Millions of people in the United States live with the disruptive symptoms and ongoing health effects of a chronic digestive disorder. These common conditions impact one or more parts of the digestive tract, otherwise known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Whether your digestive disorder causes constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, abdominal pain, or an unpredictable combination of all the above, your path toward sustained GI symptom relief is likely to include dietary changes, increased activity, stress reduction, and possibly medication. But what if these front-line strategies don’t provide consistent, effective relief?
As family medicine experts who take an integrative, holistic approach to primary care, Dr. Stuart Lerner and our team of board-certified providers at Stuart Lerner, MD offer medical marijuana as a complementary therapy for severe or persistent digestive disorders.
Here, we explore the two main types of digestive disorders, and explain how cannabis therapy works to provide effective relief from GI symptoms.
Digestive disorder basics: Functional vs. structural
Beginning in your mouth and ending with your anus, the GI tract consists of your esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. Its job is simple: to break down the food you eat into nutrients your body can use for energy, growth, and cellular repair.
An array of problems can affect your GI tract, most of which are either functional or structural in nature. Let’s take a closer look:
Functional GI disorders
As the most common problems to affect the GI tract, functional disorders are characterized by poor or improper gastrointestinal motility. With this set of GI problems, the digestive tract looks normal under examination, but doesn’t move as it should to facilitate digestion.
Common functional GI disorders include:
- Chronic constipation
- Recurrent diarrhea
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Nausea, gas, and bloating
Not getting enough dietary fiber, lack of physical activity, changes in routine, living with chronic stress, taking certain medications, pregnancy, and visceral hypersensitivity are a few factors that can contribute to or worsen functional GI disorders.
Structural GI disorders
With structural GI disorders, your digestive tract doesn’t function properly because of abnormal physical changes that are visible upon inspection. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease — are common structural digestive disorders characterized by chronic, intestine-damaging inflammation.
Other structural GI conditions include:
- Intestinal strictures or stenosis
- Rectal or anal hemorrhoids
- Diverticular disease (diverticulosis)
- Colon polyps or colon cancer
Although dietary improvements, lifestyle changes, and medication can help manage many structural GI problems, the structural abnormality can sometimes require surgical removal.
Using cannabis to ease chronic digestive symptoms
When your GI tract is bogged down by disease, distress, or dysfunction, front-line treatment solutions don’t always deliver effective relief. In such cases, medical marijuana can be a highly beneficial complementary therapy. So, how does cannabis ease chronic GI symptoms?
ECS receptor interaction
It begins with your body’s extensive endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system and its various receptors are what interact with cannabinoids, the naturally occurring compounds found in medical marijuana. Through your ECS receptors, cannabinoids help regulate how certain body cells send, receive, or process messages.
THC and CBD cannabinoids
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are important cannabinoids in medical marijuana. There are THC receptors in your gut and your brain, which can lead to feelings of euphoria when triggered. There are CBD receptors in your gut, but not in your brain.
Many GI tract receptors
In fact, the discovery of a significant number of cannabinoid receptors within the digestive system is what led researchers to start looking into the potential benefit of medical marijuana use in treating conditions like IBS, IBD, peptic ulcer disease, and other digestive disorders.
GI disorder symptom relief
Gut-interacting cannabinoids help improve poor digestive motility and visceral hypersensitivity, two common GI tract disorder features that contribute to chronic abdominal discomfort, bloat, gas, and frequent elimination changes (i.e., constipation, diarrhea).
People who use cannabis to ease digestive disorder symptoms often report:
- Significant reduction in abdominal pain
- Less frequent nausea or vomiting episodes
- Decreased bowel movement frequency
- Relief from recurrent or severe diarrhea
- Reduced heartburn/acid reflux symptoms
- Improved appetite and increased food intake
Medical cannabis also possesses considerable stress-relieving properties that can be highly beneficial to people who are coping with the ongoing effects of a chronic digestive disorder.
Find out how you can benefit from medical marijuana
If you have GI tract disorder symptoms that are hard to control, we can help. To find out how medical marijuana may be able to benefit you, call or click online to schedule a visit at Stuart Lerner, MD in Kailua, Hawaii today.