CBD for IBS: Can Hemp Oil Help Ease IBS Symptoms?

Frustration is perhaps the most relevant way to describe the feelings accompanying those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Despite being a common condition, it is still misunderstood and confused with other gastric ailments — with only a few effective treatments.

If you want to get an idea of how common the condition is, just take a look at some numbers.

Did you know that 1 out of 10 people in the modern world has symptoms that can be diagnosed as IBS?

Chances are some of your friends suffer from IBS, but since the condition is not life-threatening, you may not have heard about it from them. In fact, many people confuse IBS with common indigestion or benign gut issues.

Today we’ll go over the efficacy of CBD in supporting IBS sufferers; we’ll also guide you on how to use it, what the limitations are, and how to maximize your treatment by introducing changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Can CBD Oil Help with IBS?

CBD (cannabidiol) is a phytocannabinoid found in cannabis plants — both in hemp and marijuana.

Unlike its cousin THC, cannabidiol won’t get you high because it lacks intoxicating properties. CBD affects the body in a different fashion; it doesn’t directly bind to any of the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, but instead, it modulates their activity through the signaling of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS is the master homeostatic network in the human body. It regulates the activity of the central nervous system, immune system, and other organ systems, maintaining a balance between their functions.

Whenever this balance gets compromised, the ECS starts to release increased amounts of its own cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) to bring it back. The ECS consists of two types of receptors (CB1 and CB2) that depend on endocannabinoids. However, these molecules are very short-lived, as they get easily broken down by certain enzymes.

Where does CBD step into the game?

Here’s the thing, the CB1 and CB2 receptors are found in large concentrations in the digestive tract, regulating different processes in this section.

CBD happens to increase the production of the body’s own cannabinoids through its interaction with the ECS, helping them act more efficiently on these receptors. On top of that, CBD slows down their reuptake by inhibiting the activity of the enzyme that breaks them down.

With more endocannabinoids circulating in the body, functional disorders such as IBS can be managed and treated effectively and without the dangerous side effects associated with pharmacological treatments.

Long story short, CBD is a useful tool for maintaining homeostasis, which regulates gastrointestinal functions. Regular supplementation with CBD can have many positive effects on the body, including relief from IBS.

The Benefits of CBD Oil for IBS

    • Addresses endocannabinoid deficiencies (3)
    • Regulates gut microbiome
    • Prevents digestive muscles from becoming hyperactive (4)
    • Inhibits cramping
    • Decreases appetite

CBD will affect IBS differently depending on its type.

Patients with diarrhea-dominant IBS are likely to benefit the most from CBD because cannabis reduces muscle contraction in the digestive tract.

For people who experience IBS with constipation, CBD will provide relief from inflammation and control appetite.

Below we share more details on using CBD to treat different types of IBS.

IBS 101: What to Know About Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not classified as a disease because it involves a range of symptoms that can’t be associated with any specific cause.

According to its definition, IBS is a “widespread dysfunction of the digestive tract.”

If you experience abdominal pain, indigestion, changes in bowel movements, and bloating, these signs can indicate IBS.

The symptoms of IBS can be easily confused with those of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The difference is that IBD involves inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, proven by laboratory tests and special cameras inserted in the digestive tract.

If the doctor can’t confirm IBD due to the lack of inflammation, they usually give an IBS diagnosis instead.

What Causes IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a multifaceted problem, but there are some acknowledged theories in the medical community as to what may cause it.

Here’s the list of suspected causes of IBS:

  • Western diet – developed countries with the so-called “western diet” have the highest numbers of people suffering from IBS (1). These nations are known for consuming large amounts of processed foods, so they get hardly any nutritional content, especially when it comes to antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Such food is also high in calories that come from hydrogenated fat or sugar. These foods lack fiber and move slowly through the digestive tract, causing digestive dysfunction due to frequent fermentation.
  • Viral infection –viral infections can cause serious damage to the body. Many people claim their IBS symptoms started to show up after a few days of illness due to getting a stomach bug overseas. Viruses can wreak havoc on an entire organ very shortly, as they disrupt normal cellular functions. They also affect the gut microbiome, which is heavily involved with the digestion and absorption of food. Illnesses can cause significant changes to the microbiome, resulting in IBS.
  • Neurological disorders – the gastrointestinal tract consists of muscles that contain a lot of nerves to cause muscle contractions and help move food through the gut. Many people find that drinking coffee stimulates their bowel movements. This is a good example of how the nervous system affects the digestive system. Constant stimulation of the nervous system can lead to diarrhea-dominant IBS, while the opposite likely has people end up with constipation-dominant IBS.
  • Inflammation – although the definition of IBS doesn’t include detectable inflammation, many studies have suggested that IBS sufferers may develop low-grade inflammation of the gut wall (2). This inflammation is usually too mild to be recognized by visual inspection or blood tests.

How Doctors Diagnose IBS

Patients must have the following symptoms in order to be diagnosed with IBS:

  • Returning abdominal pain or discomfort for at least 3 days per months over 3 months
  • Improvement of symptoms with defecation
  • Change in stool form and frequency

If these criteria are met and no other causes have been identified — such as traumatic damage, infectious disease, or inflammation, the patient receives an IBS diagnosis.

Symptoms of IBS

IBS is accompanied by a range of symptoms that, as we said, are similar to those of IBD. Experiencing several of these symptoms without diagnosed inflammation may indicate IBS.

Here are some common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Constipation/Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of fullness
  • Gas
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Nausea
  • The urgency to have a bowel movement (an uncontrollable one)
  • Weight fluctuation

Studies have mentioned CBD as a promising solution for a range of IBD such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis due to its remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. But since IBS doesn’t derive from inflammation, is there any evidence to back up its efficacy in treating the condition?

Does CBD help improve gut health and control the IBS symptoms?

Here’s what science has to say.

How Does CBD Oil Work for Different Types of IBS

At least 1 out of 5 patients who visit a gastroenterologist receive a diagnosis of IBS, which makes it the most prevalent functional disorder of the digestive tract. IBS is further classified in medical literature according to the main symptoms (5).

CBD Oil for Diarrhea-Dominant IBS

This type of IBS primarily involves diarrhea. The symptoms indicate increased water levels in the bowels, which stems from consuming high sodium foods, a compromised gut membrane, and overactive muscles in the digestive tract.

When the condition is caused by a high-sodium diet and poor membrane control, water will start to accumulate in the regions filled with salty foods. The reason for such a scenario happens because of osmosis, a principle in biophysics that says: the water follows the salt. As the intestines retain more water, it can lead to diarrhea.

In addition, many people with diarrhea-dominant IBS experience frequent muscle activity in the gut. When spasticity occurs in the muscles, it causes abdominal pain, cramping, and bloating. The digestive tract attempts to get rid of food too quickly without properly metabolizing and absorbing it. Instead, the food begins to ferment in the large intestine, causing severe nausea and diarrhea.

The benefits of CBD for this type of IBS lie in the cannabinoid’s ability to reduce muscle spasticity in the gut, allowing it to properly digest food and absorb nutrients. It’s a good idea to combine CBD oil with a low-sodium diet and an increased fiber intake.

CBD Oil for Constipation-Dominant IBS

In this type of IBS, the digestive tract struggles with low activity, lacking enough bile, stomach acids, and pancreatic enzymes. These enzymes help metabolize food and contribute to a smooth lining in our gut muscles. This interaction causes the muscles to expand and contract — resulting in constant movements along the digestive tract.

If the digestive enzymes don’t work properly, they compromise muscle movement in the intestinal tract, causing constipation.

Constipation is extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing. It causes feelings of fullness, nausea, fatigue, severe bloating, and belly distention.

Again, the diet is the key factor for achieving a positive change in the levels of your enzymes, but CBD can provide some additional benefits to this type of IBS. As mentioned, CBD boosts the levels of anandamide — one of the two major endocannabinoids responsible for a bowel movement, inflammatory responses, and maintaining microbiome diversity.

CBD Oil for Altering IBS

People with this form of IBS experience alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea.

For example, the patient may suffer from constant diarrhea for a few months, only to switch to several months of hard constipation. The sudden shifts in bowel functioning can be caused by neurological, immunological, or dietary factors, which makes the cause difficult to identify.

CBD may help this type of IBS because it doesn’t influence the digestive function in any specific direction. Instead, it works to enhance the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis. Along with introducing a healthy diet and other therapies to manage symptoms, the body may return to its normal state faster than normally.

Best Way to Take CBD Oil for IBS

CBD is available in a myriad of forms. You can buy oils, capsules, edibles, concentrates, vape oils, and topicals.

When it comes to IBS, people often turn to oils, capsules, and suppositories for relief.

CBD oil is the most traditional form of CBD. It comes in liquid drops that are suspended in a carrier oil and bottled up with a dropper for accurate dosing. CBD oil is taken sublingually, meaning you need to take the desired amount under the tongue and hold it there for up to 60 seconds before swallowing. The area beneath your tongue is chock-full of tiny blood vessels that absorb CBD into the bloodstream. As a result, the effects of CBD oil usually take hold within 15–30 minutes after consumption, lasting up to 6 hours.

Some people, however, dislike the distinctive taste of CBD oil. Full-spectrum hemp extracts carry earthy, nutty, and botanical flavors that certainly aren’t pleasing for the taste buds. If you prefer flavorless products, look for CBD capsules. Encapsulated CBD contains a fixed amount of CBD per piece, so dosing doesn’t require you to play with the dropper, not to mention that capsules are far more convenient and discreet than oils. Since capsules need to be processed in the digestive tract, they have a delayed onset of around 40–90 minutes. They also lose some of their potency in the gut; but on the other hand, the effects last longer than with oils, up to 10 hours.

Suppositories have one advantage over oils and capsules, as they deliver the CBD directly to the affected area. If you’re suffering from diarrhea-dominant IBS, this form of CBD may be the best bet, but it can also benefit other types of IBS. The anal area in the body is also full of blood vessels that transfer CBD where it’s needed, ensuring fast and effective absorption.

CBD Oil Dosage for IBS

Finding the right dose of CBD can be a challenge because the cannabinoid affects everyone differently.

Some people take 10–50 mg of CBD per day, reporting great results for their symptoms. Others need more because their symptoms may be more severe, or they might suffer from serious endocannabinoid deficiencies, thus needing a higher dose and more time to make the treatment work.

The dose also depends on your weight, metabolism, lifestyle, gender, and age. The form of CBD you’re taking will also affect the efficacy of your supplementation. As mentioned above, CBD oil and suppositories are believed to provide optimal relief for people with IBS, the dose of each form varies between individuals.

The best way to determine the right CBD dosage for your IBS is to start low and gradually increase the amount of CBD until you experience symptom relief. From there, you can stick with that dose because people don’t build a tolerance to CBD — which is another argument in favor of the cannabinoid.

While for some people CBD may bring real benefits directly after use, people with IBS will likely need about two or three weeks of consistent CBD use before they start noticing a positive change.

CBD suppositories come with specific instructions listed by the manufacturer on the packaging — we recommend that you follow them; suppositories may carry varying concentrations of CBD.

How to Maximize the Benefits of CBD Oil for IBS

CBD is a highly versatile compound that can improve one’s daily life by a great deal, but it’s not a miracle cure for every disease out there — nor should it be used alone to treat IBS. The nature of this condition is very complex and involves many organ systems.

Adding physical activity and introducing dietary changes are essential for the successful management of your IBS symptoms. If you don’t take the necessary steps to support the functioning of your gastrointestinal system, CBD is not likely to be an overnight solution.

Think about it for a second: can a bus driver, no matter how skilled they are, drive the passengers towards their destination if it’s not filled with gas and cries for a general makeover?

CBD is a great tool to help ease the annoying symptoms of IBS and should be used to restore the balance in your body along with a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.

Final Verdict: Should You Consider Using CBD for IBS?

Although researchers haven’t yet identified the exact cause of IBS, the condition likely involves a mix of dysfunction between multiple organ systems, poor diet, and lifestyle habits, CBD is a promising treatment that can make the symptoms more manageable in a safer way than conventional treatments.

The best form of CBD to address IBS is an oil, capsule, or suppository. It’s also important to maintain consistency in your supplementation for optimal results; only then will the CBD be able to exert its full potential. While it’s true that many people may experience the benefit of CBD right away, many folks report first signs of relief after a 3-week period.

Taking CBD along with implementing dietary and lifestyle changes — and adding patience to that combo — may cause your IBS symptoms to enter remission for a long time.

Do you take CBD for IBS? How do you use it and are you satisfied with the results? Let us know in the comments section below!

Suggested reading:

  1. Sperber, Ami D et al. “The global prevalence of IBS in adults remains elusive due to the heterogeneity of studies: a Rome Foundation working team literature review.” Gut vol. 66,6 (2017): 1075-1082. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2015-311240
  2. Sinagra, Emanuele et al. “Inflammation in irritable bowel syndrome: Myth or new treatment target?.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 22,7 (2016): 2242-55. doi:10.3748/wjg.v22.i7.2242
  3. Russo, Ethan B. “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes.” Cannabis and cannabinoid research vol. 1,1 154-165. 1 Jul. 2016, doi:10.1089/can.2016.0009
  4. Pertwee, R G. “Cannabinoids and the gastrointestinal tract.” Gut vol. 48,6 (2001): 859-67. doi:10.1136/gut.48.6.859
  5. Everitt, Hazel A et al. “Management of irritable bowel syndrome in primary care: feasibility randomized controlled trial of mebeverine, methylcellulose, placebo, and a patient self-management cognitive behavioral therapy website. (MIBS trial).” BMC gastroenterology vol. 10 136. 18 Nov. 2010, doi:10.1186/1471-230X-10-136
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