The human gut is an amazing entity. Our guts are home to a thriving microbiome of trillions of bacteria and fungi that help us digest our food. It’s also home to over 200 million neurons that communicate with our brains via the brian-gut connection. It’s a vast and complex system that affects the health of our entire body. And when our guts get out of whack, it can wreak havoc in our lives.
Digestive issues like upset stomachs, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating can stop us in our tracks. And if you struggle with a chronic illness like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, then you know firsthand how debilitating gut problems can be. Gut health can also influence our mental health and vice-versa.
Thankfully, it’s possible that CBD could provide relief for certain gut health issues thanks to its amazing anti-inflammatory properties, and through something called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Let’s dive into the science behind CBD and how it could improve your gut health.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the main active compounds in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC’s ability to make you feel “high,” CBD is an ideal way to enjoy many of the same benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive side effects.
CBD is a cannabinoid, which is similar to a substance our bodies produce themselves called endocannabinoids. This means that CBD can interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system and potentially provide relief for a number of health woes–including gut health issues.
The endocannabinoid system and the gut
Fun fact: we have a whole system in our bodies that’s named after pot! It’s called the endocannabinoid system. It earned its name in the ‘90s when scientists discovered it while researching cannabis. The ECS is a cell-signaling system that has an influence on almost every part of our bodies, from the skeletal system to the nervous system.
The ECS is incredibly complicated, and we’re still learning exactly how it all works. But experts believe that the system’s main function is to maintain homeostasis – a stable internal balance. Essentially, this means that when something in your body gets out of whack, the ECS tries to bring it back to normal. For example, if you’re running a fever, the ECS will try to lower your body temperature.
That’s awesome for fevers. But how does this translate into better gut health? Well, one of the main roles of the ECS is to regulate gastrointestinal function, and many major ECS receptors and enzymes are concentrated in the gut. This means that using CBD could spell relief for certain gastrointestinal problems.
How CBD may improve gut health
CBD could lower intestinal inflammation
Inflammation is our body’s natural response to infection and injury. In small amounts, it’s a good thing and a sign that our bodies are responding appropriately to threats. But sometimes, inflammation overstays its welcome and becomes a threat in its own right. When chronic inflammation concentrates in the gut, it can manifest in digestive issues, chronic illnesses, or other health problems.
Thankfully, it’s possible that CBD could provide relief for gut inflammation. One study on mice revealed that CBD was able to reduce colon inflammation when applied topically. Another found that a combination of CBD and THC was able to reduce intestinal inflammation in mice with colitis.
While we still need more human trials, this initial research suggests that CBD can trigger an anti-inflammatory effect in the digestive system, which could help to calm an angry gut.
CBD could help stress and anxiety
Anxiety and stress can impact your gut health and vice-versa, thanks to the brain-gut connection. This can make it hard to determine whether stress is causing your stomach issues, or if your stomach issues are causing your stress, creating a vicious snowball effect. CBD could be the key to breaking the cycle.
It’s no secret that cannabis is prized for its relaxing qualities, and CBD can create a similar effect. Many people use CBD to manage their stress levels, and recent studies have shown that CBD can ease anxiety in a clinical setting. Stress and digestive issues are often closely linked. Soothing one issue might soothe the other. So, it stands to reason that CBD could lead to both a calmer mind and a calmer gut.
CBD could help IBD
Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic illness that affects more than 1.6 million people in the United States alone. Subsets of IBD include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which can cause debilitating diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fatigue. One of the underlying factors of IBD is inflammation. And as we’ve already learned, CBD could help with that.
Recent studies have shown that CBD had a positive impact on people who suffer from IBD. And a small Israeli study found that CBD reduced symptoms of moderately severe Crohn’s disease, with about 65% of the CBD test group achieving remission.
While CBD is not a cure, it’s an encouraging sign that the cannabinoid may improve the quality of life for those who struggle with IBD and offer an all-natural way to manage symptoms.
CBD could help leaky gut
Our intestinal lining acts as a barrier that keeps our bodies from absorbing potentially harmful substances. It’s like a defensive fort in our guts. However, just like real forts, sometimes the defensive barrier can become weakened. This could allow bacteria or toxins to breach the intestinal barrier and leak into the bloodstream.
This leak in the intestinal barrier is known as intestinal hyperpermeability, or Leaky Gut Syndrome. Leaky Gut isn’t currently recognized as an official diagnosis, but recent findings suggest a connection between Leaky Gut and Crohn’s disease. Many people believe that Leaky Gut might have a role to play in other health conditions as well.
While the research surrounding Leaky Gut is still limited, preliminary findings reveal that CBD may be able to fight leakage in the intestinal barrier. A landmark 2019 study found that CBD reduced intestinal permeability in humans when used alongside Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), a chemical that can reduce pain and swelling. It’s an encouraging sign that CBD could improve gut health even with conditions we don’t fully understand yet.
How to use CBD for gut health and digestion
Now that we’ve talked about the potential benefits of CBD for gut health, let’s go over how to use it.
CBD comes in many different forms. You can take a dropper of oil under your tongue, swallow a pill, apply it topically in a cream, or even inhale it in a vape. Each method has its own pros and cons. The CBD oil that eased your friend’s abdominal pain might not help your stomach aches. It often comes down to personal preference and experimentation.
If you’re interested in trying CBD for gut health, remember to consult with your regular doctor or GI first. Source your CBD from a high-quality, ethical brand.
While CBD is generally considered safe, there’s always a certain level of risk whenever you introduce a new substance to your body. It’s usually best to start out with a small dosage and gradually increase it until you start seeing results. Baby steps are the best steps.