Does CBD Help with IBS?

The most common occurring gastrointestinal disease is IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In fact, it is recognized to have worldwide prevalence rates reaching 10-15%. In the United States alone, there are an estimated 25 to 45 million people currently suffering from IBS. This is also problematic when you take into account it being massively ignored by the patient, and never really diagnosed, despite it being the most common diagnosis for physicians alike. According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, research shows that as many as 13-20% of Canadians are affected, and the lifetime risk for a Canadian to develop IBS is 30%. Across the globe, 2 out of 3 IBS patients are women, and only 1 out of 3 are men, and this is particularly true for Western nations.

IBS does not develop in a specific stage of life, but cases span across childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. However, a majority of patients with IBS are under the age of 50, but the disease is chronic and can last well into the later part of life. In a survey conducted by the United European Gastroenterol Journal found that, of 1,012 individuals, 68.6% posed major indications of IBS, and only 21% of them had it a medical consultation for it. Another survey found that nearly 2,000 patients with IBS took over 6 years to be diagnosed after symptoms started. Visits to gastroenterologists have an approximate 20 to 40% chance of being the result of IBS symptoms.

So as it stands here, IBS is a worldwide infliction, not just regional. Even then, studies have found no significant difference in ethnicity rates either. As far as the “price” society pays for this disease ultimately results from employment absenteeism, or loss of production, and is estimated to be over $20 billion annually. 

IBS is defined as a disease affecting the large intestine, and can cause issues such as:

    • Cramping 
    • Abdominal pain
    • Diarrhea/Constipation
    • Bloating/Excess Gas
    • Fatigue and Difficulty Sleeping
    • Food Intolerance
    • Nausea

There are a few forms of IBS:

    • IBS-C When the digestive system contracts slowly, which delays the time for things to pass, and results in constipation.
    • IBS-D When the digestive system contracts quickly in a repeated fashion, which causes diarrhea.
    • IBS-M When the digestive system contracts in both fashions, causing irregular bowel movements from both spectrums.

Perhaps even more interesting about IBS is the completely unclear cause for it. It is primarily known as a functional disorder because of the irregular muscle contractions along the large intestine. There is a disruption in the communication between the brain and the GI tract, and causes irregular movements, along with pain differing in severity. But of course, it’s not just a problem with the muscle contractions, as it is a multifactorial disorder. Other factors include the gut and certain bacteria, an increase in sensitivity to the gut, the nervous system and a strong link to stress. However, to make it clear right away, it is not believed that stress causes IBS, but can indeed cause flares. We will briefly cover possible causes later in the article.

Treatment for IBS is actually quite covered! In fact, the belief that there is “no control” over the condition is a long-lasting myth that needs to die out. Self-control can include avoiding certain foods that trigger symptoms, including more fiber into your diet, drinking more fluids, developing healthy exercise and sleeping habits, and some medications. But of course, medications are usually the last option, unless the condition is causing physical distress to the digestive tract, or severe pain. Before medications, some life changes are recommended. Medications such as Modulon or Dicetel aim to restore the contraction processes conducted in the digestive tract.

How does IBS affect someone?

Before we can dive into what the research says about CBD and IBS, it is important to understand how IBS affects someone’s day to day life, not just a physical level, but a fundamental one. 

If you are just beginning to learn about IBS, chances are you might not fully understand the taboo around the disease. The problems that arise from bowel movements aren’t exactly an open topic for us, and this can cause some real problems when people suffer without opening up about it. 

For those suffering from IBS, roughly 45% have a mild case, 35% have a moderate, and 20% have severe symptoms. Regardless, having IBS poses some real concerns on a day-to-day basis. For some, the stress lies in managing pain, and this comes with a few issues.

For those struggling with the pain aspect of IBS, certain medications such as lubiprostone and Dicetel are used. And for severe cases, even some antidepressants are prescribed. But the bottom line is simple, not every person has access, or even the desire to take these pain medications. On top of that, so many of the sufferers of IBS hold their tongue when tempted to reach out to people about it. Leaving many untreated, and suffering in a literal silence. As covered earlier, a large majority of those who suffer from IBS took over 6 years to reach a final diagnosis. Of course, the causes are all different, but managing pain is a difficult task many Americans wake up to. To be under such varying pain from something as essential as eating, and having no control over necessary bodily functions, well to put it simply, has some extreme stresses.

For others, if the pain isn’t as severe, then the constant stress of managing these uncontrollable bowel movements stands as, not just a medical issue, but a personal one too. For someone to truly beat this, they have to first try and understand their personal condition. What makes it worse, how to control it for them, and this can be taxing daily. 

People with IBS, as discussed before, have to deal with nausea. In fact, a study conducted at UCLA found that 4 out of 10 women (38%) with IBS and 3 out of 10 men (27%) suffer from frequent nausea. Nausea likely happens due to the inconsistent refluxes, or even gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), yet another extremely common GI condition. When IBS episodes happen, gut sensitivity spikes, and this can cause an intense feeling of nausea. It can also result in heartburn, bloating, and dyspepsia. Obviously, constipation and diarrhea are impactful in their own rights.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, also called CBD, is just one of the many cannabinoids found in cannabis. Primarily extracted through hemp, CBD has one appealing aspect that turns people’s heads. CBD does not cause the “high” that its closely related cannabinoid THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, does. This is especially unique in the fact that CBD possesses some of the many medical benefits that people turn to medical marijuana for. For example, a large portion of the research for CBD is done on the effects it has as an anticonvulsant. CBD has even been shown to reduce the frequency of seizures in epileptic children. 

How can CBD help IBS?

Interestingly enough, we have a system designed just for the metabolism of these cannabinoids, called the endocannabinoid system, or ENS. The ENS is a part of our central nervous system and harbors neuroreceptors called CB1 and CB2. These essentially latch onto the cannabinoids, and have been shown to help monitor other bodily levels of dopamine, serotonin (insomnia and depression) as well as blood pressure and blood sugar. These CB1 receptors are not just only in our brains, but also in our livers, as well as our digestive tract.

The fascinating science behind the metabolism of cannabinoids is beyond the scope of this article, but research is still enveloping exactly how the synergism works in our bodies. The communication between the brain and the gut-axis is also aligned with cannabinoid receptors. Research has shown that the activation of these receptors has helped control the motility of our intestines (movement), limit secretion and even decrease hypersensitivity in the gut. One such study concluded that cannabinoids derived both from hemp and marijuana resulted in a significant improvement in gut motility when relaying across 75 people with varying forms of IBS.

IBS patients often feel such discomfort when eating, and when they do, it results in prolonged bloating. When this is repeated, many patients end up stop eating, and malnourishment is not the way to fight IBS. In fact, this can upset it even further, as a nutrient imbalance causes more issues in our digestive systems, even without this disease. So when patients begin to stop eating regularly, appetite loss is common. So can CBD help with IBS? CBD has been shown to be an appetite stimulant. It can help regulate our eating behaviors by controlling these hunger levels, and in some cases, can reduce bloating. This is due in part because of the reduction of inflammation in the outer layers of our intestines.

The fascinating part about all of this research is the fact that we inherit many cannabinoid receptors along our digestive tract, and that controlled dosages have been reported to help with the many stresses IBS can bring.\

On top of this, IBS can cause problems with sleeping patterns, as discomfort and irregular bowel movements can hinder sleep. For this kind of stress, insomnia deserves its own topic, but it would be an injustice to leave out this factor. Studies show that a controlled dose has been shown to improve the ability to fall asleep, as well as stay asleep. It does this by working through our ENS and potentially monitoring serotonin levels, but as well as other neuroreceptors. 

Is it perfect?

The simple answer is no, because “perfect” would imply a cure to IBS, which CBD cannot do. As you can probably tell, there is no known cure for IBS. However, the control that IBS patients feel that they lose doesn’t have to be so difficult. CBD, in many ways, can help fight against nausea, the pain caused by inflammation, and even stimulate our appetites. In the end, research is continuously supporting the fact that it can potentially fight against many forms of GI diseases. IBS being the most common GI disease worldwide, it stands a reasonable agent for fighting against it. Another difficult aspect between CBD and IBS is the needed dosage for a positive effect. Everyone’s condition is different when it comes to IBS, ranging in severity as well as consistency. On top of this, metabolism and our digestive functions are reflective of our body weight and our sex. These factors surely change the needed dose for everyone, which can be difficult to figure out.

Before you go…

Research for CBD and IBS is extremely promising. The leading research is in strong support for the fact that it can help reduce nausea as well as inflammation of our digestive tracts. If you’re someone interested in using CBD, or interested in using CBD for IBS, then first consider consulting your physician, as CBD has been shown to affect other medications as well. In fact, that’s another topic in of itself because CBD has been shown to change the required dose of other medications! One thing is for sure, and that is the fact that such a common worldwide disease deserves one more enemy at hand, and that potential lies on CBD. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the scientific wonders of CBD, visit our Learn page. 

*Disclaimer* We are in no way claiming CBD will cure any of the diseases/ailments above. We are aiming to shed light on some of the fascinating research being done on them. The purpose of this article was to educate, and if you’re interested in trying CBD for any of the diseases or ailments above, consider consulting a physician first.*

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