CBD (cannabidiol) in the form of oil, gel, and capsules has been touted as the new cure-all for everything from migraines and chronic pain to seizures. But when it comes to using CBD for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), very little is known. With up to 1 in 10 people worldwide experiencing IBS, there is growing interest to see if CBD could be a new tool to relieve symptoms. CBD benefits are widely discussed, but whether CBD for IBS is a viable treatment option is still being studied. However, here’s what early research says.
CBD for IBS: Your Questions Answered
CBD (cannabidiol) in the form of oil, gel, and capsules has been touted as the new cure-all for everything from migraines and chronic pain to seizures. But when it comes to using CBD for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), very little is known. With up to 1 in 10 people worldwide experiencing IBS, there is growing interest to see if CBD could be a new tool to relieve symptoms.
Your CBD dictionary
There are a lot of words used in this space that sound the same, or are used interchangeably. So before we get started, let’s all get on the same page:
- Cannabis: Cannabis sativa is the plant CBD is sourced from.
- Marijuana: Another name for cannabis, more commonly used when talking about recreational use.
- Hemp: A strain of cannabis that is often used in medicine, clothing or building materials. It usually has lower levels of THC, which means it won’t produce a ‘high’.
- Medicinal cannabis/marijuana: Cannabis that is grown for the purpose of medicinal use. It usually has lower levels of THC. May also be called hemp.
- Phytocannabinoids: Compounds found in the cannabis plant.
- CBD:Cannabidiol is one of 113 phytocannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Has potential medicinal applications and does not produce a ‘high’.
- THC:Tetrahydrocannabinol is another of the phytocannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Produces a ‘high’.
What is CBD?
CBD, also known as cannabidiol, comes from marijuana, but it shouldn’t be confused as the same thing.
The marijuana plant (or cannabis) is made up of hundreds of different compounds. Over 100 of these are phytocannabinoids. CBD is one of them.
In recent years, there has been an increase in research into CBD for medical purposes as it has been shown to have anti-epileptic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-psychotic properties.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is another compound found in marijuana. This is the compound that gives the ‘high’ sensation when it’s consumed.
Unlike THC, CBD will not make you ‘high’.
How is CBD consumed?
CBD is most commonly taken in oil form, with a carrier oil like coconut or hemp seed oil. You can take it straight, by holding some drops under your tongue, or you can mix it in with food and drink. You can also take CBD as a gummy, spray, capsule, or topical rub or balm.
Can CBD help my IBS?
Cannabis has been used to help manage a number of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions such as abdominal pain, anorexia, inflammatory diarrhea, and diabetic gastroparesis. However, the psychotropic effects of THC limit its use in practice.
For this reason, CBD is more clinically useful since it provides similar benefits without the ‘high’.
CBD has shown promising results for a variety of medical conditions including chronic pain, insomnia, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, and side effects of chemotherapy. It is currently being investigated as a possible treatment for IBS.
It is thought that CBD may help ‘re-calibrate’ the communication between the gut and the brain. However, more research is needed to clarify the role of CBD for IBS.
What You Need to Know About Using CBD for IBS
The Curious Role of the Endocannabinoid System in Gut Health
With the increasing legalization of cannabis and its by-products in the United States, CBD oil — otherwise known as cannabidiol — is everywhere. You can find it in gas stations, grocery stores, as well as in specialty boutiques and cannabis dispensaries, and it’s recommended for a wide range of health concerns.
One of the things CBD is recommended for is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Some early research suggests that CBD may be able to influence your gut inflammation, motility, and even your gut microbiome. Is CBD for IBS a valid treatment option?
Currently, there is almost no direct research suggesting that CBD can improve IBS symptoms.
Let’s explore what CBD is, what we know about the effects of CBD for IBS and the digestive system, and what we know and don’t know about how it may treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or other digestive conditions.
What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many cannabinoids, which are cannabis plant compounds produced by Cannabis sativa and hemp plants. CBD is non-intoxicating and non-psychoactive. CBD’s more famous cousin, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), is the cannabinoid responsible for the well-known psychoactive effects of smoking or consuming cannabis.
Companies that sell CBD products promote it to help remedy a wide range of health concerns, such as chronic pain [ 1
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ], headaches, joint pain, appetite, sleep, and digestive complaints like IBS.
CBD appears to be able to act as a pain reliever and has anti-inflammatory properties several hundred times stronger than aspirin . However, there is a tendency to generalize claims about full-spectrum cannabis — extracts of whole cannabis — and CBD alone. To more fully explain, we need to dive into the specifics of the endocannabinoid system.
Endocannabinoid System 101
It may surprise you to learn that the human body creates its own cannabinoids and has a vast network of cannabinoid receptors.
This means your body is wired to benefit from cannabinoids. This endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an important role in the development, balancing, and resilience of your central nervous system and immune system [3, 4
There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1, and CB2. CB1 receptors are concentrated primarily in your brain and peripheral nervous system, while CB2 receptors are located not only in your brain and nervous system but also in your digestive and immune systems [ 5
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ]. CBD can bind to either type of cannabinoid receptor.
Some researchers have proposed that endocannabinoid deficiency may influence gut conditions like IBS, pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia and migraines [ 6
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ], as well as autoimmune diseases [ 7
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ]. Endogenous cannabinoids (meaning those produced by your body), like anandamide, are thought to influence pain perception and gut motility (the movement of waste through your digestive tract) [ 8
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ]. For this reason, many people are excited about the potential of cannabinoids like CBD to help chronic pain, opioid addiction, and IBS symptoms like bloating, constipation, and hypersensitivity [ 9
CBD for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive tract disorder. Frequent digestive systemsymptoms of IBS include [ 10
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Diarrhea or loose stool (IBS-D), or constipation (IBS-C)
- Food sensitivities
The root causes of IBS vary widely, from bacterial overgrowth to nervous system imbalances that affect gut motility. Because of this, treating IBS requires a multi-faceted approach.
Many people with other digestive conditions — such as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — also have IBS symptoms.
Does CBD Help IBS?
There is not yet clear evidence that CBD can help IBS symptoms, despite some interesting preliminary results and hopeful theories.
In the end, dietary changes such as a low FODMAP diet [ 11
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ] have proven and documented benefits for IBS where you don’t have to wait for further research. So, while we explore the research so far about CBD and IBS, please don’t ignore more proven approaches.
Multiple literature reviews suggest that targeting the endocannabinoid system with CBD or other cannabinoids may provide some benefit for IBS patients and their symptom flare-ups, as well as patients with other gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) [ 16
However, there is little direct clinical evidence to suggest you are likely to benefit from CBD if you have IBS symptoms..
Here is a summary of the evidence that suggests CBD may be beneficial for IBS symptoms:
In a large observational study, CBD was associated with reduced gut and non-specified pain [ 19
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ], normalize both slow and fast gut motility , and positively affect nerve channels that regulate gut motility and secretion [ 25
Out of all these studies, only two are placebo-controlled clinical trials. The rest are lower quality observational, or animal studies, which may or may not have relevance for humans, and none of them specifically studied IBS. So even though these are positive findings, they are not a clear endorsement of CBD.
Add to that the following study results, which don’t support using CBD for IBS symptoms:
A 2021 SR/MA of 15 nonrandomized studies and 5 RCTs concluded that cannabinoids do not induce clinical remission or affect inflammation in IBD patients (although there may be some improvement in symptoms) [ 27
Using CBD for IBS
CBD oil is allowed to be sold throughout the United States as long as the THC content is below 0.3%. People typically consume CBD products orally as an oil, but they can also be consumed as a tincture (a preparation of CBD in alcohol or glycerin) or edible product (like a gummy or baked good).
In states where cannabis is legal, either for medicinal or recreational use, some CBD products may contain varying levels of THC. Some evidence suggests that therapeutic results are better when CBD is given together with other cannabinoids, including THC [ 30
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ]. This is known as the “entourage effect.” However, not everyone wants the psychoactive side effects of THC. Read your labels carefully, or request help interpreting the information on product labels.
Your ideal dosage will vary widely depending on your body’s needs, the potency of the product, and your tolerance. For best results, consult with a health care provider or medical professional who is knowledgeable about CBD dosing and your medical condition.
CBD Oil Side Effects and Safety
If you want to try CBD for IBS, keep the following considerations in mind.
CBD Side Effects
CBD is often promoted as a safer alternative to medications, but some people do experience side effects.
CBD and other cannabinoids are metabolized in the liver and intestines.
Too much CBD can damage the liver, especially if mixed with other medications, such as leflunomide, lomitapide, mipomersen, pexidartinib, teriflunomide, and valproate . If you are taking these medications or have an existing liver condition, consult a physician before using CBD.
CBD oil consumption can cause possible side effects [ 32
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ]. These include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Diarrhea 
- Decreased appetite
- A minority of people may have an intolerance to cannabis oil or its carrier oils such as sesame oil.
A systematic review and meta-analysis found that adverse gastrointestinal tract events may be more common when CBD and other cannabis-based medicines are ingested rather than inhaled [ 36
Non-FDA-approved CBD products on the market vary greatly in quality and consistency. This raises two potential issues:
Without independent laboratory verification, one cannot know whether the dosage of such products is accurate, if the THC content is less than 0.3%, and whether they are unadulterated and uncontaminated [ 37
Always buy CBD products from manufacturers who are transparent about their production methods, quality-control measures, and potency. Look for independent laboratory verification of product contents.
Probiotics and the Endocannabinoid System
Some very early evidence suggests that the gut microbiome may influence the endocannabinoid system [ 38
One clinical study showed that Lactobacillus probiotic supplementation increased the function of cannabinoid and opioid receptors and reduced pain [ 39
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ]. Dogs with motility problems who were given probiotics showed an increase in cannabinoid receptor action and improved motility [ 40
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ]. Another study, albeit in mice, suggested that CBD increased the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria but also increased the expression of inflammatory cytokines [ 41
We know that probiotics are a clinically effective treatment option for a wide range of digestive complaints [ 42
Trusted Source PubMed Go to source ]. We don’t need to know whether their interaction with the endocannabinoid system is one more reason for their benefits, but it’s an interesting line of research for the future.
The Truth About CBD for IBS
CBD may be popular, but there isn’t yet proof that it helps IBS symptoms. While early data suggest it may play a helpful role in regulating gut motility, reducing gut pain, and supporting the nervous system, much more research is needed.
There are many proven and effective treatments for IBS, and it makes sense to keep your focus on these approaches. However, If you’re CBD curious, try CBD as a short-term trial and don’t expect miracles.