Whether you’re struck with a stomach bug, coping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or dealing with the side effects of a new medication, diarrhea can be uncomfortable, awful—and sometimes dangerous.
American adults have an estimated 99 million episodes of diarrhea per year. Most of these situations resolve themselves in a few days with the help of over-the-counter medications. But diarrhea can also lead to serious complications and even death, especially among young children and adults with chronic health problems.
Because many different health issues can cause diarrhea, treatment options can vary widely. But some research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may be able to help. This abundant cannabis compound can work with the body’s own systems to help relieve the symptoms of diarrhea and restore balance in the complex biome of the gut.
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What Causes Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is usually defined as an episode of three or more loose or liquid bowel movements in a single day, or longer. But diarrhea isn’t a disease in itself. It’s a symptom of many different health conditions, including:
- IBS, a condition that’s characterized by alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea, along with other gastrointestinal discomfort
- Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which cause irritation and inflammation in the tissues of the bowel
- Infections by bacteria, parasites or viruses, such as E.coli, salmonella or giardia
- Cancer of the bowel or colon
- Hyperthyroid disease
Diarrhea can also be brought on by:
- Sensitivities to foods and food additives, such as dairy products, sweeteners or certain vitamins
- Parasites found in water or contaminated foods
- Reactions to medications, particularly certain kinds of antibiotics
- Hormone changes during menstruation or menopause
- Psychological factors such as anxiety or fear
As far as what goes on physically during a bout of diarrhea, there are a few things that could be happening in the body:
- The release of too much liquid into the bowels, called osmotic diarrhea
- Irregular bowel motility, which causes food to move too quickly through the intestines
- Inflammation of the mucosal lining of the intestines due to infections, inflammatory bowel disease or other health conditions
- Structural defects created by surgery or diseases, such as cancer
Other symptoms such as cramping, bloating and nausea can also accompany diarrhea. And more serious symptoms can also appear, such as fever and weight loss.
Depending on the cause, diarrhea can resolve itself within a day or two without medical intervention. But it can also become chronic, as in conditions like IBS or Crohn’s disease.
Diarrhea can also be life threatening. Severe diarrhea can cause:
- Electrolyte imbalances
- The risk of kidney failure, seizures and death
Bacterial infections and parasites causing diarrhea are a major health problem in developing countries, where it accounts for high mortality rates among children.
How Do People Typically Treat Diarrhea?
Because there are so many different causes of diarrhea, treatments can range from simple over-the-counter medications like Loperamide or Pedialyte to replace lost electrolytes to hospitalization with intravenous fluids to combat dehydration.
Other treatments target the condition causing the diarrhea, such as antibiotics for a bacterial infection or antidepressants for irritable bowel syndrome.
But research suggests that CBD may work on both levels to provide relief from diarrhea.
How Can CBD Help Ease Diarrhea?
CBD interacts with the body’s natural system of cannabinoid receptors as well as other essential subsystems to support overall bowel health and restore balance in the biome of the gut. The system of cannabinoid receptors is called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a widespread network of receptors that appears to affect the activity of just about every cell in the body.
Cannabinoid-like chemicals that the body produces naturally as well as cannabinoids that come from outside sources, particularly the cannabis plant, activate the ECS receptors.
Cannabinoid compounds from cannabis are so similar to natural cannabinoids that they can activate ECS receptors throughout the body and brain in virtually identical ways as our natural cannabinoids do. This explains why cannabis compounds can be useful in helping ease such a wide range of health conditions.
CBD is one of the most closely studied cannabis compounds, and an extensive body of research reveals that it can affect both ECS receptors themselves and other processes essential for human health.
Among its many documented health benefits, CBD may help:
- Reduce inflammation
- Relieve pain
- Fight bacterial infections
- Protect neural connectivity in the brain
- Support immune system functioning
- Relieve anxiety and depression
- Support muscle and nerve functions
- Encourage the production of natural cannabinoids, particularly anandamid
Because CBD has such wide-ranging effects on the body’s nerves and tissues, it can help relieve some conditions that contribute to diarrhea. For example, CBD can reduce anxiety and support healthy connections between the gut and the brain, thereby helping relieve symptoms of IBS. And because CBD is an anti-inflammatory, it can help reduce the irritation and pain of bowel conditions like ulcerative colitis.
Some research also indicates that CBD can directly affect the processes within the bowel that cause diarrhea. CBD may help smooth out muscle contractions in the gut, which improves bowel motility and helps food move normally through the digestive system. CBD may also be able to regulate fluid secretion in the gastrointestinal tract, so that less liquid is released into the bowel.
The natural endocannabinoid anandamide plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis, or balance, among the body’s many subsystems, including motility in the GI tract. In addition to its own abilities to modulate muscle movements, CBD can boost the body’s available supply of anandamide. This also helps keep bowel contractions smooth and regular, so that food and liquids can process normally through the system.
Tips on Consuming CBD for Diarrhea
CBD may help relieve diarrhea, but in some forms CBD can also trigger a bout of the condition. Consuming large amounts of CBD tinctures or edibles may cause diarrhea and other kinds of digestive distress. So, it’s wise to start your CBD consumption slowly and build up to your desired dose, especially if you have any sensitivities to cannabis.
CBD may also be more effective in managing chronic conditions that can cause diarrhea than during an acute diarrhea episode. And if you’re taking another medication and want to add CBD to the mix, check with your doctor to be sure there aren’t any potential problems.
Diarrhea can have many causes, and finding the right treatment can be a challenge. But the many healing benefits of CBD may help reduce the discomfort of this common condition and restore balance to the digestive system.
Photo credit: Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock.com
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