If you are wondering if Marijuana can help to alleviate your IBS symptoms, then you are in the right place.
IBS can be very frustrating as you feel like you have tried every treatment option without success.
For some, this can lead to thinking about alternative treatments, such as using Marijuana.
In this article, we will discuss what Marijuana is and the relationship between IBS and Marijuana.
It is important to note that the use of Marijuana is illegal in most parts of the world, and this article does not mean that you can break the law.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana, also known as cannabis, weed, and pot, among other names, is a psychoactive drug derived from the cannabis sativa plant (1).
Marijuana is known to be used as a recreational drug.
The cannabis plant contains over 100 different cannabinoids, with two of the most well-known being Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
We will focus on these cannabinoids mainly throughout this article.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) typically provides the euphoria or ‘high’, whereas CBD typically has sedative and anti-anxiety properties (2, 3).
Can Marijuana be used as medicine for IBS?
You may be wondering if Marijuana can be used for medical purposes such as alleviating IBS symptoms.
Specialist Doctors can prescribe Cannabis-based medicine in some countries for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and chemotherapy-induced nausea (4).
Currently, cannabis-based medicine is not medically licensed for use in IBS, and no guidelines recommend its use as a management strategy for IBS.
It is important to note that Marijuana is not the same as cannabis-based medicine.
How does Marijuana interact with the digestive system?
As discussed, Marijuana contains multiple different cannabinoids. These cannabinoids act on endocannabinoid receptors, predominantly CBD1 and CBD2 receptors.
These receptors are thought to have a role in regulating our gut which includes preventing it from contracting and from reducing gastric acid secretion (6).
Does Marijuana help IBS?
As cannabis-based medicine helps treat symptoms related to medical conditions, you may be wondering if cannabis use can help alleviate IBS symptoms (6).
There is currently no research on whether Marijuana helps with IBS.
Cannabis in its original form is used rarely in research as it can be harmful to participants.
Instead, separate cannabinoids found in cannabis are often isolated and used in research.
There is a small amount of research looking at the effects of cannabinoids on IBS (9).
This means that taking Marijuana in its standard form may not produce the same effects as those found in the studies we discuss.
Below we will discuss the possible reasons why Marijuana use may help with IBS symptoms.
Does Marijuana help IBS pain?
Research supports the idea that the cannabinoid Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, an ingredient in Marijuana is an effective method of pain relief.
This is particularly true for inflammatory and neurological-associated pain (7).
Although Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – a cannabinoid found in Marijuana) decreases pain in muscles, skin, bones, and joints, their effect on pain in IBS remains unclear.
Currently, research does not support the idea that IBS pain could be alleviated by Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – a cannabinoid found in Marijuana).
With one study finding it to have no positive effect on IBS-associated pain (8).
Does Marijuana reduce gut contractions?
People who suffer from IBS-diarrhea predominant may benefit from Marijuana due to its possible effects on slowing down the gut.
Slowing down the gut increases transit time, reducing toilet urgency.
A study specifically looking at the effects of dronabinol (another cannabinoid found in Marijuana) has been found to slow down the gut in fasted patients with diarrhea predominant IBS (9).
Does Marijuana help with nausea?
Nausea, although not part of the diagnosis criteria for IBS, is a commonly reported symptom for people with IBS (10).
Research shows that using pure Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – a cannabinoid found in Marijuana) can effectively prevent nausea in individuals with cancer receiving chemotherapy (11).
However, there are no studies looking at the effect of such a substance on nausea in IBS specifically.
It is also important to note that long-term daily use of Marijuana can also lead to Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS).
This syndrome causes nausea as well as repeated and severe vomiting (12).
For more information on IBS and nausea, see our article Can IBS cause nausea? A dietitian guide and management plan.
If you suffer from IBS, you may find that anxiety triggers your symptoms. Anxiety is prevalent in IBS, with one survey showing that just over 38% of IBS patients suffer from anxiety (13).
See our article on stress depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and IBS for more information on the link between IBS and anxiety.
Cannabinoids found in Marijuana can increase or decrease feelings of anxiety.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is associated with having anti-anxiety properties at low doses but anxiety-inducing properties at high doses. (14)
However, Cannabidiol (CBD) is associated with having anti-anxiety properties in research at all doses and it may be of particular benefit to those who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (15,16).
That being said, no specific research looks at the effect of either CBD or Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on anxiety in IBS.
More research is needed to draw a firm conclusion.
Can Marijuana give you diarrhea?
Research shows that Marijuana consumption can actually alleviate diarrhea due to its effects on colonic motility, as discussed above (9).
However, it has been reported in human CBD studies that diarrhea is a reported side effect, but the cause of this is largely unknown (18).
What strain of Marijuana is good for IBS?
We have only included this topic as it is a commonly googled question.
However, it is impossible to advise on this due to no research being conducted in this area.
Even among the same “strains” of Marijuana, ingredients and ratios of different cannabinoids can vary as they are often not regulated.
It should also be re-emphasized that Marijuana is not recommended by any official guidelines as a treatment for IBS.
Is Marijuana linked to IBS?
There is no research to support the idea that Marijuana use causes IBS or is linked with the onset of IBS.
The causes of IBS remain widely unknown. For more information on the causes of IBS, see our article on Symptoms and Causes of IBS.
Challenges and risks of IBS and using Marijuana
While Marijuana may hold some potential for IBS, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges and risks associated with its use.
Marijuana use can lead to unpleasant side effects such as dizziness, dry mouth, and impaired cognitive function (17).
Marijuana smoking is also usually done by mixing Marijuana with tobacco which we know can worsen gut health (18).
Some individuals may also be at risk of developing an addiction (19).
The legal status of cannabis also varies globally and can impact access to and the quality of cannabis-based products.
And, due to this unregulated status of Marijuana, it is not possible to tell what strength you are taking.
Marijuana is not currently recommended as a treatment option for IBS due to the lack of research showing it to be of benefit and safe to use.
However some limited research does show there may be potential benefit to using cannabinoids found in marjiunana.
However, do note taking actual Marijuana can lead to anxiety (20).
My name is Elouise Rice and I am a registered dietitian, soon to be practising as a band 6 specialist gastro dietitian in a leading hospital in London. I previously worked as a band 5 gastro dietitian at world-renowned Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge. I have a never ending curiosity about how our gut impacts our overall health. I am proud to be working as a dietitian and supporting individuals with improving their gut health.