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How Medical Marijuana is Helping Relieve Abdominal Pain for IBS Patients

How Medical Marijuana is Helping Relieve Abdominal Pain for IBS Patients

If you’ve been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’re not alone. As many as 45 million people in the United States — or up to 15% of Americans — live with this disruptive disorder and its wide-ranging symptoms at any given time.

A persistent problem with unpredictable effects, IBS can be difficult to manage without expert guidance and a customized, multi-faceted care approach. In some cases, this includes finding relief for pain and discomfort through supporting alternative treatments like medical marijuana.

Here, board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Sam Weissman discusses conventional treatment strategies for IBS and explores how medical marijuana can fit in as a complementary therapy.

Understanding IBS 

IBS is the most common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. Functional GI problems occur when GI tract dysfunction interferes with motility, sensation, brain-gut communication, or all of the above. 

Essentially, IBS is due to a disturbance in the normal interactions between your nervous system, brain, and gut. While stress is not an underlying cause of this volatile problem, stress can trigger or worsen IBS symptoms through the powerful brain-gut connection. 

IBS-related GI tract dysfunction usually triggers persistent abdominal pain or discomfort and altered bowel habits. This may include chronic or recurrent diarrhea, constipation, or both — either mixed or in alternation.

IBS is unpredictable and wide-ranging in its severity: Some people experience it as a minor but persistent inconvenience, while others struggle with debilitating symptoms that affect their physical and emotional well-being, not to mention their social life, professional activities, and individual potential.

IBS management strategies

Fortunately, IBS doesn’t damage your intestines, set the stage for colon cancer, or trigger the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like ulcerative colitis. The primary goal of treatment is to control symptoms and prevent flare-ups. 

Given that IBS is a complex motility and sensory disorder with physical and stress-related features, an effective treatment plan must be multi-faceted, fully customized, and responsive to individual needs. Many people find successful symptom control through a combination of strategies, including:

While learning management techniques to control or preempt IBS flare-ups can help you feel better, both physically and mentally, you may also need medication to address persistent diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain. Probiotics, or a supplement of “good gut bacteria,” may help provide symptom relief in milder cases. 

Medical marijuana and IBS

Given that IBS is a complex GI disorder that demands a measured and varied care approach, it’s not surprising that there’s a burgeoning field of research to find new treatment options. One area of IBS research showing considerable promise is medical marijuana or cannabis. 

Endocannabinoid system basics

In the 1990s, researchers discovered the endocannabinoid system that extends throughout the human body. This system and its various receptors are what cannabinoids, the naturally occurring compounds in medical cannabis, interact with and stimulate.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most common cannabinoids in cannabis. THC receptors in your gut and your brain can lead to feelings of euphoria when triggered. There are CBD receptors in your gut but not in your brain. 

In fact, the discovery of a significant number of cannabinoid receptors within the digestive system led researchers to start looking into the potential benefit of medical marijuana use in treating conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and peptic ulcer disease. 

Cannabinoid deficiency theory

In 2003, an endocannabinoid researcher named Ethan Russo theorized that there might be a link between IBS and a deficiency in the body’s cannabinoid chemicals. Further research has lent tenable support to this theory in the years since. 

Studies have shown that endocannabinoids affect gut motility and visceral hypersensitivity, which are known to contribute to the pain, bloat, feelings of fullness, and bathroom changes associated with IBS. 

The pain-relieving features of medical marijuana are well-documented, and there are several promising clinical studies showing that cannabis can indeed alleviate IBS-related abdominal pain. Medical cannabis also possesses considerable stress-relieving properties that can be highly beneficial to IBS sufferers.

Living with IBS can be challenging, but it’s also manageable. If you have symptoms that are hard to control, Dr. Weismann can help. Together, you can find an IBS treatment plan that works for you.

Call 609-793-9375 to reach our office in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, today, or use the easy online booking feature to schedule a visit at Sam Weismann, MD, any time. 

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