Cannabis as a Natural Gut Health Supplement

How to manage symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea with cannabis.

Our understanding of the endocannabinoid system and its role in maintaining overall health has expanded significantly in recent years. Beyond its influence on pain perception, mood regulation, and immune function, emerging research suggests that cannabinoids can have positive effects on gut health. Better gut health is now understood to be a key determinant in disease prevention – not dissimilar to Ayurveda which exhorts the primacy of the gut microbiome in maintaining health. In this article, we will explore the connection between cannabinoids and the gut, shedding light on how these compounds may offer potential therapeutic benefits for various gastrointestinal conditions.

Cannabis has been reported to offer potential benefits in managing various symptoms related to gut health. The cannabinoids found in cannabis, such as but not limited to THC and CBD, have shown promise in reducing abdominal pain and cramping through their analgesic and anti-spasmodic properties. Additionally, cannabis has been observed to reduce nausea and vomiting, making it potentially beneficial for individuals experiencing gastrointestinal distress. Cannabinoids also help in managing symptoms like diarrhoea. Interestingly, cannabis has been known to stimulate appetite, making it potentially useful for individuals struggling with poor appetite.

Looking at it from an Ayurvedic perspective, Vijaya (full-spectrum cannabis extract) is understood to have Deepan (enhances digestion), Pachan (helps in digestion), Rochan (stimulates appetite) and Grahi (that which promotes absorption) characteristics. In other words, cannabis improves appetite, digestion, and absorption/assimilation through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids, and particularly THC, have been shown to stimulate the release of hunger-inducing hormones, such as ghrelin, leading to increased appetite too. Vijaya is also considered a pain reliever and its Grahi properties help alleviate irritable bowel syndrome. Ayurveda underlines that all gut issues are psychosomatic. Considering Vijaya is calming and improves sleep, it helps maintain a stable mind and therefore a comfortable stomach.

Developing research on the endocannabinoid system shows our bodies naturally produce neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are chemically similar to endocannabinoids. Both cannabinoids and endocannabinoids interact with receptors located in the brain, nervous system, muscles, fat, digestive tract and more. There are primarily two types of cannabinoid receptors, type 1 or CB1 and type 2 or CB2. Activation of CB1 receptors reduces gut motility, potentially alleviating symptoms associated with conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which are characterized by abnormal bowel movements. Conversely, targeting CB2 receptors may increase gut motility, which could benefit individuals experiencing constipation.

Humans have CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout their bodies. When cannabinoids interact with these receptors in different parts of the body, they have various therapeutic and healing effects. Cannabinoids interacting with CB1 receptors in the oral cavity result in decreased nausea and vomiting, improved appetite and improved pain control. Cannabinoids interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the stomach result in decreased oesophageal sphincter relaxation, delayed gastric emptying and reduced gastric acid secretion. Cannabinoids interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors in various parts of the small intestine result in decreased intestinal motility, decreased gut secretion, inhibition of cytokine and chemokine production, induction of apoptosis, T-cell induction, inhibition of cell proliferation, improved epithelial healing and decreased intestinal permeability.

While research is still limited, the studies on the relationship between cannabis and IBS show benefits. Out of 319 patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome observed at the University of Calgary:

  • 17.6% used cannabis to relieve symptoms
  • 83.9% reported that it improved abdominal pain
  • 76.8% reported improvement in abdominal cramping
  • 48.2% had lesser pain in their joints
  • 28.6% had less diarrhoea

Various other studies have reported an improvement in the Harvey-Bradshaw scale for Crohn’s disease. There has also been significant evidence for the reduced use of various other medications like 5-ASA, corticosteroids and biologics when patients use cannabinoid-based treatments. Cannabinoids help improve one’s mood, reducing anxiety and depression. With an overall improvement in quality of life, social functioning and ability to work, your gut health is likely to be better off as well, building a positive reinforcement cycle.

A growing body of research suggests that cannabinoids offer therapeutic benefits for gut health. As our understanding of cannabinoids and their effects on gut health continues to evolve, they may offer new avenues for managing and treating gastrointestinal conditions.