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.
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.
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…
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.
[INCLUDE IMAGE OF CB1 + CB2 INFOGRAPHIC?]
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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