Gut health has an immense influence on our health and overall well-being. It is effectively a ‘second brain’ because of the link between the gut and mind. Issues with the gut can impact our mood, focus, mental health and sleep. Increasingly people are using CBD to help with gastrointestinal inflammation and improved gut health. It can help in building resilience in the gut microbiome and normalize gut function. Many inflammatory issues like leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome or colitis result from inflammation which CBD can help suppress. Simultaneously it may aid with the irritation and pain that occurs from these uncomfortable conditions. Plus, it’s effective, entirely natural, non-addictive and well-tolerated even when used in large amounts. Let’s take a look at how CBD can support better gut health and why you might use it for IBS, colitis or leaky gut.
- 1 Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
- 2 The ECS and Gut Health
- 3 Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- 4 Can CBD Help With IBS?
- 5 Colitis and Crohn’s
- 6 CBD and Leaky Gut Syndrome
- 7 Using CBD for Gut Health
- 8 Conclusion
Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
CBD or cannabidiol is one of more than a hundred separate cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis. It has many beneficial health properties such as the ability to help lower anxiety, reduce inflammation, mitigate stress and support better sleep. Unlike psychoactive cannabinoids like THC, CBD is non-psychoactive making it safe to use for everyone. It has minimal side effects and these rarely occur. But CBD itself provides few of the aforementioned health effects. They’re primarily delivered by endocannabinoids such as anandamide. These are created from the body’s endocannabinoid system when it is triggered by cannabinoids like CBD.
The endocannabinoid system has a key role in regulating many of the body’s systems like circadian rhythm, immunity, mood, memory, appetite and stress. It is formed from a set of enzymes, receptors and signalling molecules that occur throughout the body. The CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors of this system are the channels by which CBD and other cannabinoids interact with it. After binding to these receptors, the system releases endocannabinoids that help with gut health and can aid with issues like irritable bowel syndrome. But CBD doesn’t only act via this system. It can act on the brain’s neurotransmitter receptors such as GABA and the serotonin receptors, offering a range of mental health benefits. Endocannabinoids are even being shown to help with issues like allergies, by helping to suppress the production of histamines and other inflammatory immune agents.
Cannabinoids like CBD need to be consumed and absorbed in the body to provide their effects. Once ingested, they’ll be transported via the bloodstream to the liver, broken down and then transported to cannabinoid receptors to produce their bioactive effects. Most people will consume their CBD as an oil or tincture, mixed with a carrier such as MCT, olive oil or coconut oil. Suspending the CBD in a carrier helps to disperse it more evenly throughout the solution, enabling more accurate dosing. These mediums also aid with absorption due to their healthy fat content. Cannabinoids are lipid soluble meaning fats help them to be absorbed and used in the body. There are many other ways you can take CBD however, such as sublingual strips, sprays, vapes, edibles, topicals and capsules. Each will offer the same benefits but has particular advantages or disadvantages in terms of bioavailability, taste and speed of action.
The ECS and Gut Health
More studies are indicating the endocannabinoid system has a regulatory function in digestive processes and gut health. This includes assisting in maintaining a healthy gut biome, lowering intestinal inflammation and helping to mitigate conditions like IBS. Problems with the ECS may worsen irritable gut symptoms like abdominal pain, stomach aches and inflammation of the gut lining. In 2008 the European Journal of Pharmacology released a paper which highlighted the ECS has a key role in the treatment of chronic gut conditions such as IBS and colitis. It noted that stimulating ECS activation helped with digestive processes, stool movements, inflammation, and sensitivity and helped provide relief from irritation. The specific mechanism this was enabled was not entirely clear but could be related to the immune system modulating properties of the ECS.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
There are growing reports and evidence that cannabinoids like CBD may help with reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. This is a disorder of the gut which leads to abdominal pains, changes in bowel movements, constipation and discomfort in the stomach. It is caused or worsened by underlying inflammation of the gut lining and can be hard to prevent. Most people who have this disorder struggle to find relief from standard treatments. IBS is thought to affect up to 30% of Australians but the specific cause is not known. It may relate to stress, genetics and inflammation or some combination of these.
Can CBD Help With IBS?
Research is indicating the endocannabinoid system plays a role in digestive regulation, making it effective in helping to combat irritation in the gut. In a 2010 study from the Mayo Clinic, a cannabinoid medication was used to test the effects of CB1 receptor activation in the gut for treating gastrointestinal disorders like IBS. The study was randomized and placebo-controlled, with 36 subjects being given a solution containing CBD and THC over several days, and then comparing symptoms before and after dosage. It concluded that cannabinoids can help with colon movement, bowel emptying and soothe some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Enabling gut movements and helping to manage IBS symptoms is a promising new area of application for CBD and other cannabinoids.
Another pathway it may assist is by helping to suppress IBS caused by chronic stress and anxiety. Cannabinoids like CBD are anxiolytic, meaning they suppress anxiety and help users feel more calm. Many people suffer from anxiety-triggered IBS. This is due to the link between the mind and gut, which are closely intertwined. For sufferers of IBS, bouts of anxiousness can trigger symptoms or worsen them. Introducing compounds like CBD can help to disrupt and prevent this from occurring. It helps build resilience against anxiety-triggered IBS and better regulates the gut-mind link. In effect, it can calm the stomach by calming the mind. It may further support gut flora and the microbiome of the intestines in flourishing to enable better holistic gut health. Maintaining good balances of healthy gut bacteria and enzymes is important to good gut permeability and nutrient absorption.
CBD won’t completely clear IBD. It is only useful in mitigating symptoms, helping to soothe inflammation, calm anxiety, and naturally restoring the gut biome. In effect, it helps to restore balance to the gastrointestinal system and homeostasis. By normalizing levels of anxiety and mitigating chronic inflammation, healthy gut function can be promoted. Despite this promise, there are currently minimal studies on the benefits of CBD for IBS.
Colitis and Crohn’s
Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis cause chronic inflammation and irritation of the intestinal tract. Both of these conditions cause abdominal pain, gas, discomfort, issues with bowel movements and diarrhoea. While Crohn’s affects the gut lining, colitis tends to impact the large intestine more and the rectum. Unfortunately, there isn’t a known cure currently for Colitis or Crohn’s. Both can be mitigated through dietary changes such as using a low-FODMAP diet, antibiotics and lifestyle improvements. In severe cases, the colon may need to be removed. Typically each condition is characterized by flare-ups occurring. Inflammation can have acute periods where it becomes more severe before subsiding again. This is where the worst symptoms are experienced.
Can CBD Help With Colitis?
Similar to IBS, the endocannabinoid system may also be able to help in normalizing the immune dysfunction that worsens gut inflammation conditions. The reason for this is both conditions are caused in part by autoimmune problems. When this occurs, the immune system incorrectly attacks the body’s own normal, healthy cells. It misidentifies these as foreign bodies or pathogens. Resultantly these cells can get damaged or even destroyed by the immune system’s T cells. If this occurs over a long period, it leads to significant inflammation and irritation like that seen with colitis or Crohn’s.
Studies are showing CBD and cannabinoids can help in mitigating autoimmune problems by normalising immune function and lowering inflammatory activity. A 2011 study for example revealed CBD assisted with symptoms of inflammation in a rodent study of colitis. The anti-inflammatory properties of the cannabinoid helped to reduce symptoms and gut irritation. In particular, CBD reduced pro-inflammatory cytokine production and helped release neurotrophins, which was associated with large reductions in TNF-alpha expression in the gut lining. TNF-alpha is the inflammatory agent which stimulates inflammation symptoms. The study particularly highlighted how linked the gut, mind and nervous system are. Importantly, the endocannabinoid system plays a regulatory role across these systems, enabling better immune signalling and nervous function.
Research on CBD for Crohn’s
A separate study from 2013 run by the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology found patients who used a cannabinoid medication containing CBD had significantly improved symptoms of Crohn’s and better life quality. It tested a cannabis medication that had CBD and THC amongst a group of 21 patients and compared test subjects against a placebo group. Each of the patients had severe Crohn’s which did not improve from treatment with immunomodulators or steroidal medications. Cannabinoid medications were given at random to half the group. Lab tests were done to assess symptoms and inflammatory agent marker levels in the gut before and after the test. Symptom levels were measured by the Crohn’s Disease Activity Index (CDAI). The results were impressive. 90% of the test group had large improvements in symptoms, while 5 subjects saw complete remission of symptoms. No side effects were noted although the subjects reported better sleep.
CBD and Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut is a separate condition from IBS and issues like colitis. It occurs when gut permeability is impaired and the intestinal junctions that control nutrient absorption become disrupted or damaged. These are the points where nutrients pass from the gut wall to the blood and body. When this happens less helpful nutrients are absorbed and greater quantities of toxins make their way through the gut. This is also known as gut hyperpermeability. Over time this leads to worsening health as the gut functions in an impaired state. Some studies are starting to suggest cannabinoids may help improve their integrity and function. In one study from 2012 published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, CBD was found to restore gut permeability in the epithelial membranes. By doing so, the gut barrier was replenished and normalized to better transport nutrients and prevent leaky gut. This was also displayed even in people without the condition, suggesting it functions as an overall gut function improvement agent.
Using CBD for Gut Health
Most studies on CBD for gut conditions like IBS or colitis have used it in combination with THC and other cannabinoids. In theory, a mixture of cannabinoids and other helpful phytocompounds from hemp will lead to greater improvements in gut health. This means the best CBD product to use in helping mitigate IBS is typically full-spectrum CBD oil. Full-spectrum products contain CBG, CBN and other minor cannabinoids that also potentially assist in soothing gut inflammation and normalizing immune function. It also contains terpenes that are synergistic with cannabinoids like CBD and amplify their effects. Terpenes are also anti-inflammatory themselves and provide helpful antioxidative, anxiety-reducing and pain-relieving effects. Each of these is also useful in treating gut conditions and aiding with better gut health. The antioxidants and nutrients like chlorophyll in this type of oil are also useful in helping to build the gut microbiome and healthy bacteria balance.
Dosages and product types will come down to your own needs and preferences. There are many products you can select from including CBD oil, tinctures, gummies, edibles and sublingual’s. Each will offer similar benefits but has different tastes and bio availabilities. Choose what meets your tastes and ingestion preference. For example, those who don’t enjoy the flavour of CBD oil may use CBD capsules to bypass the taste buds in ingestion. Whatever you pick, ensure you begin with low doses initially and increase over time. Starting slowly will help to gauge your tolerance to CBD and ensure you don’t get side effects. Over time you can increase the dose to what works for you. Experimenting with dosage ranges is important as there’s no single dose that works for everyone.
Over time more studies are showing the benefits of cannabinoids in helping with gut health holistically. They can help in normalizing immune function, support reduced gut inflammation, better health of the microbiome and reduced anxiety that is an IBS trigger. Cannabinoids help with several key gut issues including IBS, Crohn’s, colitis and leaky gut. They function through the endocannabinoid system that helps in regulating gut activity and lowers the production of inflammatory agents like cytokines. The future appears promising for cannabinoids like CBD in their application for gut health and improving symptoms of common inflammatory bowel issues.