CBD for Gut Health: The Complete Guide

The gut refers to your gastrointestinal (GI) system — the tract of your digestive system that leads from your mouth to your anus, and goes through the oesophagus, stomach, and small and large intestine. This is the passage that food and liquids travel through when they are swallowed, broken down, absorbed and then eliminated from the body through waste. 

Gut health is a term used to describe the overall health and function of the digestive system. The health of your gut is often determined by the levels and types of bacteria in your digestive intestinal tract. Although poor gut health does affect your digestion (and might lead to constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and longer-term digestive disorders), it can also have a tangible impact on your mood and immune system function. Research has also shown that poor gut health can lead to nutrient deficiencies, weight gain, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It is therefore important that you both listen to, and look after, your gut. This is where Cannabidiol (CBD) could help.

How CBD Can Improve Gut Health

Although most research has focused on its effects on the brain and nervous system, there is evidence to suggest that CBD could be beneficial for gut health.

One 2018 study found that full-spectrum CBD oil, which contained some THC, helped ease some Crohn’s disease symptoms, and a 2017 study found that cannabinoids could be helpful for certain symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Other research in 2017 found that CBD reduced inflammation, as well as prevented inflammation from occurring at all, in mice with ulcerative colitis. Their research also found that CBD was an effective anti-inflammatory agent, whether the biopsy was from a patient in remission or experiencing active disease.

Another study found that CBD was able to reduce nausea and vomiting in rats, while another found that it was able to protect against damage to the digestive tract caused by alcohol consumption.

This is because CBD is thought to have two key abilities: reducing inflammation, and modulating our endocannabinoid system. 

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Inflammation is a natural response from the immune system to tissue damage or infection. However, chronic inflammation can cause and worsen digestive disorders.

Research indicates that CBD might be able to reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and activating anti-inflammatory pathways, which might be beneficial in reducing inflammation in the digestive tract that is associated with digestive disorders. 

Modulate Endocannabinoid System 

The endocannabinoid system — a complex, cell-signalling system — is thought to regulate many of your body’s functions, including sleep, mood, digestion, appetite, metabolism, and immune function. There are two main endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system.
  • CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system.

Experts believe there is a third, undiscovered receptor, but this is inconclusive. 

Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor, with the result dependent on where the receptor is. For example, endocannabinoids may target CB1 receptors in a spinal nerve to relieve pain. Research suggests that CBD might be able to bind to your CB1 or CB2 receptors, which many believe stop endocannabinoids from being broken down, allowing them to have more of an effect. 

CBD for Gut Health: The Complete Guide

THC binding to cannabinoid receptor, illustration (Science Photo Library).

In addition to its anticipated anti-inflammatory and ECS-modulating properties, CBD might also be able to support gut health by reducing stress. Chronic stress and anxiety have been linked to a range of digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so reducing these conditions might also help to improve gut health.

However, there hasn’t been enough clinical studies on cannabinoid-based medication for patients, leaving medical professionals without guidelines as to what can be used and applied to patient observations. This is where clinical researchers come back in —— “there is a new drug target to explore, to treat patients that suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, and perhaps other diseases, as well.” (Professor Beth McCormick, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School).

On the same note, while the evidence suggests that CBD might be able to support your gut health, it is not a replacement for traditional medical treatment and should not be used as a sole therapy for any gut or digestive condition. 

CBD Dosage for Gut Health

There is no set serving size for CBD. In general, it is recommended that you start with a low dosage of CBD and increase it as needed, until you find a dosage that is effective for you — this is what we call the low and slow approach. 

You should follow the dosing instructions provided by the manufacturer of your specific CBD, as well as speak with a healthcare professional if you are unsure if it’s right for you and your gut.

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