IBS (or Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that is estimated to affect 17% of people living in the UK. It often first appears in early childhood, with symptoms including bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea and constipation.
Unfortunately, it is a chronic condition with no cure, so people with the disorder need to learn to manage the symptoms through diet and lifestyle.
Despite being a source of constant discomfort for many people, the condition is not well understood, and there are few effective treatment options available aside from managing the symptoms. But recent research into CBD and its effects on the underlying causes of IBS is turning everything around.
What is IBS?
IBS is considered to be a syndrome rather than a disease because it is a collection of symptoms that can’t be linked to a particular underlying cause. It can be summarised as a “widespread dysfunction of the digestive tract.”
The symptoms associated with IBS overlap with those of inflammatory bowel disease and the two conditions are differentiated by inflammation (which is present in IBD and can be confirmed with lab tests and cameras). If no inflammation is present, the diagnosis will likely be IBS.
Anxiety is often cited as an underlying cause of IBS, as is the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia. Up to 90% of people with fibromyalgia will have symptoms of IBS, and up to 60% of people living with IBS will also have fibromyalgia. But there are a number of different factors that contribute to IBS.
CBD and IBS: a multi-faceted approach
The use of cannabis for treating gastrointestinal problems goes back hundreds of years. There is also recent research that shows the importance of endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced in the body) for regulating the gastrointestinal system. Taken together, it is a good indicator that phytocannabinoids may have a direct impact on the health and function of the gastrointestinal system and, therefore, conditions such as IBS.
Five ways CBD can reduce IBS symptoms:
- Bloating (along with constipation, diarrhoea and gas). These are the most painful symptoms of IBS. CBD may help as it relaxes the tissues in the GI tract, and, as a result, you will experience fewer spasmodic episodes.
- Nausea and a suppressed appetite. Both of these common symptoms of IBS can make it challenging to stick to regular mealtimes which can exacerbate the condition, leading to a flare-up of symptoms.
- Pain and inflammation. CBD is most commonly associated with reducing and regulating the inflammation response in the body through the endocannabinoid system.
- Intestinal hypermobility. Intestinal hypermobility, where food moves too quickly through the digestive system, affects many who suffer from IBS. It leads to dehydration, lowered absorption of nutrients and poor digestion. Hypermobility, in particular, is linked to anxiety which can be improved with CBD.
Research into CBD for IBS
While there is still a lot of research to be done to investigate the link between CBD and IBS fully, there are several studies that show promising results.
One study looked at the efficacy of CBD for treating gut inflammation and reducing the resulting intestinal damage. Another demonstrated CBD’s ability to block the gastrointestinal mechanisms that promote pain in IBS and other related GI conditions.
And these findings are supported by the ongoing research into the balancing and regulating role that the endocannabinoid system plays in the body, controlling a number of gastrointestinal functions including:
- Gut–brain-mediated fat intake
- Hunger signalling
- Gut permeability
- Gut microbiota interactions
Your body produces endocannabinoids which are essential for regulating the endocannabinoid system and maintaining homeostasis. IBS is associated with an endocannabinoid deficiency which impacts pain, anxiety and inflammation levels. CBD supports cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system, offering important pain-, anxiety- and inflammation-relieving effects. CBD may also stimulate serotonin receptors which may be functioning sub-optimally in people with IBS, as has been found in animal studies.
CBD mimics and supports the effects of the naturally occurring endocannabinoids to produce the same benefits, such as:
- Improved appetite, IBS is often correlated with weight loss as nausea prompts the individual to avoid certain types of food, which may have a further negative effect on the condition. CBD helps to stimulate the appetite, with one study finding that CBD causes a 30% increase in appetite.
- Pain management, IBS can result in severe abdominal pain which is often caused by inflammation. CBD supports the CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system to lower gut inflammation, thereby resolving painful symptoms.
- Mood and anxiety, CBD interacts with serotonin receptors by reducing anandamide deficiencies in the brain to positively impact your emotional wellbeing. IBS may worsen as a result of depression, so the anti-anxiety and anti-depression effects of CBD can help reduce the symptoms of IBS.
- Intestinal inflammation, white blood cells are released in response to foreign bodies. This results in inflammation, but it can also happen when we eat unhealthy nutrient-poor foods. Because CBD stimulates CB2 receptors in the immune and digestive system, the body is able to improve its immune response and reduce the inflammation.
Taken together, there is a lot for IBS sufferers to get excited about. The idea that you could manage your IBS symptoms simply and naturally with an effective, safe product gives millions of people in the UK living with IBS hope for a pain-free future.
CBD dosage for people with IBS
With CBD available in a variety of different forms and strengths, it’s difficult to know what to choose. The most popular options for those that struggle with IBS are CBD oils, capsules, and suppositories. All are easy to take and allow for accurate dosing. If you have more a more severe form of IBS, you may benefit from suppositories that are delivered directly to the affected area.
Determining the correct dosage is slightly trickier as CBD affects everybody differently and the required dosage, therefore, differs dramatically from person to person (and is also impacted by the form of CBD that you are taking). It’s recommended to start with the lowest dosage and increase slowly over a few weeks or months until you experience the desired results. Keep in mind that it may take a few weeks before you start to notice a change.
Better treatments are needed for people suffering from IBS and CBD is an exciting prospect backed by both anecdotal reports from people who use CBD to manage their symptoms, as well as a growing body of scientific research. From existing research, it seems that many IBS patients have an endocannabinoid deficiency which is where CBD’s interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system can help.