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Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Medicinal Cannabis

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an umbrella term that captures conditions that impact the gastrointestinal system.

Despite having no defined cause, IBS is very common and affects 1 in 5 people at any given time in Australia. 

IBS is characterised by physical symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and alternating between constipation and diarrhoea. Although there are no concrete causes for irritable bowel syndrome, environmental factors such as routine changes, emotional stress, illness and diet can trigger some or all of the symptoms previously listed.

Treatment options currently available for IBS include monitoring diet carefully and making adjustments accordingly, laxatives or anti-diarrhoea medication, and antispasmodics.

What are the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a physical illness with symptoms that include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping that is often relieved by passing wind or faeces
  • Alternating diarrhoea and constipation
  • A sensation that the bowels are not fully emptied after passing a motion
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Mucus present in the stools
  • Nausea

Factors that may increase your risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome :

  • Infection
  • Food intolerance
  • General diet
  • Emotional stress
  • Medication

How can medicinal cannabis help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

There are two main ways that cannabidiol (CBD) can be beneficial for people suffering from IBS. 

Firstly, research suggests that the nerve cells that tell the brain you're in pain are actually associated with the CBD receptors. Since abdominal pain is experienced by about 70% of people suffering from IBS, CBD can help curb pain and improve quality of life. 

Secondly, studies have found that there is a strong correlation between anxiety and IBS, and CBD's ability to slow down the body's communication with the central nervous system helps ease symptoms of anxiety. 

Multiple studies have also investigated cannabis' effect on IBS, as well as other gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis. The results of the studies have supported the notion that cannabis is beneficial for sufferers of gastrointestinal diseases, especially if cannabis is being used as pain relief.

Some of the cannabis products that have shown to be beneficial treatments to Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers include:

  • Nabiximols
  • Dronbinol
  • THC:CBD extracts
  • CBD extracts
  • Cannabis Sativa
  • Cannabis Indica

They can be consumed as an oil, vape liquid, sprays and wafers.

If you or a loved one are suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and are considering medicinal cannabis as a potential treatment, please speak to your GP or to one of our SAS accredited doctors here.