EducationExploring the potential benefits of CBD for IBD

Exploring the potential benefits of CBD for IBD

7 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Exploring the potential benefits of CBD for IBD

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a group of conditions that cause inflammation in the digestive tract. Depending on their level of severity, they can be anything from frustrating inconveniences to life-altering health issues with potentially dangerous consequences.


CBD, a non-intoxicating compound (phytocannabinoid) derived from medical cannabis and hemp, has gained considerable attention for its potential therapeutic properties. Studies have shown that CBD possesses potential anti-inflammatory, analgesic and immune-modulating effects, which could make it a promising option for managing the symptoms of IBD.

This article will examine the relationship between CBD and IBD to help people with IBD make better-informed decisions about what treatment options may be suitable for them.

What is IBD?

The term ‘Inflammatory Bowel Disease’ (IBD) is a collective noun used to describe a group of disorders that primarily affect the digestive system. The two main types of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Other IBDs include Indeterminate colitis, Microscopic colitis and Behçet's disease.

Crohn's disease: This is a prevalent form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that primarily impacts the gastrointestinal tract. It is characterised by recurrent episodes of inflammation that can manifest in various areas along the digestive tract, spanning from the mouth to the anus. Although it can influence any part of the gastrointestinal system, it typically targets the small intestine and the initial section of the large intestine, known as the colon.

Ulcerative colitis: As with Crohn's disease, this is characterised by persistent inflammation in the gastrointestinal wall. It is, however, considered to be a distinct form of IBD because it specifically impacts the colon and rectum, whereas Crohn's disease can impact the entire gastrointestinal tract.

Indeterminate colitis: This is a form of IBD where the characteristics of the disease cannot be clearly classified as either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. It may exhibit features of both conditions or present with ambiguous diagnostic findings.

Microscopic colitis: This refers to a type of IBD characterised by chronic inflammation of the colon. It is diagnosed through microscopic examination of colon tissue samples, as the inflammation may not be visible during a colonoscopy. Microscopic colitis is further divided into two subtypes: collagenous colitis and lymphocytic colitis.

Behçet's disease: This is a rare type of IBD characterised by recurring inflammation of blood vessels in various parts of the body. Although it predominantly affects areas such as the mouth, eyes and genitals, it can also impact the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in symptoms similar to those seen in Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. This chronic condition is believed to involve an abnormal immune response that causes widespread inflammation in the blood vessels.

Symptoms of IBD

The most common symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease are as follows.

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Diarrhoea
  • Rectal bleeding (blood in stools)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anaemia (often manifested as paleness and/or fatigue)
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Skin problems (e.g. rashes, sores, or ulcers).

Please note: Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) will typically vary depending on both the condition and the individual. Also, symptoms and their severity often change over time. This is why it's so important to get medical help at an early stage and to work in collaboration with your doctor to determine the right treatment options for you.

The relationship between CBD and IBD

CBD engages with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS), a vital regulatory system involved in managing numerous physiological processes, such as inflammation and immune response. In the case of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), the immune system erroneously targets the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in persistent inflammation. CBD has the potential to influence this immune response and mitigate inflammation within the digestive system.

Research studies on the effectiveness of CBD in treating IBD

Several research studies have investigated the effectiveness of CBD in treating IBD and have shown promising results. This paper, from all the way back in 2011, found that CBD treatment reduced inflammation and damage in the colon of mice with colitis, a form of IBD. 

Another study found that CBD reduced inflammation and improved symptoms in patients with ulcerative colitis. This is a wide-ranging study, with many interesting points, but concludes “CBD is able to control the inflammatory scenario and the subsequent intestinal apoptosis through the restoration of the altered glia-immune homeostasis. CBD is therefore regarded as a promising therapeutic agent”.

Then we have this review paper, which looked at numerous studies on CBD and IBD. It concluded that CBD has the potential to alleviate inflammation, pain, and other symptoms associated with IBD. It also highlighted CBD's ability to regulate the immune response and restore balance to the gut microbiota, which is often disrupted in individuals with IBD.

How to take CBD for IBD

While CBD holds promise in managing symptoms of IBD, it is unlikely to be a complete substitute for conventional medical treatments. Instead, it is more likely to be beneficial as a complementary approach when administered in conjunction with the guidance of a healthcare professional. They will have the expertise to provide personalised advice on how to incorporate CBD into your treatment plan effectively and safely.

Before deciding to take CBD for IBD, there are four key points you should consider.

Dosage recommendations 

CBD dosage recommendations for IBD can vary based on individual factors such as symptom severity, personal response and the concentration of the CBD product being taken. It's preferable to work with a healthcare professional to determine the dosage that's right for you. At a minimum, start with the lowest, possible dose and increase it gradually, if necessary.

Methods of administering CBD for IBD

There are different methods of delivery for CBD, including oral ingestion, sublingual administration, topical application and inhalation. Oral forms, such as CBD oil or capsules, are commonly administered for IBD. Sublingual administration involves placing CBD oil or tincture under the tongue for faster absorption. Topical CBD creams or ointments can be applied directly to affected areas. Inhalation of CBD through vaporisers or inhalers allows for the fastest onset of effects.

Side effects

Although CBD is generally well-tolerated, it's important to be aware that some individuals may experience certain side effects. These can include fatigue, changes in appetite, dry mouth, diarrhoea, or nausea. It's crucial to monitor your body's response to CBD and make note of any adverse reactions.

If you do experience side effects, you may need to adjust your dosage or explore alternative methods of consumption. Consulting with a healthcare professional who is knowledgeable about CBD can provide valuable guidance on managing and minimising potential side effects. They can help you assess whether the observed side effects are normal and within an acceptable range, or if further adjustments are necessary.

Safety considerations

When using CBD for IBD, it's crucial to ensure product quality and safety. Look for CBD products that have been tested by third-party laboratories for potency and purity. Avoid products with additives or contaminants. It's also important to consider potential drug interactions, as CBD can interact with certain medications. Consulting with a healthcare professional, especially if taking other medications, is advisable to minimise risks and ensure compatibility.

CBD and IBD in brief

CBD has shown potential in providing relief from both the inflammation associated with IBD and the accompanying symptoms. However, it is crucial to take CBD in a safe and effective manner. This requires personalised guidance from a healthcare professional who can consider your unique circumstances, lifestyle, and medications.

Releaf understands that medical cannabis can be life-changing for many people. That's why we offer tailored monthly packages based on your cannabis prescription, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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