Does CBD Help With GI Issues?
Can CBD help with IBS? What about IBD and gastritis?
According to the research, the answer is yes.
CBD is a natural, plant-based therapy with demonstrated, beneficial effects for people coping with a range of conditions, from insomnia to epilepsy.
At a high level, CBD oil supports the body’s endocannabinoid system in rebalancing biological functions that have become out of whack (like your sleep or immune response). In fact, many people take CBD oil as a general wellness supplement, simply because it is so effective in rebalancing the body as needed.
For individuals with gastrointestinal disorders, that rebalancing tends to focus on inflammation in the gut, large intestine, and other organs in the digestive tract. CBD oil has proven effective for relieving the primary symptoms of GI disorders, like pain and inflammation, as well as secondary symptoms like anxiety.
In this guide, we review the types of digestive disorders CBD can be helpful in treating. Then we take a look at how CBD oil works, the specific benefits it provides for individuals with gastrointestinal problems, and how to go about finding a safe CBD oil to treat your own GI condition.
What Are GI Diseases?
Typically, GI issues is a catch-all term for the following conditions. As we’ll review in following sections, CBD oil may be helpful in treating one or more of the symptoms present with each of these disorders.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes inflammation in the large intestine. It’s characterized by symptoms like abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and weight loss. IBS affects 10% to 15% of people worldwide, with the disorder being twice as prevalent among women.
IBS is a chronic condition with no cure, although symptoms can be managed by a combination of diet and lifestyle changes, fiber supplements, and other medications. Because stress can trigger or intensify symptoms, therapy, counseling, and antidepressants may also be recommended.
Along with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease is a type of Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). A little over 1% of American adults suffer from either IBD. Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Symptoms include abdominal pain and cramping, fatigue, severe diarrhea, blood in the stool, reduced appetite and weight loss.
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, which can be debilitating to live with. Recommended treatments often involve a combination of diet and lifestyle changes, along with anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics.
Ulcerative colitis is another IBD, causing inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. Colitis is distinct from Crohn’s disease in that it specifically affects the colon and rectum. Common symptoms include severe diarrhea (often with pus or blood), pain in the abdomen and rectum, rectal bleeding, difficulty defecating (which is often accompanied by an urgency to defecate), fatigue, fever, and weight loss.
Like Crohn’s disease, there is no cure for ulcerative colitis. Treatment typically includes a combination of immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory drugs, with other medications to manage symptoms, such as pain relievers.
Gastritis causes inflammation in the stomach lining. It can be caused by a bacterial infection, or overuse or abuse of pain relievers and alcohol. Certain IBDs like Crohn’s disease can also increase one’s risk for gastritis. Symptoms of gastritis include pain or a sense of burning in the upper abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and a sense of fullness in the upper abdomen after eating.
Left untreated, gastritis can cause stomach ulcers and develop into stomach cancer. Chronic gastritis affects 2 out of every 10,000 people. Fortunately, gastritis goes away for most people with proper treatment. Typically, that includes a mix of antibiotics to kill the infection, antacids, and histamine blockers, along with lifestyle changes.
Most people experience constipation at least occasionally, but chronic constipation is defined as having difficult or infrequent bowel movements for a period of weeks or more. Having fewer than three bowel movements a week, straining during bowel movements, and having lumpy or hard stools are common symptoms. Chronic constipation stems from blockages or nerve issues in the colon or rectum. It can also be a symptom of another chronic disease like diabetes.
In some ways, the phrase “GI issues” glosses over the severity of living with these conditions on a day-to-day basis. Living with a digestive condition can be extremely painful, and cause undue stress on the individual. The urgency and severity of the physical symptoms of the disorder can seriously disrupt the person’s daily life, causing embarrassment that leads to increased feelings of stress, isolation, and depression.
Fortunately, research suggests that CBD oil may be able to relieve many of the symptoms associated with GI disorders.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD is short for cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is one of over 100 chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, found in the cannabis plant. CBD oil is an extract of the cannabis plant that contains a high concentration of this cannabinoid.
Typically, CBD oil is extracted from the hemp strain of cannabis, because hemp naturally produces high concentrations of CBD. Marijuana is another strain of cannabis. It contains lower concentrations of CBD and higher amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound of cannabis. While CBD oil can be extracted from either strain, it is most commonly taken from hemp, since users are taking it for wellness and are not interested in the psychoactive effects of THC.
Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive whatsoever. It solely produces beneficial health effects in the individual, without the high. CBD is also different from THC in that it is 100% legal across the United States.
While medical marijuana is beneficial in its own right, researchers have uncovered a wealth of health benefits unique to CBD, including relief for cancer pain, insomnia, and more. The ability to experience these health benefits, without the mind-altering effects of THC, is what makes CBD oil an attractive option to people living with chronic conditions in need of relief.
CBD has made a name for itself within the medical community as a natural antiinflammatory and antiemetic, two properties which make it particularly well-suited for treating gastrointestinal disorders. For people with GI issues, CBD can relieve symptoms like inflammation, pain, anxiety, and nausea. CBD oil is effective at alleviating these symptoms largely due to its interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system.
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system is composed of three main elements:
- Endocannabinoids: These share a similar structure to the cannabinoids found in cannabis, like CBD. The prefix “endo” refers to the fact that these cannabinoids are produced internally, within your body.
- Cannabinoid receptors: Located on the surfaces of cells throughout your body, these cannabinoid receptors are what endocannabinoids (as well as cannabinoids like those found in CBD oil) bind to.
- Enzymes: Enzymes are responsible for breaking down the endocannabinoids once they’ve binded to cannabinoid receptors and completed their regulatory function.
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for keeping your body in a state of homeostasis, or balance. As such, it oversees a number of important biological functions, like your appetite, immune function, inflammation, mood, and motor control. It regulates these functions by communicating with various areas in your body. That communication occurs when endocannabinoids bind to the cannabinoid receptors. After the regulation process has completed, enzymes break down the endocannabinoids to prevent them from overcorrecting.
When you take CBD oil, you essentially boost your body’s internal endocannabinoid count. With more cannabinoids available to attach to receptors, the endocannabinoid system can do a better job bringing things back into balance.
There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors lie in your central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are primarily found in the peripheral nervous system, digestive system, and immune system. The kind of health benefit you experience when taking CBD depends on which type of cannabinoid receptor gets engaged. And the type of cannabinoid receptor that gets engaged depends on where your endocannabinoid system senses something is out of balance, and in need of regulation.
For example, many people take CBD to manage their chronic pain. For these folks, cannabinoids can target CB2 receptors in the affected area, reducing their inflammation, while simultaneously changing their perception of the pain by engaging CB1 receptors in their brain, enabling them to better cope with it.
Researchers have found that both CB1 and CB2 receptors are present in immune cells, indicating that these are both involved in regulating inflammation and the immune response. This may also explain why CBD can be particularly effective for individuals with GI issues.
Benefits of CBD Oil for GI Issues
Through its interaction with cannabinoid receptors in the digestive and immune systems, CBD oil can reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, improve the gut’s immune response, and relieve the anxiety and stress associated with gastrointestinal disorders.
Pain and Inflammation Relief
Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons why people take CBD oil. CBD attacks pain by adjusting the brain’s pain response, releasing neurotransmitters that act as an antidepressant. At the same time, it binds to CB2 receptors located throughout the immune system to reduce inflammation.
For many people with a digestive disease, their gut does not regulate intestinal activity as it should. This leads to muscle spasms, cramping, and intestinal paralysis. Studies of mice with intestinal inflammation have found that they display abnormal levels of endocannabinoid turnover. As a result, their endocannabinoid system cannot regulate inflammation as effectively as it might in an otherwise healthy individual. However, when given CBD oil, the cannabinoid boost inhibited intestinal motility in the mice, relieving their inflamed gut and associated pain.
Similar studies have shown that activating CB1 receptors in the colon can serve a self-protective function against inflammation in the colon.
Researchers also believe CBD holds promise as a treatment for IBDs like ulcerative colitis because of its ability to control the neuroimmune axis. An overactive immune response in the gut can trigger a proliferation of enteric glial cells, amplifying inflammation and intensifying GI problems. CBD specifically counteracts this reaction, reducing the potential for long-term intestinal damage. In addition to reducing inflammation, CBD also reduces instances of cramping and other colitis-related disturbances:
Additional Symptom Relief
CBD also helps individuals with GI issues cope with other, more secondary symptoms of their disorder, such as anxiety, nausea, and appetite loss.
- Anxiety relief: CBD modulates the endocannabinoid system response to anxiety, reducing instances of negative-self-talk and the discomfort felt in social situations. Moreover, the relief provided by CBD may even motivate more social interaction.
- Nausea relief: Nausea and vomiting are two common symptoms of gastritis. A daily CBD spray has proven particularly effective in relieving both of these, reducing instances of nausea and vomiting by as much as 49%.
- Appetite stimulus: While CBD does not increase appetite quite as much as its counterpart THC, it does provide a stimulating effect for some individuals.
Is It Safe to Use CBD Oil to Treat GI Issues?
The drugs prescribed to treat GI issues include both over-the-counter and prescription medications. These often come with a long list of side effects—including increased abdominal pain, nausea, and constipation. CBD oil, on the other hand, rarely presents side effects.
Whether an individual is looking to avoid the side effects of prescription drugs, or they simply prefer to use more plant-based therapies, CBD oil can offer many of the same benefits as traditional medication—but without the unwanted side effects.
For most people, CBD oil is an extremely safe therapy, even when taken on a chronic basis and in high doses. However, there are a few groups of people who have a higher risk of experiencing side effects when taking CBD, including: pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and anyone taking other medications.
Because individuals with digestive conditions are likely to fall in that third category, it’s important to exercise caution before starting a CBD regimen. CBD has the potential to impact the way the liver metabolizes certain drugs, which may interfere with the efficacy of your other medications, and potential result in long-term liver damage.
If you are taking medication to treat your digestive disorder, speak to your doctor before starting CBD. They will be best positioned to advise you on how to find your optimal dose of CBD, whether you should adjust the dosage of any of your other medications accordingly, and if you can expect to experience any side effects.
Although rare, the side effects of CBD include:
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
Those first three are particularly relevant to people with gastrointestinal disorders. If you experience any of these, stop taking CBD immediately and consult your doctor.
How to Use CBD for GI Issues
There are several different methods for taking CBD oil. The best method for you depends on how quickly you need relief, as well as your personal preference.
When inhaled using a vape pen, CBD oil enters the bloodstream instantly—through the lungs. Inhalation is the fastest-acting method to take CBD oil, as the effects are felt almost immediately. However, effects are also shortest lasting with this method, only about 2 to 3 hours.
One of the most common methods for taking CBD oil is with a sublingual tincture, where the CBD is administered underneath the tongue using a dropper. Many people prefer this method as it allows them to ensure a precise dose of CBD, and to enjoy CBD in its purest form (without the flavors or additives that are often added to vape oils, edibles, or topical products). Effects are felt within 20 minutes and last up to 6 hours.
CBD oil can also be applied topically. Once rubbed into the skin, the CBD binds to cannabinoid receptors located beneath the dermis, making this a suitable method for relieving pain associated with GI conditions. Effects are long-lasting with CBD topicals, around 4 to 6 hours, but it’s harder to ensure a precise dose with this method.
Finally, CBD oil can be ingested orally, through CBD edibles, gummies, baked goods, capsules and softgels. In its isolate powdered form, CBD oil can also be added to food or drink. While many people prefer the familiarity of oral ingestion, this method is the slowest-acting, as the CBD has to travel through the digestive system first before entering the bloodstream.
How Much CBD Should You Take?
Quality CBD oil is not hard to find (just follow our buyer’s guide in the next section). The difficult part about taking CBD oil is finding the best dose for you. As a newer therapy not yet regulated by the FDA, there are no official dosing guidelines for CBD oil. However, there are general best practices you can follow.
The standard recommendation is to use between 1mg to 6mg of CBD for every 10 pounds of your body weight. The ideal dose for you may fall anywhere within (or even outside of) that range, depending on the severity of your condition and your own personal body chemistry. To find your dose, start slowly with the lowest recommended amount for your body weight. Then, you can gradually increase from there until you find a dose that works.
Once you find a dose that works, stop. The evidence shows that people do not develop a tolerance to CBD the way they do with other medications.
Buyer’s Guide: Finding the Best CBD Oil for GI Issues
CBD oil is widely available online, and in a growing number of retail locations throughout the U.S. However, just because you see something advertised as “CBD oil” doesn’t mean it actually is CBD oil (this is especially true for CBD products sold on Amazon).
Because the industry is trending right now, many manufacturers have entered the market that are less diligent with their production methods. For CBD oil to actually work, it needs to be real CBD oil, and it needs to be quality. Here four tips to follow to ensure you buy a high-quality CBD oil.
1. Only buy from brands who use third-party labs to test their products.
Third-party lab facilities analyze the concentration of CBD and other cannabinoids in a CBD oil (like THC, CBDA, CBDV, and others). They also test that there are no toxins, residual solvents, or other harmful substances present. Seeing a third-party lab certificate ensures that the CBD oil you’re purchasing contains as much CBD as the brand claims it does, and that it will be safe for you to use.
Brands with nothing to hide will make these test results readily available to customers, either upon request, on their website, or in the product packaging.
2. Check which extraction method they use.
Similar to third-party testing, most reputable manufacturers will be proud about the care and quality control they exert over the entire production process. Look for companies that use CO2 extraction. This is the safest and most efficient method for extracting high concentrations of CBD.
3. Avoid synthetic ingredients.
Pure CBD oil, free of synthetic ingredients, is most likely to provide effective relief. Synthetic CBD oil, on the other hand, has been shown to cause extreme side effects. Choose pure-grade CBD oils that have been extracted from locally grown hemp, and contains zero to few other ingredients. Additional ingredients should be either organic or natural.
4. Double-check the brand’s claims.
If you want to see if a product really works the way a company claims it does, reading their online reviews ia great start. But, these can be paid for.
So, instead, seek to learn from those most qualified to give you an answer. Ask your peers about their experience in online forums like the IBS, IBD, Gastritis, Crohn’s Disease, and Ulcerative Colitis subreddits, the Smart Patients IBD Support Group, and Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Community Forum.