Medical Marijuana and IBS Relief
Robert Burakoff, MD, MPH, is board-certified in gastroentrology. He is the vice chair for ambulatory services for the department of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
With many U.S. states passing laws that legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, you may be wondering if medical marijuana would be a helpful treatment option for your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Learn about the potential benefits and risks of marijuana and what is known about its usefulness in addressing the symptoms of IBS.
Marijuana itself is typically a mixture of the dried leaves and flowers (and less typically the seeds and stems) of Cannabis sativa, also known as the hemp plant. Its effect on the body is primarily due to a cannabinoid chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which creates its mind-altering effects.
People have used marijuana for centuries in order to feel high, as part of a spiritual practice, or to ease symptoms of pain, nausea, and vomiting. Its use for medicinal purposes is controversial and remains a matter of great debate among users, scientists, and governing bodies.
The term “medical marijuana” was coined to describe the use of the Cannabis plant, either in whole or extract form, to treat symptoms or diseases.
Medical Marijuana and IBS Relief
It might be interesting to learn that we have cannabinoid chemicals within our bodies as part of our endocannabinoid system. The system is not perfectly understood, but we know that it consists of cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoid chemicals.
The receptors are located all throughout our central and peripheral nervous systems, and a large number of them are also located within our digestive system, which has led scientists to investigate ways to use them to help with conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and peptic ulcer disease.
The first researcher to make a connection between marijuana and IBS was Ethan B. Russo who, in 2003, theorized that IBS and other health conditions were the results of a deficiency in the amount of the body’s own cannabinoid chemicals.
As support for his theory, he pointed to the fact that IBS is frequently seen alongside fibromyalgia and migraine headaches, two health conditions that Russo also theorized might involve the endocannabinoid system of the body.
Further research has lent some support to Russo’s theories. Research on animals, for example, has shown that endocannabinoids affect gut motility and visceral hypersensitivity, both of which are factors that have long been highlighted as contributing to the pain, bloat, feelings of fullness, and bathroom problems associated with IBS.
Endocannabinoids also protect the digestive system from inflammation and stomach acids. This line of inquiry thus seems to lead naturally into the question of whether medical marijuana might be an effective treatment for IBS symptoms.
As of now, there do not seem to be many research studies on the use of smoked marijuana for IBS. From the few randomized controlled trials that do exist, one theory is that cannabinoids in marijuana affect acetylcholine and opioid receptors in addition to cannabis receptors, in this way providing IBS symptom improvement.
Other studies suggest that those with diarrhea-predominate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D) and alternating IBS may benefit from dronabinol (a type of cannabinoid often used with cancer patients) because it decreases gut transit and increases colon compliance.
As for the prescription forms of medical marijuana, a few studies have looked at the effectiveness of Marinol, a synthetic form of THC. Results have not been overwhelmingly positive. Although there was some limited evidence that the medication reduces large intestine contractions, results on pain relief have been mixed.
However, due to the fact that the endogenous cannabinoid system is involved in so many digestive system symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, ulcers, reflux, and diarrhea, it is thought that further development of pharmaceutical medications targeting the endocannabinoid system of the body is certainly warranted.
Medical Marijuana and Getting High
Depending on the strain that is used, you might get a feeling of being “high.” In addition, you may experience feelings of having sensations feel altered, your mood may change, your thinking skills (judgment, problem-solving, memory) may be impaired, and you may experience diminished control over your muscles.
It is the THC in marijuana that causes all of these central nervous system changes. Another component of marijuana, cannabidiol (CBD), offers symptom relief but without causing brain and motor functioning changes.
Medications or strains of medical marijuana that are high in CBD but low in THC will not cause you to experience “high” sensations.
For medicinal effects, non-prescription forms of marijuana are best smoked or vaporized. Vaporizing reduces the risk of damage to the lungs that can occur with smoking.
And although therapeutic benefits are slower to occur and may be lessened, marijuana can also be consumed through edibles, including cookies, brownies, lollipops, and teas. For optimal effects and safety, prescription medical marijuana may be the best option.
Risks of Marijuana Use
Although proponents of marijuana argue that it can be used safely, it is not without risks. This does not mean that all people who use medical marijuana will experience these problems. But risks are heightened for people who are older or for those who are suffering from an illness that affects the immune system.
These risks are also heightened in street forms of the drug, due to a lack of purity. And your susceptibility to these risks is also increased with the heavier use of the drug.
The potential negative effects of marijuana, whether in a plant or synthetic form, include the following:
- Addiction or dependence
- Interference with normal brain development
- Lung damage (when smoked)
- Cognitive problems, with negative effects on judgment, concentration, memory, and balance
- Increased risk of testicular cancer (when smoked)
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Birth defects (when used by a woman who is pregnant)
- Mental health problems
Many of these potential negative effects hold true for the synthetic forms of medical marijuana.
Severe side effects associated with the use of prescription medical marijuana medications include an increased risk of seizures, hallucinations, arrhythmias, and tachycardia.
If any of the following applies to you, you should not use marijuana for any reason, medical or otherwise:
- You are not yet age 25 or older—due to concerns about your brain development.
- Have a current or history of a substance abuse disorder, including addiction or dependence on marijuana
- If you or any member of your family has a history of a psychotic psychiatric disorder
- If you are pregnant, planning on getting pregnant, or breastfeeding an infant
- You have heart disease
- You have any kind of a lung disease
As of this writing, the federal government considers marijuana use in any form to be illegal. However, a number of states have either made the use of recreational or medical marijuana legal.
In states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana, there are often restrictions on the amount allowed and the conditions for which it can be used. Here are some resources:
- State Medical Marijuana Laws
- Legal Medical Marijuana States
- State Marijuana Laws Map
Where It Stands
Having IBS can be a very frustrating experience as its symptoms can be quite difficult to get under control. And although there are some prescription medications for the disorder and its symptoms, the relief from these treatments is often incomplete and unsatisfying. This unfortunate state of affairs has led people who have IBS to seek alternative remedies, one of which is the use of marijuana.
The use of marijuana as a viable treatment for IBS has not yet been supported by research. The uses of prescription forms of medical marijuana have neither been shown to have clear benefits for IBS nor have they been approved by the FDA for use as a treatment for IBS.
The last factor to consider is the legality of medical marijuana for IBS as most, if not all, state laws have not yet necessarily included IBS as a specified allowed condition.
A Word From Verywell
The good news is that there does appear to be a connection between the endocannabinoid system and its receptors and digestive symptoms. This suggests that the potential exists for a pharmaceutical medication that targets these receptors may provide relief from IBS symptoms.
As pharmaceutical companies are now seeing the potential profits of effective IBS medications, due to the sheer number of people who have the disorder, there is hope that they will focus their research efforts on the development of medications that target the endocannabinoid system and that are proved to be effective for IBS.
It’s also important to note that ongoing research may discover other useful components of marijuana, apart from THC. The chemical complexity of marijuana may also be why the few studies on its benefit for IBS have returned mixed results.
The bottom line is that more research is needed which will clarify the role of cannabis as a treatment for IBS, and what dosages could help with digestive issues. In the meantime, your best course of action is to work with your doctor on a symptom management plan that is right for you.
Have you considered trying marijuana to ease your IBS symptoms? Learn all about the safety, effectiveness, and legality of medical marijuana for IBS.
Updated on April 13, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
When it comes to your digestive system, does marijuana for diarrhea work? According to many happy patients, it does. Good health begins in your gut. Medical cannabis works like a dietary supplement or food when your body absorbs it. It even has some control over your gastrointestinal system. Keep reading to learn why this miracle herb is a beneficial natural treatment when you’re suffering from diarrhea.
How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Diarrhea
While medical cannabis does treat diarrhea and constipation, in some cases, it could cause them too. Patients who vaporize or smoke medical pot don’t experience these symptoms. But, if you use oils or edibles to treat your illness, you could experience these side effects.
According to some earlier studies, THC can slow your digestive tract down. Oils and edibles could have ingredients in them affecting how slowly or quickly your digestive system processes food.
To date, several states have approved medical marijuana for qualifying conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s, both of which cause some or most patients to have diarrhea.
The Positive Effect of Medical Marijuana for Diarrhea
With common cases of this condition, diarrhea can go away without treatment, but if it persists, an individual may become extremely dehydrated or pass blood in their stool. Medical marijuana is a potentially beneficial treatment option for bowel disorders and stomach problems. With the use of cannabis as an alternative treatment option, symptoms of diarrhea have subsided greatly, and the overall condition of the patient improved as well.
Cannabis works as a motivator for the anodyne part of morphine, which stimulates the central nervous system and serves as a natural appetite booster. Medical marijuana makes a phenomenal stride in the department of speeding up your digestive tract to recover faster from your condition.
Cannabinoid receptor agonists interrupt and delay gastric emptying in both rodents and humans. They could also hinder gastric acid secretion. THC and other synthetic and natural cannabinoids possess anti-inflammatory properties. The cannabinoids in cannabis for diarrhea helps stop the cramping by relaxing intestinal smooth muscle contractions.
Your body has cannabinoids called anandamides affecting the neurological systems. These systems control your gastrointestinal system. Internal and external cannabinoids have great control over gastrointestinal inflammation and motility, according to research. Additionally, they help reduce gastrointestinal fluid secretion.
What Side Effects and Symptoms of Diarrhea Can Medical Marijuana Treat?
Although researchers are still building evidence, those with a basic understanding of medical cannabis know how it relieves symptoms in different conditions. Medical marijuana can significantly help with gastrointestinal system disorders like nausea and poor appetite.
Activated cannabinoids can:
- Improve intestinal motility
- Relax digestive muscles
- Decrease abdominal pain and cramping
- Decrease inflammation
- Decrease spasms
Cannabinoids like CBD and THC enter your body in the gut through key receptors. They work as anti-inflammatories while signaling your brain to improve regulation of your systems.
Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Diarrhea Symptoms and Their Side Effects
Like with most conditions, medical cannabis for diarrhea works by treating the symptoms. Therefore, when choosing your medical cannabis strain, you want to specifically target the symptoms you’re experiencing with your diarrhea. As mentioned above, weed can help with abdominal pain and cramping, inflammation, nausea, loss of appetite, depression and anxiety and other symptoms.
Below are some common strains to target these specific symptoms.
Abdominal Pain and Cramping
- Honey Bananas (hybrid)
- Black Diesel (Sativa)
- Grape Kush (hybrid)
- Lemon G (Sativa)
- Cookies Kush (Indica)
- Mazar I Sharif (Indica)
- King’s Kush (Indica)
- Orange Haze (hybrid)
- Allen Wrench (Sativa)
Loss of Appetite
- Ice (hybrid)
- Sugar Kush (Indica)
- Purple Candy (hybrid)
Depression and Anxiety
- Sour Tangie (Sativa)
- LA Kush (hybrid)
- Caramelicious (hybrid)
Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for the Side Effects and Symptoms of Diarrhea
Medical cannabis is a plant with a complex chemical form and isn’t the same as taking a pill. Budtenders can grow the plants in a lab to create different variations of strains to help with different conditions and symptoms.
Administering your marijuana and diarrhea treatment is also part of this equation and also has different variations. You may consume cannabis in many ways. Each way will have its benefits and drawbacks, and you don’t get the same dosage in each delivery method. You’ll likely go through a trial-and-error phase before you get marijuana’s medicinal value perfectly tailored to your symptoms.
However, once you find the methods working for you through experimentation, you’ll begin seeing the benefits. Patients have tried these delivery methods with success, and they could be a good starting point for you.
- Smoking cannabis
- Cannabis oils
- Beverages that absorb right into your gastrointestinal tract
A cannabis doctor will be able to give you recommendations for your symptoms, but you’ll still have a lot of leeway in finding the right cannabis and diarrhea treatment strain and delivery method that’s right for you.
Get Relief From Your Diarrhea With Medical Marijuana
If you’re interested in beginning marijuana and diarrhea treatment, need more information or are seeking consultation from a medical cannabis physician, visit our website to begin your search for a doctor or find a dispensary. MarijuanaDoctors.com pre-screens all their cannabis doctors to ensure they’re licensed and experienced to prescribe marijuana for your qualifying condition. They’ll help you tailor the perfect medical weed treatment regimen for your unique situation.
What Is Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is water and loose bowel movements or stool. If you have three or more loose bowel movements in a day, you have diarrhea. Acute diarrhea doesn’t last very long and is a common issue for many people. It typically lasts for no more than a couple of days and will go away on its own.
If your diarrhea lasts for more than the common one to two days, it could indicate a more serious problem. For instance, if you have chronic diarrhea continuing for more than four weeks, it could be a sign of a chronic disease, and you’ll want to have your doctor check you out right away.
Anyone can get diarrhea, no matter what age they are. Adults in the U.S., on average, have acute diarrhea at least once annually. Children have it at least twice a year on average. Those visiting other countries and consuming contaminated water or food may end up with traveler’s diarrhea.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
The primary symptom of diarrhea is when you pass watery, loose bowel movements more than a couple of times a day.
With diarrhea, you may also experience symptoms such as:
- The urgent need to go to the bathroom
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of bowel movement control
If an infection causes your diarrhea, you may experience:
- Fever and chills
- Bloody stools
- Dizziness and light-headedness
Diarrhea could lead to malabsorption and dehydration.
History of Diarrhea
A study shows diarrhea-related death in children in the U.S. declined significantly from the 1960s and into the 1980s. Between the first three years and the last two years of the study, there was a 40 percent increase in the diarrhea-related death rate. And, while mortality among children in the U.S. did stabilize, it seems to be growing recently.
Types of Diarrhea
Perhaps surprisingly, several types of diarrhea exist, including:
You have acute diarrhea when you have three or more loose, watery bowel movements a day lasting for 13 days or less. When you have it 14 days or more, doctors call it persistent. Infectious agents like bacteria, viruses or parasites usually cause acute diarrhea, and the condition doesn’t require medicine unless you’re immunocompromised.
This type lasts two weeks or longer. Persistent diarrhea may result from an underlying condition, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.
If your diarrhea continues for more than a month, it’s chronic diarrhea. Like persistent diarrhea, chronic, inflammatory bowel conditions, like colitis and Crohn’s disease, are often associated with it.
Traveler’s diarrhea is an intestinal and stomach infection occurring due to unsanitary food handling. If food handlers don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, they can transmit the infection to others who are consuming the contaminated food.
Certain developing countries have a higher risk of contracting traveler’s diarrhea, such as the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Your risk of traveler’s diarrhea will depend on where you’re consuming the food. You have a relatively low risk if you’re eating food you prepare on your own, and a higher likelihood if consuming food from street vendors. The E. coli bacterium is the most common offender.
Diarrhea Based on Pathophysiology
Four other mechanisms of how the illness occurs can put diarrhea under a whole different classification. These types of diarrhea include:
- Inflammatory Diarrhea—With this diarrhea, your colon lining becomes inflamed, causing bloody diarrhea. Individuals with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis get this type of diarrhea more often than others.
- Osmotic Diarrhea—This condition is where you have water retention in your bowel due to a build-up of non-absorbable substances. A good example is sugar substitutes, like mannitol and sorbitol, which slow absorption and cause rapid small intestine motility.
- Motility-Related Diarrhea — You may have digestive system function changes because of certain conditions which affect absorption. Irritable bowel syndrome, hyperthyroidism or having a partial gastrectomy are examples of conditions or situations causing motility-related diarrhea.
- Secretory Diarrhea — Your body releases water into your small intestine when there’s something affecting electrolyte absorption. Certain drugs and infection can cause this type of diarrhea.
All types of diarrhea can lead to dehydration and keep your body from performing its essential functions. If left untreated, this can result in other serious problems like:
- Kidney failure
- Hypovolemic shock
You can avoid these complications by receiving proper treatment promptly.
Effects of Diarrhea
Acute diarrhea is typically harmless. But you’re at risk of dehydration with chronic diarrhea due to fluid loss. Dehydration can be life-threatening, so it’s crucial you’re drinking lots of fluids. You may be suffering from dehydration if you experience:
- Excessive thirst
- Dark urine
If you experience any signs of dehydration, see your doctor.
Your small intestine works to absorb nutrients. Small intestine malfunctions leading to chronic diarrhea can result in malnutrition.
Diarrhea can hinder your absorption of nutrients and lead to malnutrition. Additionally, malnutrition makes you more susceptible to infections resulting in diarrhea. Symptoms and signs of malnutrition include:
- Poor growth
- Decaying teeth
- Learning difficulties
- Dry skin
When your intestines don’t absorb fluids, minerals or electrolytes stay in your stool, and when you have a bout of diarrhea, they get flushed out. Your body needs the right electrolyte balance to support organ functions, maintain blood chemistry and help in muscle actions.
While studies of the mental effects of diarrhea are limited, there may be a link between certain symptoms and corresponding emotional responses. Some responses may include:
For instance, diarrhea is common in people with HIV/AIDS and is quite distressing to them.
One study, in particular, shows an association between diarrhea and poor quality of life in patients with certain illnesses like HIV/AIDS. These patients claimed their diarrhea was controlling them — it made them feel dirty and ashamed. Not being able to control where and when they experienced diarrhea caused these patients with a great deal of emotional distress.
Diarrhea often makes individuals fearful of being humiliated in public if they experience fecal incontinence. It leaves these individuals feeling like they need to limit their activities to avoid the possibility of this happening. Living a more inhibited life can result in conditions such as:
- Social isolation
- Feelings of loneliness
- Diminished quality of life
Symptoms of diarrhea can also lead to anxiety when it undermines the individual’s sense of control over their health and increases feelings of vulnerability.
Facts related to diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:
- One in nine children in the world diesfrom diarrheal diseases — 2,195 children a day.
- Around 88 percent of deaths associated with diarrhea are due to inadequate sanitation, unsafe water and insufficient hygiene.
The Cleveland Clinic estimates:
- Adults in the U.S. experience around 99 million acute diarrhea episodes or gastroenteritis each year.
- These episodes lead to around 8 million doctor visits a year and more than 250,000 adult hospital admissions.
Current Treatments Available for Diarrhea and Their Side Effects
If your diarrhea is short-term and mild, you typically don’t need to take anything for it. You may try to alleviate symptoms with over-the-counter medications like loperamide or bismuth subsalicylate.
Diarrhea will stop on its own without treatment in a couple of days. Your doctor may prescribe you certain medications or another treatment if home remedies and lifestyle changes don’t stop your diarrhea.
If you have a condition causing your diarrhea, such as inflammatory bowel disease, your physician will prescribe treatment to control the condition. They may also refer you to a gastroenterologist.
Common diarrhea treatment methods are listed below.
The ideal way to replace your fluids is by drinking water, but water doesn’t contain essential electrolytes, salts and minerals like potassium and sodium. Your body needs these. Along with water, eat soup for sodium and drink fruit juices to get your potassium. Don’t drink apple juice, however, because it can make your diarrhea worse.
If you experience more occurrences of diarrhea or an upset stomach by drinking fluids, your doctor may suggest you receive your fluids through a vein in your arm.
The doctor may suggest an oral rehydration solution for children like Pedialyte to replace fluids or prevent dehydration.
If parasites or bacteria are causing your diarrhea, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. However, antibiotics won’t help if you have diarrhea due to a virus. Side effects of antibiotics could include:
- Severe watery diarrhea
- Vaginal discharge or itching
- White patches on your tongue
- Allergic reactions like shortness of breath, lip and tongue swelling and rash
See your doctor if you’re experiencing side effects from the antibiotics. They may prescribe you another treatment.
See how medical marijuana could help relieve your diarrhea symptoms. The THC in weed can slow your digestive tract down and help with diarrhea.