Jack Harley, Therapeutic Neuroscience at Oxford University
reviewed by Dr Michael Yapko
Friday, October 8, 2021
Jack Harley, Therapeutic Neuroscience at Oxford University
Friday, October 8, 2021

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’.

A diagram showing which compounds of cannabis are psychoactive, and which are not.

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.

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How might CBD help with IBS?

There are three ways in which CBD could help to relieve symptoms of IBS.

Firstly, it may help with abdominal pain which is experienced by two-thirds of IBS patients.

CBD is well known for its pain-reducing properties, and it has been shown to reduce inflammation. The CBD receptors in the gut are linked with nerve cells that control pain in the internal organs.

Secondly, stress and digestive troubles are inherently linked. For some people, stress is a major trigger for their IBS symptoms. CBD has shown benefits in stress management so it may help decrease the frequency of the triggers.  

Finally, there is growing evidence that supports the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of anxiety disorders. A 2011 study found that CBD reduced anxiety levels for Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) in the acutely stressful situation of public speaking.

The link between IBS and anxiety has been shown and is known to go in both directions: IBS can increase your feelings of anxiety and anxiety may increase your IBS symptoms. CBD could act as a circuit breaker.

It is worth pointing out that due to limited research, there’s not enough evidence to promote the use of CBD for IBS. However, the research is continually unfolding and it is possible that the medical status of CBD for IBS may change in the near future.

CBD Safety

CBD products such as hemp oil are derived from industrial hemp plants and contain very low amounts of THC. However, CBD products are currently marketed as supplements, which are not regulated for safety and purity by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. So, as with all supplements, it’s a good idea to be mindful of where you source your CBD and make sure you talk to your doctor first.

Potential side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue and irritability.

Is CBD legal?

CBD can live in a grey area of legalities, depending on where you live. In the US, laws are different in each state. In the UK, it depends on how much THC the oil contains (which, in theory, should be very little).

In Australia, CBD is a prescription medication when prepared appropriately. It cannot be purchased over-the-counter (OTC) or online. Doctors must apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for an approval to prescribe products containing CBD.

No matter where you live, be aware that the laws are constantly changing, especially as the research unfolds. If you have concerns, make sure to speak to your doctor and look up the legislation in your location.

The Wrap Up

CBD is being researched as a treatment or management tool for a variety of health conditions such as chronic pain, seizures, and gastrointestinal complaints. CBD is sourced from the cannabis plant but does not produce a ‘high’. Recent research suggests that CBD may hold promise in addressing IBS symptoms. However, more conclusive research is needed to show how beneficial CBD is for IBS symptoms. If you are considering taking CBD for IBS then talk to your doctor first and be aware of your local legislation.

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Our Sources

Mindset Health only uses high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed research, to support our articles. We work with experts to ensure our content is helpful, accurate and trustworthy.

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