Marijuana, Gut Health, and CBD: How They’re All Connected

Over the past decade, medical research into the microbiome has discovered that the gut is the root of all wellness. Giving your digestive tract a lot of TLC is absolutely vital for vibrant, lasting health. Looking after your gut may include things like taking prebiotic and probiotic supplements, eating plenty of whole plant foods, engaging in mindfulness practice, spending time outdoors in nature, and even making loving connections. But, over recent years, we are learning that CBD may be a worthwhile addition to your gut health regime.

Lately, gut health has become an area of great importance within the health and wellness industry. Previously it was thought that the gut only fulfilled the basic functions of digesting food to release the nutrients into the body; while this is obviously an important function, research is starting to show that the gut’s physiological involvement runs much deeper.

The gut is home to a big part of the microbiome, which is a population of billions of organisms that exist inside and on our bodies. These organisms include eukaryotic parasites, protozoa, fungi, bacteria, and archaea. The microbiome is fundamental to our health. A Harvard report found that microbiota breaks down potentially toxic food compounds, stimulates the immune system, and synthesizes certain vitamins and amino acids such as vitamin K and B vitamins. When the microbiome is out of balance, it could compromise the gut barrier which might lead to many unpleasant health challenges like uncomfortable digestion, poor energy, anxious or sad mood, and blood sugar issues.

The link between overall health and a robust microbiome has been clear for some time. While research has shown that using a high quality, time-released probiotic is a great way to boost your microbial community; the fascinating news is that evidence is starting to support the theory that the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the gut microbiome are very much interconnected.

Looking after your gut health

We all know the saying “you are what you eat,” but it may be more accurate to say “you are what you digest your food with.” This is because the health of our gut (a.k.a the digestive tract), is essential to our overall well being. The gut contains at least 70% of the body’s immune cells and is also considered to be our body’s second brain because of its extensive network of chemicals, hormones, and neurons which constantly relay messages about the state of our digestive system, as well as warnings of microbial attacks.

Unfortunately, thanks to modern toxins such as over-prescription of antibiotics, stress, the side effects of an unhealthy diet, and medication, our guts are suffering more than ever. It’s estimated that 3 million adults in the United States alone have some sort of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Another biological communication network that is very much involved in regulating the health of our gut is the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In cases of conditions such as IBD, the ECS has to work overtime to reduce excess inflammation. However, the body’s natural endocannabinoids aren’t always enough to tackle an overactive immune system. Ethan Russo, the scientist that developed the theory of endocannabinoid deficiency, suggests supplementing with anti-inflammatory phytocannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant.

Marijuana and IBD

To understand how marijuana could be beneficial for IBD, it’s useful to have basic knowledge of the ECS. The endocannabinoid system helps our body to regulate mood, appetite, pain, emotions, stress response, memory, immune function, gastrointestinal (GI) motility, and more. The ECS is a complicated combination of endocannabinoids, which are the cannabinoids that our body naturally produces, that stimulate the body’s cannabinoid receptors, which are located in various areas of the body, such as muscles, brain, the entire GI tract, and fat. When someone ingests CBD, which is a similar molecular shape to endocannabinoids, they will fit into the same receptors and trigger reactions that cause either very low or very high levels of specific molecules that the cells in the brain use to communicate with each other (neurotransmitters). A growing body of medical evidence suggests that the functioning or lack of functioning of the ECS has a crucial relationship to the pathology of IBD.

A recent review that was done on cannabis in the treatment of IBD highlighted the fact that IBD patients often self-medicate with cannabis to relieve diarrhea and abdominal pain. One study found that marijuana reduced the need for other medication in IBD patients, while another small study found that using cannabis relieves abdominal pain and significantly improves the quality of life of patients.

CBD and leaky gut

Some gut issues arise due to “leaky gut” or gut permeability. This issue is associated with numerous chronic health and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome. The gut is lined with a barrier of epithelial cells which are linked together by tight junction proteins. The tight junctions are a doorway between your bloodstream and your gut and thereby control what passes between them. They enable nutrients to pass through while still preventing harmful substances from breaching the gut.

In the case of leaky gut, tight junctions start to become increasingly permeable and enable access to harmful substances like pathogens and bacteria. This may result in an inflammatory cascade. Some of the many underlying causes of leaky gut include toxin overload, chronic stress, genetic predispositions, and poor diet. In addition, an imbalance in the gut microbiota may also be a cause of this condition.

The good news is that CBD might just be the answer to decreasing the permeability at tight junctions. According to a research paper that was published in the Journal of Advanced Research in Gastroenterology & Hepatology, CBD has shown to be effective in restoring endothelial membrane permeability. Thus CBD could restore the epithelial integrity of tight junctions.

CBD and gut health

When issues with gut health arise, they’re often related to problems within the contraction process that is involved in digestion and helps to push food through the stomach and into the GI tract. Pain that is triggered by this distress may be extreme and hard to diagnose, and this means that it can take years of trial and error to figure out what exactly the problem is and how to treat it properly.

While research into CBD and its effectiveness in treating digestive problems is still in its infancy, evidence suggests that it could be one of the most powerful remedies. This is because CBD interacts with cannabinoid receptors that are found in the stomach, brain, and intestines, including the serotonin receptors; CB1 and CB2. Specifically, CBD has been shown to protect the stomach, help to regulate acids, and ease nausea and vomiting.

Marijuana, the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and gut health

The ECS has two receptors; CB1 and CB2 which are activated by the body’s own cannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG. These molecules behave similarly to the compounds that are found in marijuana. Although the ECS wasn’t discovered until the 1990s, many studies since then have discovered just how deeply connected the ECS is to other systems in the body. Furthermore, studies have also looked into the important role that cannabis plays in activating the ECS to fight disease and maintain good health. Some studies even suggest that the ECS might actually be the main regulatory system of the body, acting somewhat like a “controller” for other systems, like the gut-brain network.

The CB1 receptor is found throughout the body, but specifically in the central nervous system and brain. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, most often occur in white blood cells, the gastrointestinal tract, and the peripheral nervous system. This means that the ECS probably plays a role in regulating many important functions including pleasure and reward, pain control, memory and cognition, mood, and immune responses.

Some studies have suggested that low levels of the body’s natural cannabinoids could contribute to diseases such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). They also suggest that using marijuana may help to resolve the deficiency and eliminate the symptoms of these disorders.

The systems that contribute to the gut-brain axis also consist of endocannabinoid receptors, and the activity of these receptors may regulate dysfunction in other systems. For instance, marijuana may reduce nausea and vomiting that is linked to chemotherapy, and ease the symptoms of IBS. Since endocannabinoids regulate the activity in the HPA pathways, marijuana can also help to regulate body temperature and support homeostasis which is the balance of the body’s physiological processes.

The discovery of the gut-brain axis also found a network of connections to plenty of other crucial systems, which are all involved in constant “crosstalk.” Ultimately, cannabis supports crosstalk between systems. The ECS has receptors in all these networks and more, and research suggests that the ECS might stand behind them all and essentially regulates the crosstalk that keeps the body’s systems working in sync.

The relationship between the ECS and the gut-brain axis may explain why conditions like IBS and anxiety may be connected. It also helps us to understand just why marijuana could have a powerful effect on health conditions of many kinds.

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