Listen to Your Gut: Cannabis and the GI Tract

by Jul 30, 2020Education

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the body’s digestive system of organs that provides for the absorption of nutrients to maintain necessary physiological functions. This system is composed of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, small and large intestine and the anus. Evidence has shown that the GI system is influenced, particularly under pathological conditions, by the chemical action of our body’s endocannabinoid system. The Endocannabinoid system (ECS), is an expansive and complex neurotransmitter network that maintains physiological processes and has shown to be found in all mammals.

The GI tract is equipped with cannabinoid receptors and serves as a significant area of endocannabinoid activity in the human body. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds within the cannabis plant that elicit pharmacological action within the body through two methods: they either fit like a key into these receptors or influence the action of other compounds that do fit. When this activation between cannabinoids and receptors occur, the effects which follow can be related to pain sensation, mood and/or reduction in inflammation.  The Cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) is highly concentrated in the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain and spinal cord, but are found in other regions of the body in smaller quantities. Cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) is found mostly in peripheral organs and immunomodulating cells, and is associated with your immune system, digestive tract, and peripheral nervous system. Within the digestive tract specifically, CB2 receptors moderate GI motility, secretion and protect the integrity of its membrane barrier. Disturbances in these processes may lead to chronic disease, in addition to the improper/incomplete absorption of nutrients from food, which can have a substantial impact on our health over time. 

It has been discovered that certain cannabinoids have an affinity to bind or interact with specific receptors. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has an affinity to bind more so with CB1 than CB2, which is believed to explain its characteristic psychoactive effects in the CNS. Cannabidiol (CBD) on the other hand does not bind directly to CB1 nor CB2, but regulates their activity through indirect pathways, with more control shown to be expressed on CB2. We have come to understand that both THC and CBD can be used to control issues such as indigestion, pain/cramping, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (which includes Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis), Celiac Disease and many other problems caused by physiological disfunction in the gut (irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, etc.).

Using cannabis as medicine is a great option to help patients with GI disorders of inflammatory origin. They should also be considered for those to whom either traditional pharmaceutical agents have been proven ineffective, or their side effects have shown to be intolerable. Patients suffering from Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and other many other ailments, may find cannabis to provide relief that can increase their quality of life, along with overall health and sense of well-being.

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