Could CBD Help Ease Symptoms of IBS? Here's What We Know, Based on the Evidence

POPSUGAR Photography | Dominique Astorino
POPSUGAR Photography | Dominique Astorino

Cannabidiol (or CBD), a nonpsychoactive derivative of marijuana or hemp, is thought to ease everything from anxiety to chronic pain, but if you've wondered if it could help treat your inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome, the answer is, well, perhaps.

While the two conditions are very similar, there are distinct differences in what we know about their causes and symptoms and how CBD can be used to alleviate them, explained Rachna Patel, MD, a California-licensed physician and CBD expert.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an autoimmune issue in which the body attacks the GI tract, often diagnosed as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. The symptoms include severe stomach cramps and nausea and, more rarely, vomiting and poor appetite. The cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) isn't as well understood, but it shares many of the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, as well as a few more, including alternating episodes of diarrhea and constipation.

Can CBD Help Soothe Your Symptoms?

"IBS can be difficult to treat," said Michael Verbora, MBA, MD, CCFP, the chief medical officer for Ontario-based Aleafia, a medical cannabis care facility. If standard treatments — including probiotics, dietary changes, and reduction of stress — have failed to manage your symptoms, CBD oil may be an option, he noted.

Dr. Verbora sees about 200 patients who suffer from IBS, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Most of those patients use CBD oil, and some use a formula containing small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the only compound in cannabis that's mind-altering. "Out of all treatments my patients have tried for IBS, the majority find cannabis to be the most beneficial," Dr. Verbora told POPSUGAR.

Likewise, Dr. Patel's patients with IBD seem to find more relief from their symptoms with products derived from marijuana, rather than hemp. While the plants are very similar, there's a specific legal distinction: unlike cannabis, hemp can contain only a very small percentage of THC.

Still, "this is only anecdotal evidence, as we need more research to understand why CBD works and what doses and ingredients work best," Dr. Verbora said. For now, one study found that IBS and related conditions may be caused by a deficiency in naturally occurring cannabinoids within the body, which makes potentially treating them with cannabis-based medicine not a far-off conclusion.

Should You Try It?

While there's no research to confirm whether CBD is an effective treatment for stomach issues, it is considered to be safe by the World Health Organization, meaning there's no physical harm in trying it.

"The biggest risk to patients is that they spend a few hundred dollars," Dr. Verbora said, with no guarantee that it will work. Still, "cannabis is an option for people living with IBS symptoms that are not well-managed, and you should seek out a physician's help in trying it, if you're interested."

A doctor can help you determine the right product and dosage to start, but Dr. Patel recommends keeping tabs on your intake as well. "Track the exact amount of milligrams you're taking of CBD and THC, and the effect it has on your symptoms, as well as any side effects, and adjust accordingly," she said. That means you should check that CBD oil is properly labeled before you buy.

Any cannabis products referenced above are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The writer is not a medical doctor, and their experience is based on personal use, the results of which may not be typical or intended. The legality of cannabis products varies by state, and readers are encouraged to check their local laws before purchasing and using cannabis products. Nothing in this article should be construed as advice regarding the legal status of cannabis products. Any views expressed in this article by a third-party sponsor are those of such sponsor, and do not necessarily represent the views of POPSUGAR.