EducationCan cannabis help reduce the symptoms of IBS?

Can cannabis help reduce the symptoms of IBS?

8 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Can cannabis help reduce the symptoms of IBS?

Research has shown that medical cannabis has the potential to help with a variety of ailments and health issues, including the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).


But while many places around the world have recognised the health benefits of medicinal cannabis and legalised it, the UK has been slower to reassess its legal status. However, despite the fact not being widely publicised in the press and media, medicinal cannabis is actually legally approved in the UK to treat certain conditions via a special licence that can be applied for, and has been since November 2018.

With many UK residents not even being aware of the possibility of treating conditions like IBS with cannabis products, it is little wonder that even fewer people know exactly how medical cannabis can be used to treat conditions.

So, here we will explain why cannabis can be used as a treatment for IBS symptoms, and hopefully answer any questions you might have about how to use it effectively.

IBS and its related symptoms

IBS is a long-term condition that affects the digestive system and is considered fairly common in the UK, and around the world. In fact, data published by private health service Bupa suggests that between one and two in 10 people in the UK may have IBS. It usually first develops in people between their late teens and early 30s, but can impact anyone of any age.

It is also incurable, with treatments for IBS targeted at reducing the impact of the symptoms such as cramps, and pain or discomfort in the abdomen, which can also become bloated. Other common IBS symptoms include unusual and inconsistent bowel movements, such as diarrhoea or constipation.

Certain foods can also increase or add to the symptoms, making sufferers feel more tired than usual while causing backache and other muscle or joint pains. It can also cause headaches and a general feeling of sickness, as well as indigestion and irregular or sudden urgent visits to the lavatory. Some IBS patients also report difficulty controlling their bowels, including accidentally releasing faeces during an episode of flatulence.

These symptoms can come and go over time, and some people have even reported that their IBS has cleared up completely, though such cases are relatively rare.

Current conventional treatments for IBS: An overview

Usually, the first treatment for IBS recommended by doctors involves dietary and lifestyle changes. Common advice includes eating regular meals slowly, while making sure to not miss any meals whenever possible. Regular hydration is also important, but the drink should be water and not the likes of fizzy drinks, alcohol, or any drink containing caffeine.

Other dietary advice is related to specific symptoms, such as cutting down the amount of fibre you eat if you have bad diarrhoea. In contrast, constipation can be helped by increasing the amount of fibre you consume. Oats and linseeds can also help to reduce gassy wind and bloating.

It is also recommended to track your symptoms and note the foods consumed prior to a flare-up. There may be foods that trigger IBS symptoms, which you can then avoid. Common foods that cause flare-ups include dairy products, caffeine, sweeteners, alcohol, onions, and fruit juice.

Lifestyle changes usually involve increasing the amount of exercise and physical activity you engage in. Losing weight is also recommended for some people to help reduce the impact of IBS symptoms.

IBS Medications

If dietary and lifestyle changes do not alleviate the symptoms of IBS, then there are some medicines doctors may recommend. Many of these can be bought at a pharmacy without a prescription and include medicines that directly treat certain symptoms, such as:

  • Antidiarrhoeal medicines and anti-motility drugs to treat diarrhoea.
  • Antispasmodic medicines for stomach pain and excessive wind.
  • Medicines for constipation, such as laxatives.

Cannabis as a medical treatment: An overview

The cannabis plant contains around 110 cannabinoids, with two in particular that may be helpful in treating certain conditions such as IBS. These are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), with the former having more intoxicating properties, while the latter has been shown to contain anti-inflammatory properties. It is these anti-inflammatory properties that make cannabis and CBD a potential treatment for IBS symptoms, the pain, and discomfort of which is often caused by inflammation.

Cannabis and its chemical components are administered to treat the symptoms of a variety of illnesses, conditions and diseases, including some forms of epilepsy, as well as nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy for cancer. It has also been used to treat the loss of appetite and weight loss associated with HIV and AIDS, as well as chronic pain and multiple sclerosis symptoms.

While much more research is needed, there is already a growing body of evidence showing that medicinal cannabis has the potential to be extremely beneficial for sufferers of these various ailments. Indeed, much of the current and past research has directly focused on the effects of cannabis on gastroenterological conditions such as IBS and IBD.

Let’s take a closer look at this research to see how cannabis can help with IBS.

Can medicinal cannabis help with IBS?

Research into the potential health benefits of cannabis began years ago, with one study at the University of South Carolina in the United States confirming the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids as far back as 2009.

Other research into cannabis treatment on inflammatory bowel symptoms discovered the potential health benefits when participants reported a significantly higher quality of life thanks to the treatment.

Another study, titled “Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Manipulating the Endocannabinoid System as First-Line Treatment”, found that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) may be a promising strategy to improve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). CBD and THC have both been shown to positively interact with the ECS.

Potential risks and side effects: An overview

As with most medical treatments, there is a risk of side effects should the correct dosage of cannabis be exceeded. These potential side effects include:

  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • decreased appetite

How to take cannabis for IBS

The side effects mentioned above can usually be avoided by simply starting a cannabis treatment with a very low dose. You can then build it up in small increments until it becomes effective for your symptoms without triggering any of the side effects.

Cannabis and its components like CBD and THC can be administered in a variety of different ways. It can be inhaled via a vaporiser, or it can be eaten via edible products such as gummies or tablets. It can also be sprayed or dropped in oil or tincture form under the tongue. There are also topical application products in the form of skin creams, where the cannabinoids are absorbed through the skin pores.

Whichever method is preferred, the dosage should always start low and be built up from there. Other considerations when calculating a dose include body weight, tolerance and metabolism, all of which can impact the effectiveness of medical treatment.


A great deal of research so far supports cannabis as a medical treatment for IBS symptoms. More studies are needed for further insight, but it is already a potential option for some people suffering from IBS. The research that is currently available is already showing that cannabis can potentially help with the pain, discomfort, and inflammation associated with IBS. 

It is important to understand how it works and how to take it correctly in order to enjoy the maximum benefits of this valuable treatment option for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. With any medical treatment, it is also essential to speak first with a healthcare professional before deciding whether cannabis is right. Here at Releaf, we have a team of dedicated medical professionals that can answer any questions you may have about medicinal cannabis.

We provide tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

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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