Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects many around the world. It can be debilitating for some patients who say it renders poor quality of life and it usually results in missed school, work, and social gatherings. It is characterized by extreme gastrointestinal distress.
IBS is not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a more serious condition that causes inflammation in the digestive tract and can result in severe complications, but cannabis has been shown to help with IBD as well.
A deeper look at IBS
Though there are no fixed causes of the condition, some foods can trigger IBS due to dietary allergies or sensitivities. Genetics has also been suggested as a potential cause of IBS, but a hereditary link has yet to be discovered. Disorders such as anxiety, major depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome are common among people with IBS.
For some individuals, IBS can have an acute and sudden onset and it can develop after an infectious condition characterized by fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or positive stool culture. Stressful situations are also known to trigger the onset of the illness.
Some symptoms of IBS include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloat, cramping, gas, weight loss, rectal bleeding, and mucus in the stool.
There are different types of IBS like IBS-D, characterized by diarrhea, IBS-C, characterized by constipation, and IBS-A which is characterized by both diarrhea and constipation in alternating fashion.
Diagnosis is based on signs and symptoms such as onset at fifty years of age or greater, weight loss, blood in the stool, or a family history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Unfortunately, no specific laboratory or imaging test can be performed to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome, but doctors do perform laboratory studies, imaging studies (such as a CT scan or small intestinal X-rays), and endoscopy and/or colonoscopy to get a better idea of what they are dealing with and to rule out other serious conditions like cancer.
There is no cure for IBS. Treatment is carried out to improve symptoms. This may include dietary changes, medication, probiotics, and counseling. Dietary measures include increasing soluble fiber intake, a gluten-free diet, or a short-term diet low in sugars and carbs.
How cannabis for IBS treatment helps
It should be first noted that medical cannabis is not an official cure for IBS, though it has helped to quell many of the symptoms caused by the illness. It has not been approved for IBS treatment by Health Canada or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Many patients, however, have found relief with cannabis treatment, particularly cannabidiol (CBD) oil, for their IBS and have reported a better quality of life because of it. Cannabis for IBS is getting positive results.
Some theories of what causes IBS include endocannabinoid deficiency where the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) fails to function properly. The ECS has a role in regulating a wide array of body processes to maintain our health, known as homeostasis, and it plays a role in a wide range of functions, including appetite, digestion, immune regulation, mood, sleep, reproduction, and pain.
Many researchers theorize that if the ECS fails to function properly, it can lead to a variety of different pathologies that affect patients, including IBS.
One 2007 pre-clinical study found that the presence of the bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus in rodent intestinal tracts increased the expression of cannabinoid and opioid receptors, thus decreasing pain.
The authors of the study suggested that this may have some serious implications for the treatment of IBS as increased pain sensitivity is a hallmark in IBS. Treating patients with cannabis has the potential to reduce this symptom of IBS among many others.
In another study conducted by Harvest Medicine, fifty-seven percent of patient who used cannabis for their IBS reported the medication has helped them significantly and forty-one point nine percent of patients reported that cannabis had positively impacted their quality of life.
There numbers are not unlike the numbers seen in many cannabis clinics and physician clinics around North America.
With so many positive results trickling in regarding cannabis treatment in IBS, more research certainly needs to be done to get more conclusive answers. Though we are well on our way in attaining that, the medical community as a whole must embrace cannabis as a viable treatment for these conditions.