyone will react differently to CBD. So start low and take it slow. Be mindful of your GI symptoms and stop taking CBD immediately if any of your symptoms get worse.
Choosing the Best CBD
With so many CBD companies cropping up, it can be hard to decide which one to choose. At CannaHealth, we provide in-depth buying guides and reviews for popular CBD products and brands. But here are a few general things to look for that will help you choose a reputable source for your CBD.
A good CBD company will send samples of each batch of its CBD oil and other products to an independent, third-party lab for quality testing.
Testing labs will analyze the samples to confirm the potency or how much CBD is in the product and test for common hemp contaminants like heavy metals and microbes. With quality testing, you can be confident that your CBD product is safe and you’re getting the right amount of CBD.
You should also check the ingredients that the company uses to make its products. Look for companies that use organic hemp grown in the United States.
If you’re going to be taking CBD orally, CBD oil is a good choice because it usually has fewer ingredients than CBD edibles like gummies and chocolates. This is especially important for those suffering from GI issues as some ingredients could upset digestion.
Make sure you check the ingredients. Most CBD oils simply contain CBD-rich hemp extract oil, a carrier oil like coconut oil, and natural flavorings. And many companies offer unflavored options for CBD oil as well.
GI disorders affect millions of Americans every year. For those suffering, GI symptoms can have a significant negative impact on their quality of life. But new research shows that CBD has the potential to offer relief from GI symptoms like painful cramping and nausea.
Moreover, CBD has an excellent safety profile compared to other prescriptions and over the counter medications. Although more research is needed, people suffering from GI disorders should consider CBD as an add-on therapy to help improve their quality of life.