medical marijuana for irritable bowel syndrome

Medical Marijuana for IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome impacts as much as 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. population, but there may be some hope for relief in the form of medical marijuana for IBS sufferers. A growing body of research highlights cannabis as a potentially effective treatment for both the symptoms and the root cause. And although most states don’t specifically recognize IBS as a qualifying condition, there are conditions under which a patient may still qualify.

What Is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition affecting the large intestine. Most people with the condition have only mild recurrent symptoms, but some people suffer from severe, chronic symptoms. Common mild symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Cramps
  • Gas
  • Mild to moderate abdominal pain

More severe symptoms include:

  • Anemia
  • Chronic, severe abdominal pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

The exact cause of IBS isn’t known, but certain factors appear to trigger the condition. These include:

  • Abnormalities in the nervous or digestive system. Abnormalities in the nerves and digestive tract may lead to an elevated level of discomfort when the large intestine stretches.
  • Intestinal inflammation. Many IBS sufferers have a higher-than-normal amount of immune-system cells in their intestines. As a result, chronic pain and persistent diarrhea can occur.
  • Changes in gut microflora (the “good bacteria”). Recent studies have found that IBS is often associated with an imbalance in gut bacteria.
  • Intestinal muscle contractions. Muscle contractions are normal within the intestines, as they help to move food through the digestive tract. However, if contractions are too strong, they can cause diarrhea, gas, and bloat. If they’re too weak, they can lead to constipation.
  • Viral infection and bacteria. Certain bacteria and viruses can cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the intestinal lining. IBS may occur as a result.

For people with mild IBS, the condition can often be controlled with diet and lifestyle adjustments. For those with severe irritable bowel syndrome, medication is often required to keep symptoms under control. Common prescription medications include Lotronex, Xifaxan, and Linzess. Unfortunately, conventional medications have mixed results and often come with significant side effects, and so many sufferers are turning to medical marijuana for IBS.

Why Medical Marijuana for IBS?

Studies have found that intestinal irregularities like IBS may be triggered by causes related to the endocannabinoid system, the body’s internal system of cannabis-activated neurotransmitters. More specifically, IBS may be triggered or exacerbated by clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD), a condition where the body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids.

When you consume cannabis, the cannabinoids—like THC and CBD—bind to and activate receptors within the endocannabinoid system. This may help to explain why medical marijuana has shown some effectiveness for IBS.

Additional studies have identified large concentrations of endocannabinoids in the gut and have suggested interactions between the endocannabinoid system and gut bacteria. Certain endocannabinoid receptors, specifically CB1 and CB2, have shown evidence of serving a protective role in IBS. CB1 receptors predominantly impact the nervous system while CB2 receptors are associated with the immune system. It’s possible that these receptors work in concert to aid both the digestive and immune factors associated with IBS, though more research is needed.

In addition, cannabis has been shown in various studies to treat specific symptoms of IBS, including muscle spasms as well as vomiting and nausea. So even if medical marijuana isn’t able to remedy IBS at its source, it may offer significant short-term relief from the associated pain and discomfort—particularly in individuals with a severe form of the condition.

Is IBS a Qualifying Condition for Medical Marijuana?

Thirty-three states have a medical cannabis program in effect, but none of them lists irritable bowel syndrome as a qualifying condition. But just because the condition isn’t listed by name doesn’t mean that patients are automatically ineligible.

Most medicinal marijuana states identify at least one bowel disorder as a qualifying condition. For instance, most states identify Crohn’s disease among their qualifying conditions, and several states—like Arkansas, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Utah—recognize ulcerative colitis.

And then there’s inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a condition that shares numerous symptoms with IBS. IBD is a qualifying condition in Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Though IBS and IBD are not the same condition, a physician may still recommend you as a medical marijuana patient if your primary symptoms overlap significantly with those of IBD. Common IBD symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia due to blood loss.

Finally, many states will allow physicians to make recommendations for unlisted conditions if—in the physician’s expert opinion—medical marijuana would provide significant therapeutic value to the patient.

For example, if you’re pursuing a Missouri medical marijuana card, you may qualify under the basis that Missouri physicians can recommend cannabis for “any other chronic, debilitating or other medical condition.” If your IBS causes significant pain and hinders your quality of life, you may be a prime candidate in any medical marijuana state.

How to Obtain Medical Marijuana for IBS

If you struggle to manage your IBS symptoms and would like to pursue medical marijuana as a possible treatment option, speak with a physician. Each medical-marijuana state has its own processes and guidelines for becoming certified, but the first step is almost always to obtain a physician’s recommendation.

When speaking with a doctor, be sure to outline your symptoms and highlight how the condition has inhibited your quality of life. Note any chronic pain that you experience, and provide any documentation of previous treatments you’ve pursued. These details will be critical since IBS itself is not a qualifying condition.

Green Health Docs has medical marijuana clinics throughout the nation, including in Maryland, Missouri, Utah, and Ohio. We also offer telemedicine evaluations in several states including Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Contact us today to schedule an online or in-person appointment with a state-licensed physician.

Once you have your physician’s recommendation, you can register with the state and receive your medical marijuana card. This process varies by state. For instance, Virginia patients must register with the Board of Pharmacy. Missouri patients must register with the Department of Health & Senior Services. You’ll usually be required to pay a fee and renew annually.

If you’d like to get started, contact Green Health Docs today at 1-877-242-0362.