Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 10% to 15% of adults in the United States. It’s a functional gastrointestinal disorder — a disorder of the brain-gut reaction — categorized by recurring or persistent abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, gas, and changes in bowel movements that can range in severity from mild to debilitating. No matter what, they can significantly impact your daily life, which, along with being uncomfortable, can be incredibly frustrating.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. There appears to be an issue with how the gut and the brain interact with one another. As a result, those living with IBS tend to have a more sensitive gastrointestinal system. Certain stimuli change how the muscles in the bowels contract, causing symptoms. Symptoms may also occur — or worsen — with certain types of food, stress, or medical conditions.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBS. However, there are ways to manage your symptoms. One of the most common treatments is dietary and lifestyle changes. A doctor may recommend eating more fiber, limiting or eliminating dairy, avoiding gluten, and following a low FODMAP diet. They may also recommend drinking more water, exercising more, reducing stress with relaxation techniques, and keeping a journal of triggers.
Prescription medications are also common. Doctors may prescribe low-dose antidepressants, smooth muscle relaxants, antibiotics, or IBS-specific drugs. Although they can help, these medications also have a range of side effects. And for some people, they may provide no relief or worse, exacerbate IBS symptoms.
For those looking to avoid the side effects of conventional medications or who get no relief from traditional treatments, managing symptoms and living a regular life can feel impossible. You’re not out of options, though. Medical cannabis for IBS may provide an alternative solution.
How Can Cannabis Help With IBS?
In the early 2000s, researcher Ethan Russo theorized that IBS (along with several other conditions) may stem from an imbalance or deficiency in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for maintaining the balance of multiple functions within your body, including mood, sleep, temperature, immune system functioning, the reproductive system, and the digestive system.
Research following Russo’s theory supports it. For example, some studies show that endocannabinoids play a role in gut motility and hypersensitivity, two factors that may play a role in causing IBS symptoms.
Cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids which, when ingested, interact with receptors throughout your body known as cannabinoid (CB) receptors. These compounds function similarly to naturally produced endocannabinoids, helping to restore balance in your ECS.
Current research shows the plant may be beneficial for relieving symptoms of numerous conditions, including:
- Chronic pain and arthritis
- Stress and anxiety disorders
- Side effects of cancer treatment (such as nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
Although limited, research also highlights a few potential benefits of medical cannabis for IBS. For instance, a 2020 study found a link between cannabis use and decreased healthcare utilization, suggesting that cannabis may provide relief for IBS sufferers. More specific potential benefits of cannabis for IBS include:
Regulating Gastric Motility
Your ECS plays a role in the speed at which the muscles in your digestive system move food through your body. When the system is out of balance, the muscle contractions in the colon may move too quickly or too slowly, causing either diarrhea- or constipation-predominant IBS symptoms. Research suggests that, since the ECS regulates the digestive system, cannabis may help improve gastric motility.
Several studies demonstrate medical cannabis’s ability to alleviate pain. The plant’s pain-relieving benefits may also help IBS sufferers manage discomfort caused by cramping, bloating, and abdominal pressure.
Improving Intestinal Permeability
Some research suggests a link between IBS and increased intestinal permeability. A more permeable membrane allows more substances to pass through it, including harmful ones that could trigger or worsen IBS symptoms. Cannabis may improve intestinal permeability, helping to keep unwanted substances from passing through.
Alleviating Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are among the most common reasons for using cannabis. Many people use it to relax and unwind at the end of the day. Some evidence shows that it’s also beneficial for those with anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For those who have IBS symptoms triggered or worsened by stress and anxiety, cannabis may offer some much-needed relief.
Best Strains for Gastrointestinal Issues
There are hundreds of strains of cannabis out there, each with unique cannabinoid and terpene profiles. While they all have some benefits to offer, some are better for certain conditions — like IBS and other gastrointestinal disorders — than others.
One of the best that we offer here at VidaCann is Tikun Olam’s Alaska, a strain shown to help with nausea, headaches, pain, and inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease. Named for its refreshing taste (thanks to pinene and limonene), this Sativa provides a mild calm and uplifts both your mood and energy.
Another option that may prove beneficial for those with IBS is Tikun Olam’s Erez. Initially bred for sleep disorders, this Indica-dominant strain can help ease severe chronic pain and muscle spasms. It can also help with inflammation, stress, and anxiety.
Of course, these are only a couple of your available options. VidaCann’s Florida dispensaries offer a range of high-quality strains from reputable brands that can help alleviate symptoms, including pain and inflammation, as well as help you manage triggers such as stress and anxiety. What’s more, everyone is different. The best strain for one person may not work for another. Speaking with a knowledgeable budtender can help you determine which strains of cannabis are right for your specific needs.
Speak With Your Doctor About Medical Marijuana for IBS
While there may not be a cure for IBS, there are ways to manage it. The right treatment can help you regain control of your life, allowing you to live it on your terms. If you’re interested in cannabis for IBS, your first step should be to speak with your healthcare provider. Your doctor can go over your medical history, IBS symptoms, and any current medications you’re taking to help you determine if medical cannabis is right for you. If so, visit VidaCann. With a wide array of the highest-quality cannabis products in Florida, you’re sure to find just what you need to ease your symptoms and manage your IBS. Check us out online or visit your nearest VidaCann dispensary to learn more today.