CBD vs. IBS: The Unraveling of a Mystery

What do irritable bowel syndrome, probiotics and CBD oil have in common? The answer goes like this: Lactobacillus acidophilus is a probiotic organism which lives in our guts and contributes to our health. In 2007, researchers discovered that supplementation with acidophilus increased expression of cannabinoid receptors in the intestinal tracts of rodents. This increase in cannabinoid receptors came with a corresponding decrease in pain. That got researchers thinking that IBS might be the result of a cannabinoid deficiency. CBD oil contains cannabinoids, so many medical researchers believe that supplementation with CBD might help to relieve symptoms of IBS.

The Unraveling of a Mystery

A mystery has been unraveling over the past 50 years in regards to cannabinoids. In that time we have discovered that compounds known as endocannabinoids are produced naturally by our own bodies. We discovered that they regulate a variety of bodily functions at a cellular level.

Well before that we discovered phytocannabinoids, similar molecules which are produced in plants such as hemp (the plant from which we get CBD). Phytocannabinoids have been shown to have the ability to mimic the effects of endocannabinoids. This is not just by chance.

When it was discovered that the cannabinoids produced by plants have effects very similar to cannabinoids produced in the human body, a lightbulb went off in the minds of medical researchers worldwide. This meant that humans had evolved to take advantage of the chemical properties of cannabinoids. In essence, we had coevolved with cannabis. This was truly a game changer.

Cannabis is believed to have been a staple in the diets of hominids since long before humans evolved. This suggests that removal of cannabinoid-producing food sources from our diet — such as what happened when hemp was outlawed in 1937 — meant that the body’s supplies of cannabinoids would be diminished, hence we end up with a cannabinoid deficiency. (Although other plants such as peppers produce cannabinoids, none do so in such abundant quantities as cannabis.)

Our point here is simple. Some of the medical conditions which have been increasing in human populations over the course of the industrial age might actually be the result of a cannabinoid deficiency. IBS, in particular, is believed by some researchers to be one of those conditions. There is evidence to back up that belief — both clinical as well as anecdotal evidence from patients that use CBD oil to treat their condition.

Researching the Connection Between CBD and IBS

Research into IBS suggests that the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in regulating certain functions of the gastrointestinal system, including motility. Motility is facilitated by muscle contractions that push food through our intestines.

In 2008, it was Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist and medical researcher, who proposed that IBS might be caused by an endocannabinoid deficiency. In one interview, Russo explained, “If you don’t have enough endocannabinoids, you have pain where there shouldn’t be pain. You would be sick, meaning nauseated. You would have a lowered seizure threshold. And just a whole litany of other problems. It occurred to me that a number of very common diseases seem to fit a pattern that would be consistent with an endocannabinoid deficiency. Specifically, these are migraines, irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia.”

In his research report, Dr. Russo wrote, “Simply stated, plant-based cannabinoids, like those found in cannabis, may be a safer and more effective treatment than drugs currently in development for IBS.”

Five years later, in 2013, in a research report entitled, “Cannabis Induces a Clinical Response in Patients With Crohn’s Disease: A Prospective Placebo-Controlled Study,” authors reported that 10 out of the 11 subjects showed improvements in their IBS symptoms. And, amazingly, almost half of the subjects experienced complete remission.

Then, another three years after that in 2016, in a report in the British Journal of Pharmacology entitled, “Involvement of cannabinoid receptors in gut motility and visceral perception,” researchers claimed that their research showed that CBD reduced IBS symptoms such as alleviating intestinal cramps and improving motility.

How is it possible that this one compound might produce such a wide variety of effects?

How CBD Might Affect the Gut

The biggest problem in treating IBS is motility dysfunction. Motility is actually controlled by the brain. However, the brain can’t connect directly to every cell in the intestines. So how does the brain know what’s going on down there, and how does it control motility?

The answer is the endocannabinoid system. This system of neurotransmitters and receptors functions as the mediator between the brain and other organs, as well as other systems in the body. The nervous system relays information about our internal workings to the brain. The brain determines a course of action, then it produces neurotransmitters such as cannabinoids, which communicate instructions to individual cells.

It has been shown that cannabinoids such as those found in full spectrum CBD oil can both inhibit the secretion of gastrointestinal fluids and reduce inflammation in the intestines. Additionally, CBD oil has been shown to provide analgesic (pain reduction) and antiemetic (nausea-reducing) effects, which may also help with the treatment of IBS.

Furthermore, IBS is considered to be an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system attacks our own tissues, mistaking them for foreign invaders. As a result, we get inflammation of the intestines which, in turn, results in ulcers and more pain. This can also result in a condition known as leaky gut, where undigested food particles pass through the intestinal lining and find their way to other parts of the body where they don’t belong. This can result in a whole host of other conditions from migraines to fibromyalgia.

Cannabinoids such as CBD have been shown to help modulate the immune system and regulate these autoimmune responses. They have also been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, pain and nausea can sometimes also be the result of an overactive nervous system. CBD and other cannabinoids are known to help regulate the flow of pain signals.

Treating IBS with CBD

CBD-infused edibles and capsules are ideal for delivering cannabinoids to the intestines. Not only can they interact directly with cannabinoid receptors in the intestines, but they can also make their way into the bloodstream and circulate through the body as well as into the brain.

Full spectrum CBD oil is more apt to penetrate the blood-brain barrier because it also contains terpenes. Furthermore, nanoemulsion CBD oil has four times higher bioavailability than standard CBD oil. This means you can take a much lower dose and get the same effects. For example, a capsule with 25 mg of nano-sized cannabinoids might produce the same effects as 100 mg of regular CBD oil.

In order to assure that the cannabinoids work their way as far into the digestive system as possible, it’s best to take capsules with a full meal.

Experts recommend starting with smaller doses and working your way up. You might choose to start with 10 mg capsules. If no unwanted effects are detected after a few days, the dosage can be increased. For smaller people, two 10 mg capsules of nanoemulsion CBD oil daily might prove to be more than sufficient. Heavier people might get better results using 25 mg capsules once or twice daily.

Cannabinoids are completely non-toxic. Unwanted side effects are uncommon and are generally mild. The only downside of taking too much, aside from maybe feeling a bit too relaxed, would be that you’re spending more money than you need to.

Although we still have a long way to go to fully unravel the mysteries of the digestive system, the immune system and the endocannabinoid system, a significant number of IBS sufferers claim that CBD oil offers them effective relief from their symptoms.

Because everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different, CBD oil will have different effects on each individual, so it might not help every single IBS patient. But for those who claim that CBD oil does help, it has been nothing short of a godsend.

CBD oil has not been approved by the FDA as a diagnosis, treatment or cure for IBS. This article is not intended to provide medical advice. It’s important to talk with a qualified medical professional before beginning any IBS treatment regimen.


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