Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects approximately 45 million people in the U.S. It causes abdominal discomfort or pain, cramping, bloating, constipation, and irregular bowel habits as well as regular and unpredictable diarrhea. It is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) condition, meaning that the gut is not working properly.
People have used marijuana for centuries to ease symptoms such as pain, vomiting, nausea, and other types of gastric upset. For this reason, there is a lot of interest and research surrounding the use of marijuana for relieving the symptoms of IBS.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
IBS is a chronic, debilitating gastrointestinal disorder. The function, or movement, of the bowel does not work correctly. Even though IBS is the most common gastrointestinal condition patients consult a gastroenterologist about, there is no medical test to rule out or confirm a diagnosis of IBS. It can begin during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. It can go away for periods of time and then unexpectedly rear its ugly head. The condition seems to arise more often in women than in men.
Because of its diverse, and sometimes contradictory symptoms, IBS has been known by a variety of names including nervous colon, mucous colitis, spastic colon, and irritable colon. These names are misleading because IBS is not limited to the colon (large intestine).
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. No single cause has been ruled in or out. In some cases, it can be entirely diet related, and some suffers have found relief by modifying their diet. In other cases, it can be stress related. And, it can also be a combination of diet and stress.
A Quick Look at the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system is the body’s way of balancing the body’s internal systems, keeping them in homeostasis, if you want the science-y word. An example of homeostasis is when the body keeps its average temperature of 98.6 degrees. The body does what it needs to do so that you are not too hot or too cold to survive. The body’s gastrointestinal tract is one of the main systems controlled by the ECS.
The ECS is not well understood, but one of the things we know it does is produce endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoids made by the body rather than ingested. The ECS also reaches throughout the body with endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, which give it the ability to use the cannabinoids. It was the discovery of the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the early 1990s that led to the recognition and further study of the ECS.
Plants also make cannabinoids, these are called phytocannabinoids. The cannabis sativa plant, known to most as marijuana, produces the most well-known cannabinoids: tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Whether produced inside or outside of the body, these cannabinoids act on the cannabinoid receptors in the ECS in the same way.
IBS and CBD Oil
In addition to the well-known symptoms of IBS such as bloat, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea, are less recognized ones such as mood disturbances, altered gut mobility, and visceral hypersensitivity. The IBS sufferer’s colon muscle is extremely sensitive, causing it to spasm even after being mildly stimulated, due to a disruption in the communication pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain.
When using CBD oil to relieve the symptoms of IBS, the cannabidiol interacts with cannabinoid receptors in the GI tract, in effect relaxing it. This leads to fewer spasmodic episodes and less discomfort.
Research suggests that disruptions of the ECS may play a role in IBS and other digestive issues. Additional research conducted in animal trials suggests that the cannabinoid receptors are involved in the movement of food through the GI tract.
The case for using CBD to relieve IBS symptoms rests on the belief that by targeting the ECS and helping it to maintain homeostasis, the overall condition can be controlled. CBD has a solid safety profile and has been tested in animal studies in doses up to 1,500 mg per day with no side effects.
Research suggests that interaction between CBD oil and the colon may result in reduced pain and inflammation as well as improved intestinal motility. The research has also shown that endocannabinoids play an important role in the operation of the gastrointestinal system. These factors combine to make CBD oil a promising therapy for easing the discomfort of those with IBS and other digestive issues.