Cannabis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Why research thinks the endocannabinoid system is responsible
Many patients with irritable bowel syndrome use cannabis to relieve symptoms during a seizure. But, what does the research say? Is cannabis the perfect treatment? Unfortunately, there are still many shortcomings in terms of study and medical research. Yet some experts believe that there is a link between cannabis and SCI.
What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic disease that causes extreme gastrointestinal distress. Unlike inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), IBS is not associated with tissue changes in the digestive organs.
However, it still causes a multitude of serious symptoms that can have a considerable impact on the quality of life of a patient. Some of these symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight Loss
- Rectal bleeding
- Mucus in the stool
IBS is also thought to play a role in various psychiatric illnesses, although no direct causal relationship has been found. So far, there is a suspected link between IBS and disorders such as:
- Panic attack
- Bipolar disorder
- Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders
Interestingly, IBS and various psychiatric disorders become the focus of research on the human microbiome. The microbiome is the term used to describe the complex ecosystem of microorganisms that live throughout the body and inside the digestive tract.
Over the past decade, evidence has increasingly suggested that disturbances in the microbiome can trigger both severe gastrointestinal illness and psychiatric distress.
What is perhaps even more interesting for some is that there is a link between the microbiome and the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is the cellular network that cannabis uses in the body.
Is it an endocannabinoid deficiency?
Medical cannabis is not a cure, but it can certainly help treat the disease. Some researchers could go so far as to say that cannabinoid therapy can be one of the most effective ways to relieve IBS symptoms and improve quality of life.
In 2008, the neurologist and medical researcher, Dr. Ethan Russo, has suggested that IBS could be caused by endocannabinoid deficiency. Endocannabinoids are compounds like THC that the body naturally produces.
These compounds make up the endocannabinoid system (SEC), a vast regulatory network in the body. It plays a role in a wide range of functions, including appetite, digestion, immune regulation, mood, sleep, reproduction, and pain.
Russo theorized that for some reason, those with IBS do not have enough endocannabinoids. In an interview with the CBD project, Russo explains what this deficiency could mean.
"If you do not have enough endocannabinoids, you have pain where there should be no pain. You will be sick, which means nauseous. You would have a lowered entry threshold. And a whole series of other problems.
It appeared to me that a number of very common diseases seem to fit a pattern that would be compatible with endocannabinoid deficiency, especially those of migraine, irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia ". - believes Russo
Between cannabis and serotonin
Pharmaceutical researchers have so far concentrated on one solution: drugs that target the serotonergic system. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter commonly associated with depression.
Russo explains that drugs targeting serotonin have only managed to treat about 15% of IBS and have had serious health consequences in clinical trials. Yet, evidence suggests that the endocannabinoid system is a much better target for the disease.
"Rational analysis suggests that endocannabinoids may be the most likely therapeutic neuromodulatory target, and that treatment with phytocannabinoids may be a more effective and safer therapeutic approach."
In simple terms, herbal cannabinoids, such as those found in cannabis, may be safer and more effective treatment than the drugs currently being developed for IBS.
The microbiome and the endocannabinoid system
Unfortunately, the most recent thinking about IBS is very theoretical and anecdotal at this stage. But, microbiome discoveries have established a connection between the intestinal flora, the endocannabinoid system, and the IBS.
A preclinical study of 2007 revealed that the presence of Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria in rodents' intestinal tract increased the expression of cannabinoid and opioid receptors, reducing pain.
The authors suggested that this could have serious implications for the treatment of IBS. Like Russo mentioned above, increased sensitivity to pain is a feature of IBS.
While many patients take some sort of probiotic, research on the human microbiome is still a very new scientific field. The 2007 study found only one species of intestinal microbe out of a thousand. This may be why access to medical cannabis for patients is so important.
Although there is good evidence that IBS is a microbial problem, and while researchers have discovered that microbes can influence the endocannabinoid system, the global connection is simply not yet established. At the same time, cannabis seems to be one of the most promising options for the management of this disease.
Cannabis and Relief of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
There is still a lack of solid research on cannabis and IBS. However, cannabis can improve the quality of life of people with this disease. Here is how it can relieve three main symptoms:
Cannabis has been shown to reduce hypermotility and relieve abdominal cramps. Hypermotility occurs when food travels too fast in the gastrointestinal tract.
Apparently, cannabis was one of the first effective treatments for cholera diarrhea in the nineteenth century.
2. Abdominal pain
Cannabis has been shown to reduce visceral sensitivity in people with gastrointestinal disorders.
"Visceral perception" is an elegant way of saying sensitivity to internal pain. A 2004 study suggests that there is strong evidence for cannabinoid treatments in the management of intestinal diseases such as IBS. On the one hand cannabis reduces nervous pain and also because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Another search for 2008 Highlights the discovery that cannabinoid therapy can calm the sensitivity and inflammation of the intestinal lining of people with gastrointestinal disorders.
Mental symptoms related to IBS are just as important to treat.
A rodent study published in April 2016 revealed that cannabidiol (CBD) was beginning to effectively relieve antisocial behavior and reduce anxiety behavior within minutes.
In comparison it can take up to six weeks for antidepressants to become effective.
What about constipation?
Unfortunately, the impact of medical cannabis on constipation is debatable. The majority of research suggests that the plant slows things down rather than speeding things up.
However, as with most gut and cannabis related items, much depends on unique internal situation of each individual.
As there is no clinical research on the subject, many patients opt for the approach to experimentation.