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Endocannabinoid Tone and IBS

Endocannabinoids or CBD for IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic digestive system condition that causes stomach spasms, pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.

IBS affects people for the long term, and many suffer from it for life.

However, on most tests, the gastrointestinal function appears normal, so it is often referred to as a 'functional' disorder.

There is no cure, but some people successfully manage their symptoms with medication and diet changes.

According to Bupa, nearly 2 in ten people in the UK have IBS.

It can start at any age, although it's most common for the first symptoms to begin between the ages of 20 and 30.

It's also twice as likely to occur in women than in men.

Pain and symptoms from IBS are generally not continually present but occur as attacks. The most common symptoms of IBS include:

  • Stomach pain 
  • Stomach spasms 
  • Feeling uncomfortably full and bloated
  • Suddenly needing to go to the toilet
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Constipation 
  • Nausea
  • Passing mucus 
  • Lack of energy

For some people, IBS begins after a severe stomach bug or even after a particularly stressful experience.

Sometimes attacks can be linked to certain foods or feelings of anxiety, but so far, doctors have been unable to understand a common cause.

Some conditions that appear to indicate the onset of IBS include:

  • Abnormalities in the stretching and contractions of the gut
  • Immune system problems
  • High levels of bacteria, viruses or fungi in the gut 
  • Communication problems between the gut and brain.

What is CBD?

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CBD is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in plants of the cannabis genus.

It's non-intoxicating and is extracted from hemp to be used as a food supplement.

The CBD extract is combined with other beneficial ingredients to make a range of products, including oils, capsules, e-liquids or gummies.

When you consume CBD, it enters your cells and tissues and interacts with various chemical messenger molecules, enzymes and receptors.

These interactions support your body's ability to restore your body systems to a state of healthy balance.

Learn more about CBD with our guide: CBD 101 – Everything you need to know

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CBD and Your Endocannabinoid Tone

Endocannabinoid Tone and CBD Oil

CBD works in your body in many different ways, but one of the most vital interactions is how it stimulates the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and raises your endocannabinoid tone:

What is the endocannabinoid system?

Endocannabinoid System in action with endocannabinoids and endocannabinoid receptors

The endocannabinoid system is a collection of signal molecules (endocannabinoids), receptors and enzymes.

It's active throughout the body, particularly in the central and peripheral nervous systems. 

When the ECS is activated, it makes tiny chemical adjustments that enhance the signalling capacity of cells within your body.

This allows your body systems to communicate effectively and quickly restore a healthy balance following damage or illness.

What is endocannabinoid tone?

Endocannabinoid Tone

Endocannabinoid tone refers to the level of potential endocannabinoid activity in your body and the ability of your endocannabinoid system to respond to any problems.

Several factors can affect this, including genetics, diet, stress, and disease.

If your endocannabinoid tone is low, your endocannabinoid system is unlikely to be able to restore your body systems to a state of healthy balance.

As a result, you may feel unwell or experience symptoms related to anxiety. 

Regular consumption of CBD can stimulate the action of your endocannabinoid system (ECS) and raise your tone. 

To learn more about how CBD raises your endocannabinoid tone, you can read our article: Endocannabinoid Tone and CBD

Key terms:

CB1 and CB2 receptors

CB1 and CB2 – These are the most common endocannabinoid receptors.

  • CB1 is found in the central nervous system.
  • CB2 is present in the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system and in immune cells throughout the body
Endocannabinoids and Phytocannabinoids Binding to Cannabinoid Receptors

Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) – These are endocannabinoid signalling molecules present in humans and animals. They can interact with several chemical receptors, including CB1 and CB2.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome and your Endocannabinoid Tone

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Low Endocannabinoid Tone

While irritable bowel syndrome has no known cause, some scientists believe that it may be the result of low endocannabinoid tone.

For the last twenty years, they have been developing and testing the theory of clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. 

This theory suggests that many previously unexplained conditions, including IBS, are caused by extremely low levels of endocannabinoid activity. 

A 2016 study re-evaluated the theory and found that current research also confirms links between low endocannabinoid tone and irritable bowel syndrome.

Consequently, raising endocannabinoid tone may offer an effective way to manage IBS symptoms and reduce the frequency of attacks.


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Endocannabinoids and IBS Pain

Other scientists have suggested that many common IBS symptoms can be linked to chronic pain disorders visceral hypersensitivity, allodynia and hyperalgesia.

These all involve nerves becoming sensitised to pain signals.

As a result, low-level pain stimulus that would typically only cause minor discomfort can result in excruciating pain. 

In people with a medium or naturally high endocannabinoid tone, this type of pain sensitisation causes an automatic balancing response from the endocannabinoid system.

Therefore, when CB1 receptors are activated, they reduce sensitisation, making the pain receptor less likely to fire. 

Also, when CB1 and CB2 receptors are activated, they stimulate several actions that modulate the proper control of the pain signals.

CB1 receptors activate channels that alter the electrical and chemical activity of the neuron.

CB2 receptors inhibit and control the release of cytokines which may be linked to uncontrolled inflammation and pain.

Low Endocannabinoid Tone

However, if the endocannabinoid tone is low, the sensitisation and uncontrolled pain signals continue, resulting in the chronic pain associated with IBS.

Endocannabinoids and TRPV1 Receptors 

Endocannabinoids and TRPV1 Receptors in your gut

Research involving people with IBS found that they had up to 3.5 times more TRPV1 receptors than those with a healthy gut.

They suggested that this increase in receptors may be another contributing factor toward the sensitisation of the gut and a reason why people with IBS experience chronic pain. 

Although it has yet to be tested, they then theorised that raising the levels of anandamide may be able to interact with these receptors and desensitise them.

Endocannabinoids and Gastrointestinal Actions

Gastrointestinal Actions

For decades it's been clear that endocannabinoid function is essential to the actions of the gastrointestinal tract.

In 2001, a detailed review of studies concluded that the endocannabinoid system could modulate the propulsion (muscle contractions to move food), secretion and inflammation in the gut.

Further studies also indicate that when the gut is inflamed, the role of the endocannabinoid system is even more important.

It acts as a failsafe mechanism to reduce inflammation and promote the proper action of all gut systems. 

Someone with an already low endocannabinoid tone may not have enough endocannabinoid activity to currently modulate these gastrointestinal actions.

Raising the tone to medium or naturally high, is likely to give the body a better chance of returning systems to normal and reducing pain.


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