Around two in every 10 people in the UK suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS; a long-term condition that affects the digestive system.
Sufferers commonly report symptoms such as stomach pain and a change in bowel habits, which can be debilitating enough to affect everyday living. Other symptoms may include food sensitivities, bloating and increased gas.
It is not known what causes IBS, but it generally first develops in the 20s and 30s and is more prevalent among women.
There is no cure for the condition, although symptoms may ease over time, and treatment largely focuses on lifestyle factors and diet.
However, there is some evidence that CBD oil may ease sufferers’ pain and discomfort, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
A review in Molecules found that CBD can be useful for treating pain and inflammation, both of which are major factors in IBS. A 2020 study also discovered that CBD could, in some cases, have benefits for relieving chronic pain and reducing inflammation.
Further research published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine appeared to confirm these findings, pointing toward the fact that cannabinoids suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting α3 glycine receptors.
Research also points towards the positive effects of THC (the psychoactive compound of cannabis) for people whose IBS manifests itself predominantly with diarrhea. In a small study, a single 5mg dose of dronabinol (a synthetic version of THC) led to a slowing of gut emptying through the large intestine – the cause of diarrhea.
Furthermore, IBS is closely linked to anxiety, with stress believed to be a key cause of flare-ups. Here, too, CBD can help – a 2019 Gallup Poll discovered that 37 per cent of CBD users take the supplement for to ease symptoms of anxiety.
It is thought that CBD can change serotonin signals in the body through the interaction with CB1, a receptor found in the central nervous system.
And while low serotonin levels are generally linked primarily with depression, there is also a school of thought that believes it could also be a cause of anxiety.
Meanwhile, a landmark study in the US – billed as the first of its kind – was launched in October last year to investigate CBD’s use as a formal anxiety treatment.
The Cannabinoid Anxiety Relief Education Study is targeting millions of CBD and cannabis users across the US to assess the potential role of cannabinoids in reducing anxiety and other co-morbid conditions, such as insomnia and depression.
However, research into using CBD to treat IBS is still very much in its infancy, and it should be used with caution. There are hopeful signs that it could ease the pain and inflammation associated with a flare-up, and ease any associated anxiety.
However, it is important to be aware that side effects of CBD can include digestive issues, which could prove particularly problematic for those who already suffer with a sensitive stomach.
While CBD has a range of uses – and comes without the worrying side effects that accompany a lot of traditional medication – so far the research has shown no clear benefit when it comes to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
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