CBD can help ease the pain and trouble that comes with an inflamed gut, whether it’s IBS, leaky gut, or some other problem.
Two-thirds of Americans suffer from inflammatory gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, frequent bowel movements, and unexplained weight loss. Can CBD help with these digestive issues?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is everywhere. You can find it in lattes, lotions, facial masks, and gummy bears to address everything from anxiety to arthritis. And CBD is also being used increasingly to help support gut health and settle upset stomachs.
“Very preliminary research has shown that CBD may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut. Clinically, I have seen CBD used as part of a medical plan be very helpful in treating GI disorders such as IBS and inflammatory bowel,” says Dr. Dani Gordon, author of The CBD Bible: Cannabis and the Wellness Revolution that Will Change Your Life. “Though it is not a cure for these conditions, CBD can make a huge difference and has far fewer side effects than many other drugs used in the treatment of gut disorders.”
How Does CBD Help Support Gut Health?
According to Dr. Gordon, the gut has its own nervous system and is pretty smart—scientists often call the gut the second brain. This second brain in the gut and our actual brain have a “two-way communication superhighway” connecting them, called the gut-brain axis. Many of our brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are made in the gut, which means that what affects one of our brains usually affects the other.
The gut is packed full of cannabinoid receptors, which plant cannabinoids like CBD and THC interact with. “CBD works by interacting with our own endocannabinoid system (ECS ), which helps regulate overall balance in the brain and body, including everything from helping to regulate our appetite and metabolism, stress response, inflammation, gut health and immune system balance, brain or neuroprotection,” she says. “It helps keep other chemical messenger systems running smoothly too, like a master conductor of the brain and body chemical symphony. That's why CBD seems to help with so many different things from stress and anxiety to skin inflammation.”
The CB1 receptor seems to be particularly important in the anti-inﬂammatory effect seen with both CBD and THC in the gut, Dr. Gordon says, but overall endocannabinoid’s functions in the gastrointestinal system are wide-reaching and impact everything from gut motility (how fast things move through the gut) to inﬂammation and pain.
“To support gut health, try taking a quality CBD oil from a reputable source with a meal, starting with a small dose of 10 mg a few times a day and see how you respond,” Dr. Gordan says. “If you are trying to treat a specific medical condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease, for example, you should see your medical doctor for medical cannabis. Your doctor can monitor the dose and use it alongside other approaches and medications in a safe and effective way.”
(For nutritional support, read “How Listening to Your Gut Can Curb Anxiety: An Eater’s Guide.”)
Leaky gut is not well understood in Western medicine and has only been recently recognized as a real condition. Basically, when you have leaky gut, the gut lining starts to become more permeable, which enables bacteria and toxins that shouldn’t be able to leave the gut to cross into the rest of the body. People suffering from leaky gut may experience chronic diarrhea, constipation or bloating, fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, headaches, skin problems, and joint pain.
Dr. Gordon’s leaky gut protocol
Cannabinoids may play a role in helping reduce leaky gut, inﬂammation and gut symptoms, Dr. Gordon explains. “I have found it to be an incredibly useful tool for my patients and clients who are going through a gut healing protocol. So far, there are no large published studies in humans, but in vitro studies have shown that both THC and CBD can reduce leaky gut or intestinal permeability from inﬂammation.” She recommends a high-CBD oil or capsule taken two to three times a day to help with leaky gut. Vaporized cannabis can also be very helpful in relieving fatigue or bloating.
IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is a functional gut disorder with symptoms that include food intolerance, gas and bloating, diarrhea and constipation, abdominal pain, and sometimes nausea. “The worst thing about getting a diagnosis of IBS is that there are no solutions offered by Western medicine that are effective for most people and have a low side-effect profile,” Dr. Dani writes in The CBD Bible. “People are often told just to live with it.” She says that in many cases cannabis can replace the pharmaceutical drugs patients have been put on.
Dr. Gordon’s IBS protocol
She suggests using a high-CBD oil or capsule by mouth as the primary treatment, and then vaporized cannabis for more acute symptoms of pain, using a balanced 1:1 strain.
(If you are curious about a nutritional approach to treatment for IBS, read FODMAP: A Primer.)
Gastritis is an inﬂammation of the stomach lining and can be due to a number of factors, including too much stomach acid, excessive alcohol intake, or an infection, Dr. Gordon says. Though there have been no large-scale studies published on CBD and gastritis, she has helped many of her patients address chronic heartburn/GERD with cannabis.
Dr. Gordon’s gastritis/GERD/heartburn protocol
Start with a high-CBD/low-THC medical cannabis oil or capsule (or a hemp CBD product for a non-prescription option) taken twice daily. Monitor symptoms over a trial period of a few months, and, if conditions improve, continue this approach.
Cannabis is the oldest treatment on earth for nausea and currently nausea is one of the main conditions treated with medical cannabis. It is a symptom controlled in the brain through the endo-cannabinoid system receptors in specific nausea centers, which means that cannabis can help address nausea. However, THC is more effective in this case than CDB, according to Dr. Dani. “The anti-nausea effect of cannabis is more down to THC than CBD, as THC binds to the CB1 receptors in these nausea centers.”
Dr. Gordon’s chronic nausea protocol
Start with a very small dose of a balanced 1:1 or 1:2 THC-to-CBD ratio product, increasing the dose ever so slowly over a period of weeks. If your nausea is only occasional and comes on quickly, trying a vaporized cannabis ﬂower with the same ratio may also help, again starting with a very low dose. However, she warns in The CBD Bible, “Even though THC seems to be the main anti-nausea compound, if you take a daily oral high-THC, low-CBD cannabis product in any form, you will be at increased risk of side effects from unopposed THC (i.e., unmitigated by CBD), such as intoxication or impairment. This will be the case especially if you are unused to THC. For some people, high THC may be contraindicated."
Read “Functional Foods for a Healthy Gut.”