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Can You Take CBD for IBS?

Bryan McAllister

By Bryan McAllister

September 23, 2022

Painful stomach concept. Vector flat character illustration. Woman standing and suffering IBS abdominal pain isolated on pink background. Design for health care.

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or IBS) is a painful disorder that can lead to a number of gastrointestinal issues. For adults suffering from IBS, treatment options are unfortunately slim — as a chronic ailment, IBS is typically not cured but managed, in the form of lifestyle and diet changes.

Cannabinoids such as

are often touted as a cure-all for a wide array of maladies, both physical and mental alike. But can CBD help mitigate — or even remove — the pain and discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome? Let’s take a closer look below.

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What is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a recurring ailment typically marked by recurring, sharp abdominal pains, often while attempting a bowel movement. In addition to aches and cramps, those suffering from IBS are likely to experience a change in frequency for restroom-related needs, increases in gassiness, and larger amounts of mucus present in passed matter.

In general, those found to suffer from IBS are typically younger, and may be more prevalent among women. A family history of intestinal issues may also come into play, and other risk factors include your overall diet, living conditions, and mental health, with anxiety and stress (as discussed below) being leading causes for developing IBS.

Those suffering from IBS may also see symptoms such as rectal bleeding, vomiting, anemia, weight loss and abdominal pains that cannot be relieved by either passing gas or otherwise evacuating their bowels. These experiences can often lead to a lowered quality of life for the individual suffering from IBS, as constant pain and discomfort can lead to or enhance depression or other mood disorders; physical ailments alone can also interfere with overall quality-of-life for someone diagnosed with IBS, as research indicates those with IBS miss three times as many days from work than those without similar concerns.

Unfortunately, while the symptoms for IBS are fairly well known, causes are not, and there isn’t one singular diagnosis that explains the presence of IBS in a patient. Factors that can lead to the development of IBS include:

  • Severe stress: Stress can lead to a wide variety ailments, both mental and physical alike. Stress and emotional duress are prime indicators of those at risk for developing symptoms related to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, particularly those who experienced trauma-and-stress inducing events during childhood.
  • Gut microbe changes: Our body’s intestinal system relies on small microbes, sometimes referred to as “flora”, to digest, process, and ultimately utilize the food we intake. This bacteria can be changed over time, based on things such as diet and overall lifestyle, and research has shown that the microbes present in those suffering from IBS possibly differ from those without the same symptoms.
  • Nerve disorders: Damaged or impacted nerves can also trigger symptoms of IBS, as an alteration in how the brain-to-body signal path carries information can cause a change in physical reaction to issues such as discomfort; a damaged nervous system may make pain feel more intense than it should, or cause automatic processes in the body (such as bowel movements) to become unreliable.
Painful stomach concept. Vector flat character illustration. Woman standing and suffering IBS abdominal pain isolated on pink background. Design for health care.
Adobe Stock

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Does CBD Help With IBS?

As mentioned in the intro, cannabidiol — more commonly known as CBD — is often touted as a “miracle cure” for a wide array of illnesses and ailments. Unlike it’s tetrahydracannabinol counterpart (AKA THC), the human body processes CBD in such a way that it does not share the common “high” sensation associated with cannabis use. Isolated purely on its own, CBD is completely psychoactively inert, IE: it cannot and will not get you high.

While THC interfaces with the CB1 cannabinoid receptors located directly on our brain, CBD targets different receptors located throughout the body; when taken, CBD is often reported as having strong anti-inflammatory effects, and is often sought out by those suffering from long-lasting, chronic pain. CBD is often used as relief for headaches, muscle tension, sore or stiff joints, and other areas where inflammation and swelling can cause pain; but does this mean CBD is good for IBS?

Unfortunately, as it stands, there is woefully little research on whether or not CBD directly helps IBS or not.

into inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colon cancer, and bladder/intestinal issues have shown promising results in using CBD as a method of reducing related symptoms, particularly over opioid medication, but studies focusing on IBS itself are fairly non-existent. To muddy waters further, competing studies have shown the opposite; a 2015 of published research determined a lack of remission and inflammation reduction in IBS patients treated with CBD.

Ultimately this means that there is no direct scientific evidence showing that CBD does help with IBS. This does not mean that there is no effect from taking CBD as a way to relieve your IBS symptoms; it does, however, mean that your healthcare professional’s advice should be followed first and foremost, including needed changes in diet, lifestyle alterations, and (typically) reductions in stressors.

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Taking CBD for IBS

As said, though, just because there is no direct evidence yet does not mean there is no relief to be found from taking CBD to reduce symptoms of IBS. Anecdotal it may be, there are many patients who report that CBD usage is one of the few ways to relieve their related symptoms, and — so long as discussed with your medical advisor first — adding a CBD regimen to your existing diet is unlikely to cause any harm.

How to Take CBD for IBS

CBD comes in a wide variety of forms and fashions, from topical creams to gummy bears. When it comes to internal, gut-related issues, the best way to apply CBD to the issue is either through ingestion or vaporization; though CBD-only hemp buds and smokable products do exist, the harshness of the smoke on the lungs could lead to further irritation and issues.

Our recommendation: Though CBD comes in a variety of edible forms, a CBD vape pen can (A) offer quick administration of the cannabinoid in question, and (B) help to avoid potential digestion issues/IBS symptom flareups that could be caused by ingesting an edible (and more on this important point below).

Dosing CBD for IBS

We cannot give you an accurate dosing statement on how much CBD to take for IBS. Ultimately your dosage requirements will rely heavily on your own physical form, including your genetic makeup, weight, height and many other factors.

While taking enough CBD to cause your body harm is rare (though possible), make sure you have the right amount to achieve a noticeable effect is important. Again, rely on your healthcare provider to help you determine the amount of CBD — if any — that’s right for you.

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CBD for IBS Side Effects

Though CBD is, again, typically seen as fairly harmless, there are side effects to taking CBD that can particularly influence symptoms of IBS. In particular, CBD can cause issues such as

or vomiting in some (defeating a bit of the purpose), and can reduce appetite in others, who might need the encouragement to eat when dealing with IBS.

Of important note is the method of ingesting your CBD. As mentioned above we recommend a vape pen, as actually eating your CBD can cause intestinal issues of its own. Some have allergic reactions to gelatin (commonly found in gummies), while others might have an unpleasant reaction to the oil or alcohol used as a carrier fluid in a CBD tincture or supplement. In general, try to avoid any method of consuming CBD that might upset your stomach any further, such as harsh infusions or alcohol-based tinctures.

Is Taking CBD for IBS Safe and Legal?

As discussed elsewhere on our site, CBD is fully and firmly legal within the United States of America, though a CBD-related product cannot have more than 0.3% THC content outside of states where THC has also been legalized.

Safety, however, depends primarily on source. Knowing how to read cannabioid labels and purchasing only from trusted retail outlets and vendors is important, as the CBD supplement market is largely unregulated by the federal government. Being aware that low-quality CBD goods could contain unwanted contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals is an important part of not only being a smart consumer, but ensuring your own health.

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Wrapping Up

Though there is no direct evidence that CBD can help with the symptoms of IBS, there’s little in the way of evidence that says it doesn’t, either. But, if you are one of the many sufferers of IBS, and given the general safety of consuming CBD (within reason), so long as your health provider approves it could be worth seeing if adding a CBD supplement to your life might help offer some relief.

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Bryan McAllister

About The Author

Bryan McAllister

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.

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