CBD for IBS: Does it really help? [New Research]

CBD for IBS cover image

Recent research shows great promise for CBD as an effective treatment for IBS. Some studies indicate that CBD even promotes proper functioning of the brain and body. In this article we take a look at current IBS treatments and focus on the academic research related to using CBD to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is a medical condition which causes stomach pain, decreased GI motility and digestive distress. Although the medical community has not identified the root cause of IBS symptoms, recent research indicates two potential factors. A study by Dr. Ethan Russo suggests that IBS and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) may be caused by Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED). According to his study, chronic inflammation and IBS symptoms appear when the body is unable to produce endogenous cannabinoids. Other studies indicate a bacterial overgrowth of the small intestinal tract (SIBO) as the potential cause of IBS and other related digestive health conditions. In both cases, the inflammatory response of the body is increased when there is a lack of Endocannabinoids.

IBS Statistics

  • IBS affects between 25 to 45 million people in the United States alone and affects approximately 10 to 15 percent of the global population.
  • Statistics show that 60% of IBS patients are women, while 40% are men, although it is likely that women are less hesitant to visit a doctor when experiencing discomfort.

IBS Symptoms

Symptoms vary from mild to severe, yet the majority of IBS sufferers experience:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Irregular Bowel Movements
  • Increased Diarrhea or Constipation
  • Gas and Bloating
  • Food Intolerances and Sensitivities
  • GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder)
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Insomnia and Difficulty Sleeping.
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headache and Backache

What causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Most researchers agree that IBS is linked to chronic stress, gut flora imbalances, and low digestive enzymes in the digestive tract. Although Dr. Ethan Russo agrees that IBS is most likely related to chronic stress and gut flora, he suggests a deeper connection to the endocannabinoid system. He found that the body is unable to manage stress levels when it does not create enough endogenous cannabinoids such as anandamide and 2-AG. This inability to produce a necessary amount of endocannabinoids may cause the symptoms of IBS.

Your body’s GI tract may be telling you that you need more rest, balanced nutrition, and stress-relieving activities to get things back to normal. These may include activities such as walking, exercise, meditation and supplementing with phytocannabinoids like CBD or CBG.

Current Treatments for IBS

Depending on the severity of your IBS symptoms, you may benefit from a simple lifestyle or diet change. In severe cases you may try prescription or over the counter medications which are used for the treatment of IBS. Some of these medications come with unpleasant side effects, such as nausea or discomfort, and their long term efficacy has not been determined. It is important to note that while some people find relief from pharmaceutical prescriptions, many others do not. We encourage you to rule out all potential causes of your digestive symptoms with your primary care physician prior to using any pharmaceutical products.

Most doctors recommend dietary changes such as an elimination diet, lifestyle changes, probiotics and fiber supplements as a first trial to improve symptoms. These changes address the symptoms of IBS but may not address the root cause. You can also try an OTC test kit for harmful bacteria or parasites in your digestive tract. These are not uncommon in the era of factory farming. 

1. Dietary Adjustments:

Nutrition is a key part of any health strategy and a well-balanced diet can benefit your symptoms in many ways. Depending on your severity level, try the following strategies.

  • Mild symptoms : try to eliminate unnatural sugars and processed foods. Get the bulk of your nutrition from lean meats and high omega 3 fish such as wild-caught salmon, anchovies and sardines. Also, include eggs, fermented dairy and other Low FODMAP fruits and vegetables as a part of your daily diet.
  • Moderate symptoms : follow the Low FODMAP guidelines or try an elimination diet for high sensitivity foods such as gluten or lactose. Some symptoms of IBS occur due to food allergies and sensitivities.
  • Severe symptoms : stick to the temporary B.R.A.T. diet of Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast. You may try to add a vegetable or bone broth if you can tolerate it. After 5 days try to implement a new food one day at a time.

2. Lifestyle Changes

The cornerstone of your successful health plan is a daily routine and healthy habits. Try the following activities for stress reduction and general well-being:

  • Exercise : exercise helps to remove toxins in the digestive tract that may build up with certain IBS related symptoms. It is also a great way to boost your endorphin levels for pain relief and stress reduction.
  • Meditation or yoga : meditation and yoga have been proven to reduce stress levels and anxiety which may benefit some IBS sufferers.

3. Natural Treatments

Make sure that your body is getting all the necessary macro and micronutrients for optimal gut health:

  • Natural Fiber Supplements : taking natural fiber such as psyllium husk can help remove blockages in your lower digestive tract and reduce the occurence of constipation.
  • Prebiotics and Probiotics : these micro bacteria are essential to a healthy gut and gi motility. You can find these in naturally occuring sources such as yogurt, natto, or sauerkraut.
  • Epsom Salt Baths : helps to reduce bloating and cramping associated with IBS. Epsom salts also contain magnesium which is beneficial during periods of high stress.
  • Slippery Elm : a wonderful herb for gut repair that has been used for centuries in the United States. Slippery Elm has 3 main benefits:
    • It increases the mucilage content in your digestive tract.
    • It stimulates nerve endings which help neutralize excessive acidity in the gut, soothing ulcers.
    • It provides antioxidants to relieve inflammation in the body.
  • Marshmallow Root : boasting a high mucilage content, this multipurpose herb covers your digestive tract with protective lining and eases inflammation in your gut. Many users report it helps to soothe ulcers, diarrhea, and constipation, as well as other symptoms of the digestive system.

4. Cannabidiol (CBD) and Cannabigerol (CBG) as potential new treatments for IBS

CBD and CBG are gaining new popularity as beneficial treatments for IBS symptoms including pain, inflammation, low GI motility and overall discomfort. Research is starting to show a relation between CBD and CBG and their anti-inflammatory effect for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

What is CBD? Can it cure IBS?

CBD (cannabidiol) is a phytocannabinoid compound derived from cannabis, and a promising treatment for IBS sufferers. Although there is currently no definitive evidence that CBD can cure IBS, researchers have found that study participants report reduced abdominal pain, decreased gastrointestinal inflammation and less frequent constipation and cramping after taking CBD to help alleviate the symptoms of IBS.

CBD research for IBS

Here is a brief review of recent studies on the effects of CBD as a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

Study #1 Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes By Ethan Russo.

In this study Dr. Ethan Russo explains the important role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) for gut health. We learn that the Endocannabinoid System regulates GI propulsion, secretion and gut inflammation.

Dr. Russo references a previous study from 2004 which found that the Endocannabinoid system contained a powerful pain blocking mechanism which was able to mitigate the pain response in IBS sufferers:

“Cannabinoids have similarly demonstrated the ability to block spinal, peripheral and gastrointestinal mechanisms that promote pain in headache, fibromyalgia, IBS and related disorders.” 

- Russo EB. Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2016;1(1):154–165. Published 2016 Jul 1. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0009

This is good news for the majority of people who suffer from chronic pain such as headaches, cramping, or stomach pain.

Study #2 Cannabidiol Reduces Intestinal Inflammation through the Control of Neuroimmune Axis by Department of Experimental Pharmacology, University of Naples FEDERICO II, Naples, Italy.

A group of scientists from Naples studied the effects of CBD on the immune system’s inflammatory response system. They found that CBD can prevent intestinal damage by reducing the inflammatory response.

“Taken together all these results suggest, for the first time, that CBD, by modulating the glial-immune axis, regulates the fire up of the inflammatory reaction in the intestine thereby preventing the detrimental intestinal damage.”

“Our results indicate that CBD is a key modulator molecule that may interfere with the enteroglial-mediated interactions in an intestinal inflammatory environment. Its activity, markedly focused on S100B protein downregulation, leads to consequent reduction of intestinal damage occurring during acute and chronic intestinal inflammatory status and highlights the importance of glial cells control during these pathological conditions.”

  • De Filippis D, Esposito G, Cirillo C, et al. Cannabidiol reduces intestinal inflammation through the control of neuroimmune axis. PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28159. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028159

By regulating the inflammatory reaction, CBD helps to limit the damage caused by the body’s immune system as it tries to protect itself from the effects of irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut.

Study #3 Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease by Waseem Ahmed , MD and Seymour Katz , MD

Dr. Seymour Katz and Dr. Waseem Ahmed studied 30 individuals who were diagnosed with Crohn's disease. All of the 30 patients reported an improvement in their general well-being due to cannabis use and 22 patients reduced their use of corticosteroids after treatment with cannabis. 

“The authors conducted a retrospective, observational study of 30 CD patients in Israel who were legally using cannabis due to a lack of response to conventional treatments and chronic intractable pain. Disease activity before and after cannabis use was estimated using the Harvey-Bradshaw index for CD......All 30 patients rated their general medical well-being as improved after cannabis use via a visual analog scale. Twenty-one patients had a notable improvement after treatment with cannabis use, and the average Harvey-Bradshaw index for all patients improved from 14 to 4.7 (P<.001)......Whereas 26 patients required corticosteroid therapy prior to cannabis use, only 4 patients were still maintained on corticosteroids after cannabis use, suggesting a possible corticosteroid sparing effect of cannabis.”

  • Ahmed W, Katz S. Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2016;12(11):668–679.

Of the 10 studies we reviewed on pubmed, we found that most of the current research indicates that CBD promotes reduced inflammation and pain in people who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome and related symptoms. 

What is CBG? Can it help with IBS?

Cannabigerol (CBG) is another important cannabinoid that shows promise in relieving IBS symptoms and potentially addressing the root cause of endocannabinoid deficiency. Surprisingly, CBG has shown to be an effective broad-spectrum antibiotic with an ability to fight antibiotic-resistant superbugs like MRSA. This may be particularly helpful if you suffer from GI conditions caused by bacterial infections like SIBO. 

CBG research for IBS

Study #1 Beneficial effect of the non-psychotropic plant cannabinoid cannabigerol on experimental inflammatory bowel disease

In this study, researchers at the University of Naples Federico II found that CBG showed an ability to regulate GI motility in animal studies of mice afflicted with chemically induced hypermotility. Additionally, CBG showed a curative and protective mechanism for Colitis within the GI tract. 

“We have found that CBG reduced colon weight/colon length ratio of the inflamed colonic tissue, which is considered a reliable and sensitive indicator of the severity and extent of the inflammatory response [34]. CBG was effective when given both before and after the inflammatory insult, suggesting a preventive and a curative (therapeutic) beneficial effect. Significant protective effects were achieved starting from the 1 mg/kg dose (preventive protocol) and 5 mg/kg (curative protocol). Maximal efficacy was achieved with the 1 mg/kg dose and the 30 mg/kg dose in the preventive and in the curative protocol, respectively.”

  • Borrelli F, Fasolino I, Romano B, Capassoi R, Maiello F, Coppola D, Orlando P, Battista G, Pagano E, Di Marzo V, Izzo AA, Beneficial effect of the non-psychotropic plant cannabinoid cannabigerol on experimental inflammatory bowel disease, Biochemical Pharmacology (2010), doi:10.1016/j.bcp.2013.01.017

Study #2 Antibacterial Cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: A Structure−Activity Study

The study showed an antibacterial effect from CBG and CBC. In the study both CBG and CBC were highly effective at fighting MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is highly damaging to the body.

“All five major cannabinoids (cannabidiol (1b), cannabichromene (2), cannabigerol (3b), Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (4b), and cannabinol (5)) showed potent activity against a variety of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains of current clinical relevance.”

  • Giovanni Appendino, Simon Gibbons, Anna Giana, Alberto Pagani, Gianpaolo Grassi, Michael Stavri, Eileen Smith, and M. Mukhlesur Rahman, Antibacterial Cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: A Structure−Activity Study, Journal of Natural Products 2008 71 (8), 1427-1430, DOI: 10.1021/np8002673

 

CBD for IBS: What’s the right dose?

We recommend starting out your CBD intake with a low dose to see how it works. Depending on the type of CBD you are using, you may experience varied effects and a different uptake time. Have a look at the chart below to see what might work best for you:

CBD Dosage Chart for IBS

Not all CBD is equal: Types of CBD

The three main types of Cannabidiol (CBD) are Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum and CBD Isolate. At Potter, we go a step further to select specific terpene combinations that provide benefits such as relaxation, pain and inflammation relief, and promotion of sleep. Here is a short overview of the different types of CBD:

Full Spectrum CBD: 

The full spectrum variety of CBD is derived from the whole plant. It contains a balance of helpful cannabinoids, terpenes and a micro dose of THC (<0.3%). A number of studies have proven that full spectrum CBD products are more effective per mg. compared to CBD isolate. This is due to something known as the Entourage Effect

Broad Spectrum CBD:

Broad Spectrum CBD products are similar to full spectrum products with one exception. They contain 0% THC. Broad spectrum products still contain helpful terpenes that contribute to the entourage effect, although the removal of THC may reduce the percentage of terpenes that remain in the end consumer products. Studies have also shown that having even a small amount THC (<0.3%) available with cannabinoids such as CBD should create a more potent effect than without THC. 

CBD Isolate: 

This is the purest form of CBD with all other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and residual plant matter removed completely. The isolate is often derived directly from the hemp plant and contains no detectable THC. 

Potter CBD: 

While full spectrum products have been shown great benefits compared to broad spectrum and isolate based products, there is one drawback.The terpenes and additional cannabinoids that are present with CBD are not consistent with every product or every batch. The naturally occurring terpenes found in hemp dictate the flavour and effects of all CBD products. Depending on their type and concentration, terpenes can: easily cross the blood brain barrier (making it easier for cannabinoids to enter the bloodstream to be more effective), increase energy and focus, cause sedation, decrease anxiety and depression symptoms, etc. 

Potter CBD combines organic full spectrum CBD with a selected and research-based terpene formula to provide a consistent and effective and dose of CBD, based on the effect you need: Calm, Sleep, Relief and Uplift. 

Potter Select Spectrum oils: 

Our Select Spectrum line utilizes full spectrum CBD and consistent terpene profiles along with beneficial cannabinoids like CBG (cannabigerol) at a consistent ratio of CBD to CBG. The high concentration of additional cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, or CBN contribute to a powerful entourage effect, designed for specific wellness needs. 

The combination of multiple cannabinoids and terpenes which have shown in studies to fight inflammation should be more effective than traditional full spectrum CBD oil for certain ailments such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Types of CBD

Side Effects and Contraindications of CBD

Most people are able to use CBD without any difficulties. However, some of the common side effects that are reported are dry mouth, lower appetite, minor fatigue and diarrhea at higher doses.

If you are taking any medications, check with your doctor before using CBD. It may interact with blood thinners, potentially enhance the side effects of NSAIDs, and reduce the effects of other medications. 

Are CBD and CBG Safe?

Due to the growing number of CBD, hemp and other cannabis products, it is important to buy CBD oil from a trusted supplier. Always look for high quality, third-party lab tested CBD products for your maximum benefit and safety. This ensures that they are independently tested for quality purity and strength. 

At Potter, we test all our products at ProVerde Labs, an accredited third-party cannabis testing facilitly in Millford, Massachusetts. You can easily access the the lab report for each Potter product by batch number here , or by simply scanning the QR code located on our product labels. 

Recent studies have shown that up to 1500mg of CBD is generally well tolerated in humans. Side effects tend to be mild compared to traditional pharmaceuticals and may include appetite suppression, diarrhea, and fatigue. 

User Reports

Many of our users have personally experienced the unique benefits of CBD oil in their own lives ranging from mild indigestion to severe stomach pains and cramping due to food allergies, SIBO or IBS. There are many online users that have also reported significant benefits after using CBD oil for their IBS pain, such as this reddit user: Years of severe IBS curbed with CBD hemp oil! :  

Reddit: CBD Alleviates IBS user report

You can even find some Quora discussions related to Cannabis and IBS. Here is a response from Kellie G: Has cannabis helped alleviate SIBO or IBS issues at all?

Quora: Did CBD Help with IBS?

Summary

Research suggests that both scientists and patients have found benefits for IBS with CBD due to its anti-inflammatory action and pain relief. It is specifically helpful for people suffering from Gastrointestinal Disorders like IBS, SIBO, CD and IBD. While the science and feedback is promising, everyone’s body reacts differently and you may not experience the same effects as other users. However, if IBS symptoms are impacting your quality of life, then it is worth trying a natural treatment that is backed by science, such as CBD, CBG or Beta Caryophyllene.

***Disclosure: Please consult your physician and/or dietician before taking any supplements or making drastic changes to your diet.