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. Research suggests CBD oil can alleviate symptoms of IBS-C & IBS-D. View the best CBD oils for IBS & how to find a safe & effective dose.
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’.
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.
CBD for IBS: Everything You Need to Know
IBS is frustrating. There are few effective treatments for the condition, which can make it hard to live your life to the fullest.
Here’s how CBD might be able to help.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not life-threatening, but it can severely disrupt the quality of life for those affected.
Roughly 1 out of 10 people in the developed world have symptoms consistent with IBS .
Despite how common the condition is, IBS is not well understood. As a result, there are few effective treatment options available aside from managing symptoms.
Here we’ll go over how CBD may be used to support an IBS diagnosis, how to use it, what its limitations are, and how to get the most out of it with other diet and lifestyld modifications.
MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
Updated on November 14, 2021
Table of Contents
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The Benefits of CBD Oil For IBS
There are many potential causes for IBS, but much of what triggers the condition remains unknown. Most of the causes point to a loss of equilibrium in the digestive tract. So the carefully orchestrated balance involved with digestion, absorption, immune defense, and excretion is compromised.
Cannabidiol (CBD) helps with this problem because it serves as a way to “calibrate” different parts of the body. It does this by improving the communication between cells through the endocannabinoid system.
The benefits of CBD oil for IBS Include:
- Addresses anandamide deficiencies 
- Reduces inflammation [7, 8]
- Inhibits digestive muscle hyperactivity and cramping [5, 6]
- Decreases appetite 
CBD will affect the condition differently depending on the form of IBS.
People who have IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) are likely to experience the most benefit from CBD because cannabis slows muscle contraction in the digestive tract.
But people who have IBS with constipation (IBS-C) can still find benefit from CBD due to the anti-inflammatory, appetite-suppressant, and immune-stimulating properties of the compound.
We’ll get into the different forms of IBS and how CBD is used to support them later on.
What Form of CBD Should I Use?
CBD comes in all different forms. You can buy oils, capsules and concentrates.
When it comes to IBS, the most popular options are oils, capsules, and suppositories.
CBD oils and capsules are easy to take, to store for long periods of time, and can be accurately dosed.
Suppositories have the benefit of delivering the CBD directly to the affected area. This is best for severe IBS-D (more on this below) but can benefit other forms of IBS as well.
What’s The Dose of CBD Oil For IBS?
Dosing CBD can be a challenge because it affects everybody differently.
Some people take 50 mg of CBD per day, while others need more or less.
The dose also depends on the form of CBD you’re taking. As we mentioned, CBD oil and suppositories are the most popular for people with IBS, but the dose for each form varies significantly.
If using oils or capsules, the best way to find a good starting dose it to read through our CBD oil dosing guide.
CBD Dosage Calculator
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For IBS, we recommend starting at the low strength and working your way up slowly to see how you react to CBD.
It will likely take about two or three weeks of regular CBD use before you start noticing any real benefits for your IBS symptoms.
If using CBD suppositories, it’s best to follow the specific instructions listed by the supplier on the packaging. Concentrations can vary from one CBD suppository to the next.
How to Get the Most Out of CBD Oil for IBS
CBD shouldn’t be used alone to treat IBS. This condition is highly complex and involves multiple organ systems.
Other forms of treatment, including dietary changes and physical activity, are essential. If these lifestyle changes aren’t addressed, CBD is not likely to have any effect at all.
You can think of CBD as a bus driver — it will drive the occupants towards a destination, but they can’t arrive without a well-maintained bus filled with gas.
CBD is a tool to help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms of IBS and is used to bring the body back to balance.
What is CBD Oil?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s one of the primary cannabinoids in the cannabis plant.
Most CBD oils on the market today come from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa), which is a strain of cannabis naturally low on THC — the primary psychoactive cannabinoid.
This means that most CBD products on the market have no psychoactive effects.
CBD is used as a health supplement for a wide range of medical conditions. It owes much of its ability to support health to its involvement with the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system regulates balance in the body, otherwise known as homeostasis. This includes the immune, digestive, neurological, musculoskeletal, and integumentary (skin) systems.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS) is classified as a syndrome, rather than a disease because it’s a set of symptoms that can’t be linked to a particular cause.
IBS can be summarized as a “widespread dysfunction of the digestive tract.”
Symptoms involve bloating, abdominal pain, indigestion, and changes in bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea, which can be severe).
The symptoms of IBS are very similar to those of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The difference is that IBD has inflammation present in the gastrointestinal tract, confirmed by Lab tests and special cameras inserted in the digestive system.
If no inflammation is present to confirm a diagnosis of IBD, an IBS diagnosis is given instead.
In this process, there are some diagnostic criteria put in place by various experts, but none of them are conclusive and not all doctors agree on them for a diagnosis of IBS.
The most popular criteria doctors tend to use is something called the Rome III Criteria.
IBS Diagnosis: The Rome III Criteria Checklist
In order to meet a diagnosis of IBS, the patient must have the following symptoms:
- Recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort at least 3 days per month over 3 months
- Symptoms involving at least two of the following characteristics:
- Improvement of symptoms with defecation
- Onset associated with a change in stool frequency
- Onset associated with a change in stool form
If these criteria are met and there is no other explanation for a cause (such as inflammation, traumatic damage, or infectious disease) the patient is diagnosed with IBS.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
3 Types of IBS & the Effects of CBD
20-50% of visits to a gastroenterologist end in a diagnosis of IBS , making it the most common functional disorder of the digestive system.
Gastroenterologists further classify IBS according to the most predominant symptoms:
1. Diarrhea-Dominant IBS (IBS-D)
This refers to IBS presented primarily with diarrhea.
IBS-D symptoms indicate that the bowels are filling with water. Common precursors for this include high sodium foods, a poor gut membrane, and hyperactive muscle activity in the digestive tract.
With high sodium foods and poor membrane control, water begins to accumulate in the areas filled with salty foods. This happens because of a principle in biophysics called osmosis: the water goes where the salt is. As the intestines fill up with water, it causes diarrhea.
Additionally, many people with IBS-D experience hyperactive muscle activity in the intestinal tract. When the muscles become spastic, they experience cramping, abdominal pain, and bloating. The digestive tract pushes food through too quickly without properly breaking it down and absorbing it. Instead, unabsorbed foods begin to ferment in the large intestine, causing severe bloating, nausea, and diarrhea.
CBD is useful for this type of IBS because it can reduce spastic muscle activity in the gut, allowing it to properly digest and absorb nutrients. For this type of IBS, it’s best to combine CBD with a low-sodium diet and a good source of soluble fiber.
2. Constipation-Dominant IBS (IBS-C)
IBS-C stands for IBS presented predominantly with constipation.
This type of IBS indicates low activity in the digestive tract. Pancreatic enzymes, bile, and stomach acid are scant. These enzymes help break down our food and stimulate the smooth muscle lining our intestines. This stimulation causes the muscles to expand and contract, moving food along the digestive tract.
If there is a problem with the secretion of digestive enzymes or muscle movement in the intestinal tract, we become constipated.
This can be extremely uncomfortable, causing symptoms such as severe bloating, feelings of fullness, nausea, fatigue, and physical belly distention.
Although nothing will produce the same level of benefit as a change in the diet, CBD does offer some unique benefits to this form of IBS.
CBD increases anandamide — a naturally occurring endocannabinoid responsible for slowing bowel movement, fighting inflammation, and controlling microbiome diversity.
3. Alternating IBS (IBS-A) or Mixed-type IBS (IBS-M)
This form of IBS involves alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation.
The potential causes of this type of IBS are far more variable and can involve factors of both. For several months, the patient may suffer from constant diarrhea, followed by several months of severe constipation. The sudden changes in bowel activity can be due to dietary, neurological, or immunological factors — making the cause hard to isolate and treat.
CBD is useful for this type of IBS because it doesn’t push the digestive function in any specific direction. Instead, it improves the body’s ability to regulate homeostasis. Along with other therapies to manage symptoms, the body has a better chance of returning to a higher state of health on its own.
What Causes IBS?
The exact cause of IBS is not yet understood — but there are some well-accepted theories in the medical community.
Suspected Causes of IBS Include:
Western countries including Canada, The United States, and Sweden have the highest rates of IBS in the world [11, 12]. In the United States, roughly 1 in 10 people suffer from IBS.
These nations often consume diets high in processed foods. Foods that have been highly processed tend to have poor nutritional content (in terms of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals) and are high in calories (in the form of fat or sugar).
When we eat these foods, they tend to move slowly through our digestive tract due to the lack of fiber and bulk of the food.
The slow movement and high sugar content cause this food to ferment in the digestive tract by bacteria living there. Fermentation in this context is bad for our digestive functioning — it causes bloating, pain, and changes in bowel movements.
One of the main dietary treatments for IBS is called a low FODMAPS diet, which substitutes highly processed foods for high-fiber, low sugar ones.
Frequent fermentation of processed sugars can damage the structural integrity of the digestive lining over time — leading to accumulation of fluid and diarrhea (IBS-D) or lack of movement in the muscles in the small and large intestines causing constipation (IBS-C).
2. Viral Infection
Viral infections can cause a lot of damage to the body. Many people report their IBS symptoms started shortly after getting a stomach bug overseas. After a few days of illness, they seemed to be getting better, but their gut never fully recovered.
Viruses disrupt normal cellular function, hijacking our cells to manufacture more viruses and preventing them from their job. They can wreak havoc on an entire organ in a short amount of time.
The digestive lining is home to a complex ecosystem of bacteria and fungal species called the microbiome. The microbiome is heavily involved with digestion and absorption in the digestive tract. When we fall ill with a virus, this can cause dramatic changes to the microbiome, leaving us with long-lasting side-effects, such as IBS.
3. Neurological Dysfunction
The movement of the intestinal tract (called peristalsis) is a complex orchestra of muscle contractions working together to move food through the intestinal tract. This involves careful innervation both locally and in collaboration with the brain.
Many people find that when they drink coffee, it stimulates a bowel movement. This is a good visualization of how the nervous system affects the digestive tract.
If our nervous system is in a state of constant stimulation, we are likely to develop diarrhea (IBS-D).
If we experience the opposite (insufficient stimulation), we are likely to end up with constipation (IBS-C).
Based on neurological activity, we can compare IBS types with other side-effects that often affect IBS patients at the same time.
Neurological Characteristics of IBS and Related Side-Effects:
|IBS type||Nervous System Activity||Related Side-Effects|
|IBS-D||Too stimulated||Anxiety Panic disorders Insomnia Heart palpitations|
|IBS-C||Not stimulated enough||Fatigue Depression|
|IBS-A||Either too stimulated or not enough||Anxiety Panic disorders Insomnia Heart palpitations Fatigue Depression Immune deficiencies|
Although IBS by definition does not require visible or detectable inflammation, numerous studies have shown that IBS sufferers have low-grade inflammation of the gut wall . This inflammation may be too subtle to be picked up by blood tests or visual inspection with colonoscopies/endoscopies.
Common Medications Used to Treat IBS
Lifestyle and diet changes will have the most impact on treating IBS. Besides the low FODMAP diet, it can help to reduce stress and get more exercise.
In some cases, medications can be prescribed to help reduce the symptoms of IBS. For diarrhea, drugs like loperamide, rifaximin, or eluxadoline may help. Fiber supplements, laxatives, lubiprostone, or linaclotide can be used to treat constipation. Abdominal pain can be relieved with antispasmodics. Sometimes antidepressants are prescribed for those with more extreme cases.
The Endocannabinoid System & IBS
The endocannabinoid system is thought to play a major role in IBS .
The CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoid receptors are used to regulate different processes in the human body — many of which are present in the digestive tract.
CBD for Other Functional Disorders
IBS is considered a functional disorder, suggesting there’s a clear problem with the function of the organ without an apparent cause.
Other conditions that fit this category are fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome — both of which are also improved with regular CBD use. The mysterious nature of these conditions makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly why CBD is so useful for treating them, but the likely explanation is the role CBD plays in homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the state of balance in the body. It penetrates virtually every aspect of life — from body temperature to digestive enzyme secretion. Any issues with homeostasis can negatively affect our health.
CBD serves as a useful tool for regulating homeostasis, which is why this compound has so many different benefits.
Key Takeaways: Using CBD for IBS
Although IBS isn’t well understood, it likely involves a combined dysfunction of multiple organ systems, lifestyle habits, and diet — CBD offers broad benefits towards different variations of the condition.
It’s best to use CBD in the form of an oil, capsule, or suppository for optimal results. It’s also important to take CBD oil for long periods of time to exert its full effects. CBD can take a while to start providing benefits for this condition because there are many factors involved.
Through persistent CBD supplementation, dietary and lifestyle changes, and patience, IBS symptoms can be forced into remission for long periods of time.