Cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and several of the others found in cannabis take effect on the human body by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a system of neurotransmitters scattered throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems. Cannabinoid receptors are found in the brain, the spinal cord, the liver, the immune system, the digestive system, and more. This widespread may explain why cannabis has effects on so many different functions of the body and brain. When it comes to the digestive system, what effects does cannabis have?
We’ve all heard of the munchies, so it shouldn’t be surprising that cannabis has an effect on the appetite. Interestingly, that effect is indirect – THC in the brain creates extra ghrelin, a compound that binds to receptors on the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, sending signals that the stomach is empty regardless of whether or not it is.
Cannabis has been shown to reduce intestinal inflammation, which is one of the primary symptoms of conditions like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and IBD (irritable bowel disorder). Use of cannabis slows the rate at which food passes through the digestive system, which can improve symptoms of diarrhea. It can also reduce pain associated with these disorders and stop the intestinal spasms that cause the disorders. In one study on treating IBS using cannabis, 90% of subjects claimed that their symptoms had improved, and 60% said that their symptoms had disappeared entirely.
In 2003, a researcher named Ethan B Russo theorized that IBS might actually be caused by a lack of natural cannabinoids. Russo observed that IBS was frequently seen in patients who also suffered from migraines and fibromyalgia – two conditions that could be caused by an ECS imbalance. If that’s true, cannabis may actually help heal the gut rather than just treat the symptoms of inflammation. Cannabis may even be able to help treat or improve celiac disease, diverticulitis, and Crohn’s disease.
Most people who use cannabis experience the munchies, but research has shown that frequent cannabis users actually have a lower body mass index than non-users. Some theorize that this is simply because cannabis users don’t need to eat as much to feel satisfied, since they are also getting dopamine from cannabis, but other scientists believe that cannabis alters the way we store fat.
A 2015 study conducted in Canada showed that during the course of an experiment where the control group had a 20% increase in body mass, the mice who were administered THC didn’t gain any. The scientists then examined the subjects’ gut microbiomes and saw that the mice who had been given THC, the ecosystem’s balance was much better. Bad bacteria can promote weight gain, so this balance could be the secret behind cannabis users’ unusually stable BMIs.
Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome
Nobody really knows how cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome happens, or why. All we know is that is causes cyclic vomiting and nausea, and can sometimes be temporarily alleviated by hot showers or baths. There have been several reported cases recently, and it seems to afflict people who have used cannabis heavily for several years. Fortunately, it is very rare.
Overall, cannabis seems to be largely beneficial for the gut and digestive system. It reduces inflammation, helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome, and helps regulate the user’s fat storage. However, extreme overuse could result in cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, and some user reviews suggest that certain CBD oils can cause diarrhea. As always, cannabis affects different people differently, so pay attention to your body and how cannabis works for you.