December 31, 2021

Are CBD & The ECS Missing Links In IBS & IBD Treatment?

If you have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or IBD (irritable bowel disease), you know these gastrointestinal disorders can seriously cramp your style.

Although IBS and IBD have their differences (which we’ll explore shortly), they share many symptoms, namely cramps, bloating, and bowel movements that sneak up urgently and often.

They’re also both psychosomatic, meaning mental state can cause or worsen the physical symptoms to some degree. Anxiety and depression are prevalent in people with IBS and IBD, especially in severe cases.(1,2)

A recent discovery may have lifted the lid on not only the mental and physical symptoms, but possibly even the root cause of some GI disorders. That discovery is called the endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short.

In this article, we’re catching up with the newfangled ECS development and how the cannabinoid CBD (yeah, that one found in cannabis) is being digested in this fresh tract of research.

If gut health is a new topic to you, no worries — we have an article calledWhy Gut Health Is So Important & How CBD Can Help that can get you up to speed!


We mentioned that IBS and IBD are gastrointestinal disorders and psychosomatic conditions, so you know why they’re often lumped together.

But knowing what sets them apart from each other is key to understanding this latest dump of ECS and GI research we’re about to sift through. So let's make sure we’re all reading from the same book here.

What Is IBD?

The term IBD is used to describe diseases that cause intestinal inflammation, which can do permanent damage to the digestive tract. These diseases include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Anemia, weight loss, fever, and blood in stool are symptoms of IBD, but not IBS.

What Is IBS?

IBS is a syndrome. A syndrome is a condition characterized by groups of symptoms that evade medical explanation. For IBS, those symptoms are abdominal pain or discomfort, gassiness, constipation that seems to be tag-teaming with diarrhea, bloating, nausea, and reeeeeally having to go.

IBS is caused by a disturbance in the lines of communication between the brain and the gut.

With these definitions in your gut health dictionary, you’re ready to…

Meet Your Endocannabinoid System

We’ve only known about the existence of the ECS since the 1980s. Since then, the ECS has been traced to organs, systems, and functions that are vital for physical and mental health. Digestion and the gut are no exception.

In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a part of your body not occupied by the ECS. Rather than having one physical location, it’s a head-to-toe network of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids.

  • Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids that naturally exist in your body. They act as neurotransmitters, meaning they speak the language of your nervous system, which allows them to pass messages around.
  • Receptors known as cannabinoid receptors or CB receptors receive and process messages transmitted by endocannabinoids. There are two types of receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors (easy enough to remember, right?). CB1 receptors are most dominant in the central nervous system and brain. Meanwhile, CB2 receptors like to live in organs and the immune system.
  • Enzymesregulate chemical reactions in the ECS network. You can think of enzymes as the digestive system of the ECS. Once your body gets what it needs from the endocannabinoid, enzymes break it down.


Together, these components work to keep your body in a state of balance by managing communication between systems and pathways, like the hormones and nerves that link your gut to your brain.

Interestingly, cannabinoids in plants (like CBD in cannabis) can plug into CB receptors in place of or in combination with endocannabinoids. We’ll be double-clicking on that subject soon, but for now, just plant the seed in your noggin that CBD is in the big picture.

Just like any other system in your body, your ECS can be thrown off kilter. When that happens, it can trigger clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD).

CECD = When Your ECS Isn’t Feeling 100%

CECD is a medical theory that suggests imbalances and dysfunctions in the ECS can result in illnesses.

The idea of CECD stems from the discovery of ECS variations in people who have migraines and post-traumatic stress disorder.(3) Further backing this up is evidence that the ECS is behind digestive action and inflammation in the gut.(4)

It’s not yet clear exactly why ECS disruption occurs or the scope of what it does to the body, but it does offer a glimmer of hope for people with psychosomatic conditions and gut health issues in general. CECD could explain why syndromes like IBS happen, why inflammation in the gut flares up, and why and how these issues tie into mood and mental health.

To fully grasp the link between CECD and GI disorders and where those cannabinoid thingies fit into the equation, we need to take a closer look at the relationship between the ECS and the gut.

ECS, CECD & GI Disorders

We’ve learned what the ECS is and what can happen when it's not working properly. Now it’s time to break down its role in the gut.

The ECS:(5)

  • Regulates inflammation. Yep, that means gut inflammation (and pain) related to IBD.
  • Keeps gut motility in check. Gut motility is muscular contractions that make digestion possible. Too much gut motility equals diarrhea. Too little equals constipation. Chronic gut motility issues could equal IBS.
  • Helps your gut communicate with your brain (and vice versa). By reducing inflammation and regulating gut motility, the ECS sends a signal to your brain that everything’s good in your gut hood. And by stabilizing your nervous system and hormones, it prevents stress and mood disturbances from tripping up your gut.

Ultimately, the role of the endocannabinoid system in the gut-brain axis is pretty remarkable. It fills in the gaps of what we know about how the gut and brain work together, especially why gut inflammation and digestive issues tend to go hand-in-hand with anxiety and depression.

You might say the ECS is a gut health revelation!

CBD & GI Disorders

You’ve been mighty patient while we navigated this maze of gut, brain, and ECS connections. Now it’s time to learn where cannabinoids come in, with a focus on CBD.

CBD (cannabidiol) is one of the main cannabinoids in cannabis. It’s non-psychoactive which makes it more accessible and practical for therapeutic use.

  • CBD appears to stimulate CB1 receptors, which may help regulate appetite, nausea, and gut motility.(6)
  • Through dancing with CB2 receptors, CBD has an anti-inflammatory effect that could curb inflammation caused by IBD.(7)
  • According to a 2020 review of CBD and THC, cannabinoids have been found to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life in patients with IBD.(8)

Remember how we hinted that cannabinoids can tap into your ECS? Well, once the CBD interacts with CB receptors, it can restore balance to an unbalanced ECS. So if CECD is causing things to get jumbled up in your GI system, CBD might be able to set things straight.

Remember, CECD is still considered to be a theory and our understanding of the ECS is still developing.

Still, people have been using cannabis for nausea and tummy troubles of all kinds for thousands of years. With CBD being well tolerated by most folks, you might consider it to calm the choppy seas of IBS or IBD.

How To Use CBD Oil For IBS & IBD

If you’re seeing a doctor for your tummy troubles, it’s important to run your CBD plans by your care provider before you get started.

Once you have your MD’s A-OK, try a high-quality CBD product daily. Start with a low dose and gradually increase it over the course of several days. Eventually, you should hit upon the right routine for your needs.

When we say “high-quality CBD,” we mean:

  • CBD that’s made with pure ingredients. Avoid fillers and additives so as not to disrupt your gut with unnecessary add-ins.
  • CBD that works. Bioavailability (absorbability) is important when it comes to CBD. Nano CBD has up to 90% absorption, versus only about 20% with regular CBD oil.
  • CBD you can trust. Read reviews and check the certificate of analysis to see what third-party testing revealed about its contents.

Something else to chew on is what form of CBD to use. Since topical CBD is most effective for on-the-spot muscle and joint pain relief, an indigestible form of CBD — like CBD oil tincture or softgels — will send the cannabinoids where they’re needed most. If you find pills and tinctures hard to swallow, CBD gummies are a tasty alternative!

The Belly Of The Matter

Uncovering the ECS has changed how we think about gut health. CECD could be a missing link in IBS and IBD, and CBD might be a valuable tool for restoring ECS balance. While more research is needed before cannabinoids are used for IBS and IBD treatment, CBD has a “tract” record for calming tummies and minds.

Before starting a CBD regimen for your GI disorder, check in with your doc for the all-clear signal. When giving CBD a go, remember to vet your products for purity and efficacy and opt for edible CBD products.



  1. Gao, X, et al. (2021). Symptoms of anxiety/depression is associated with more aggressive inflammatory bowel disease. Sci Rep.
  2. (2021). Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). American Depression Association of America.
  3. Russo, EB. (2016). Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res.
  4. Wong, BS, et al. (2012). Randomized pharmacodynamic and pharmacogenetic trial of dronabinol effects on colon transit in irritable bowel syndrome-diarrhea. Neurogastroenterol Motil.
  5. Hasenoehrl, C, (2016). The gastrointestinal tract – a central organ of cannabinoid signaling in health and disease. Neurogastroenterol Motil.
  6. Izzo, AA, (2010). Cannabinoids and the gut: new developments and emerging concepts. Pharmacology & therapeutics.
  7. Nagarkatti, P, et al. (2009). Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future medicinal chemistry.
  8. Cardona, CC, et al. (2020). Cannabis in inflammatory bowel disease: a narrative summary. Rev Col Gastroenterol.

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