By Jenny Menzel, H.C.
As CBD grows in popularity as a natural relief option for digestive disturbances, anxiety, pain, and more, the non-psychoactive cannabis compound is gaining interest from researchers for its effects on the gut microbiome and our overall well-being. This is largely due to the recent paradigm-shifting discoveries linking gut health to brain health, elevating the importance of understanding our microbiome and how to influence it.
In this article, we take a look at how the gut microbiome operates and how CBD may be used to improve its function to create a healthier mind and body.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
Simply put — it’s your gut and everything in it.
Our gut microbiome consists of a delicate balance of roughly 38 trillion microscopic bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Because we are told to prevent illness by warding off these types of pathogens, it’s easy to think we must rid ourselves of these “bad” bugs when we actually need these microbes to maintain a healthy balance beyond digestion. Immunity, brain function, and even our genes are regulated by these tiny troops — impacting virtually everything that makes us who we are.
Microbes: Their Role in Digestion
We fuel ourselves with food, which is broken down in different stages of digestion through the GI tract — starting in the mouth when we chew and ending with the colon as we expel waste.
Through these digestive phases, the gut microbiome in the GI tract works with other body systems to extract nutrients from carbohydrates, fats, proteins, water, minerals, and vitamins. While the urinary tract is separate from the GI tract, it is closely linked with digestion, as its primary responsibility is filtering and removing fluid waste.
When the microbiome is injured — through factors like infection, medications, or overgrowth or depletion of microbes — a host of physiological processes like nutrient absorption, toxin elimination, cell regeneration, and hormone regulation suffer.
Symptoms of An Unhealthy Gut
With 70% of the immune system living in the gut, it’s important that our digestion is operating optimally. Some common signals your gut microbiome is out of balance are:
- Upset stomach
- Food intolerances
- Weight fluctuations
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleep dysregulation
- Skin disorders
- Brain Fog
To understand whether cannabidiol (CBD) has the power to enhance health by balancing the gut, we should get to know how the endocannabinoid system works with our microbiome.
The Endocannabinoid System and Gut Microbiome Connection
Upon discovering the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the late 1980’s, cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) were identified in just about every bodily organ and system, with heavy concentrations of receptors found in the brain, digestive organs, and reproductive regions.
Potentially as complex as the nervous and digestive systems, the ECS was found to be intimately linked to both through the gut-brain axis, suggesting cannabinoids act as the bridge between the ECS and our microbiome. In fact, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research published a review studying the link between the ECS and gut — highlighting its role in controlling gastrointestinal motility, inflammation, permeability, and microbiota.
How CBD Improves the Gut Microbiome
1. Reduces Inflammation
The ECS plays a crucial role in soothing gut inflammation when both CB1 and CB2 receptors get activated or inhibited by CBD. Because CB2 receptors are densely populated in the GI tract, CBD is used to ease inflammatory symptoms found in gut conditions like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Because of the relationship between the gut-brain axis, researchers have found this inflammation isn’t limited to the gut — it can permeate through the gut and beyond the blood-brain barrier in the brain. CBD’s ability to quell inflammation can boost nutrient absorption needed for balancing mood and increasing brainpower.
2. Decreases Leaky Gut
A study published in the American Journal of Pathology confirmed that an imbalanced microbiome could cause intestinal permeability, better known as “leaky gut,” which may leave a person more prone to inflammatory conditions or autoimmune disorders. This is because the gut is lined by epithelial cells bound together by “doorways” called tight junction proteins. When these proteins get damaged from pathogenic inflammation, the doorway between the intestine and your bloodstream gets cracked open without the ability to close it, allowing toxic waste to trickle into your system. Because CBD can decrease inflammation, it may act as a preventative or restorative agent for the damage to these intestinal junctions.
3. Normalizes The Immune Response
Hyperinflammation can impede our immune system’s ability to function properly, leading to a dysfunctional immune response. According to a study published by Cambridge University Press, CB2 receptors may target a variety of immune responses, especially those affected by gut inflammation. Other clinical findings support CBD’s ability to tamp an overactive immune response quite often seen when toxic invaders linger — causing long-standing damage.
4. Regulates Emotions
While mental health management typically requires professional psycho-behavioral counseling, a review published in Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine also noted nutritional therapy as a possible adjunct approach to balancing gut health and relieving stress-related disorders such as depression and anxiety. Research has found CBD’s effect on CB2 receptors in the GI tract may have a balancing effect on these emotional states by regulating dopamine in the ventral tegmental area, a location in the brain responsible for motivating us to seek rewards. New research confirms stress, diet, and gut microbiota has the ability to influence depression through the ECS — a system directly and positively impacted by CBD.
Scientists theorize that CBD might enhance a diverse microbial population that may help regulate many complex body processes through the gut-brain axis, which is intimately linked to the endocannabinoid system (ECS). While more research is needed, supporting the ECS with the use of CBD, as well as nourishing gut health through a healthy lifestyle and a bacteria-balancing diet, may be a doorway to a more healthy mind and body. What we can be sure of is CBD’s ability to influence the ECS in the gut, especially through CB2 receptors, which are most densely populated in the GI tract.
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Jenny Menzel, H.C., is a Certified Health Coach and branding specialist for various alternative healthcare practices, and volunteers her design skills to the annual grassroots campaign, the Lyme Disease Challenge. Jenny was diagnosed with Lyme in 2010 after 8 years of undiagnosed chronic pain and fatigue, and continues to improve by employing multiple alternative therapies, including Āyurveda, Chinese Medicine and Bee Venom Therapy.