Research suggests that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects about 12 percent of people in the United States. The digestive symptoms can vary from person to person, but they can be seriously uncomfortable regardless of the individual.
There are a number of home remedies and medications that can help manage IBS symptoms like cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. Some research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may also help.
Keep reading to learn about the basics of CBD and how it may help treat the gastrointestinal symptoms of IBS.
CBD is a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its close cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD doesn’t produce a “high” feeling. It also has fewer potential unpleasant side effects than THC, even if taken in large doses.
There are three different types of CBD:
THC in CBD products
Even though broad-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate have had the THC removed, there’s a chance that any CBD product you take may have trace amounts of THC.
If you want to avoid THC altogether, or if you get drug tested, it may be best to avoid using CBD products.
While an IBS-friendly diet and stress relief can help reduce IBS symptoms, some people may want to try additional treatments — especially during flare-ups.
Doctors sometimes prescribe medications for IBS, but some of these only target specific symptoms and may have undesirable side effects. If you’re looking for something natural that might help with IBS, you may wonder about CBD.
Because there are cannabinoid receptors all over our body, including our stomachs, it’s possible that ingesting cannabis-derived products, like CBD, may help with digestive symptoms.
Studies have also shown that cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory qualities, something that might make them good at treating gastrointestinal disorders like IBS. However, studies from 2011 and 2012 on cannabinoids and IBS have specifically looked at the effect of dronabinol, a synthetic cannabis product that mainly contains THC.
One review from 2020 suggests that CBD may also have potential therapeutic benefits for conditions like IBS. However, more research is needed to confirm the link. Right now, there’s just not enough evidence to firmly declare that CBD can help with IBS.
There’s no specific research about which type of CBD is best for IBS. That said, research suggests that taking THC and CBD together might be more effective than taking either alone — this is called the entourage effect.
Because of this, full-spectrum CBD products might be better at easing symptoms than broad-spectrum CBD or CBD isolate.
As for product type, topicals won’t be particularly helpful for IBS symptoms. Ingesting edibles like gummies and oils might be a better bet.
When shopping for CBD, whether for IBS or another concern, consider the following:
Buy from a company that’s open and honest about where they source their hemp.
A quality product should come with an up-to-date, detailed certificate of analysis (COA) from a reputable third-party lab.
A COA lets you know whether the product’s potency actually matches what’s on the label. It’s also best to look for a COA that contains information about contaminant testing. That way, you can be sure the product has been tested for potentially harmful substances like heavy metals and mold.
Avoid companies that promise you the moon. It’s not OK for companies to make claims that their CBD products cure ailments -— not only because there isn’t enough research to support this, but it’s also against Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules.
In fact, the FDA sends warning letters to companies that make false health claims. Checking the warning letter database can be a good way to steer clear of brands that have a poor reputation.
Full-spectrum products are thought to be more effective than other types, but they do contain small amounts of THC (no more than 0.3 percent).
If you prefer to avoid THC, opt for a product made with CBD isolate or broad-spectrum CBD. But keep in mind that any CBD product may contain trace amounts of THC.
Dosing varies a lot across CBD products, so always check the label to learn more about the potency. A higher potency might be the reason for a higher price tag — but not always.
CBD dosing differs for everyone. Don’t assume that what worked for a friend will solve your symptoms. You may need a higher or lower dose.
If you’re just starting out, err on the side of caution and start with the smallest dose. Keep in mind that when ingesting CBD edibles, the effects may take a few hours to kick in. Only take more when a full 2 hours have gone by.
Do you need more help with figuring out how to dose CBD? Check out our CBD dosing guide.
CBD won’t get you “high” and is generally considered pretty safe. Still, there’s a possibility that you’ll experience side effects, such as:
- changes in weight or appetite
The risk or severity of side effects may increase if you take CBD with a high fat meal.
There’s also evidence that CBD may interact with some medications. Be sure to talk with your doctor before trying CBD. This can help you avoid unpleasant side effects or drug interactions.
Best CBD products
Want to give CBD a try? Here are a few products to get you started. Read about how we select CBD products here.
- Holmes Organics CBD Gummies. These strawberry-lemonade flavored gummies are vegan and organic, and made with broad-spectrum CBD. Buy now. Use code “Healthline” for 20% off.
- Bluebird Botanicals Classic CBD Soft Gels. If you don’t like the taste of CBD and gummies aren’t for you, you might want to try a capsule. These are made with full-spectrum CBD and are easy to swallow. Buy now.
- Medterra CBD Oil. This oil is made with CBD isolate. It’s unflavored and comes in several different strengths. Buy now. Use code “health15” for 15% off.
There’s growing research that suggests taking CBD may have health benefits, including anxiety and pain relief. However, the jury is still out on whether CBD can help with IBS symptoms.
Until we know for sure whether CBD helps with IBS, there’s likely not much harm in trying it out. Just be sure to talk with your doctor before giving it a whirl. Some people may experience IBS-like symptoms, like diarrhea, when taking CBD.
Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.
Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.