Cannabis & the Digestive System

Our digestive system is what breaks down food into essential nutrients and fuel our bodies need.


Our digestive system is what breaks down food into essential nutrients and fuel our bodies needs but cannot produce on its own. Digestion is vital in facilitating the absorption of vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids, – all nutrients that our energy level, growth, and cell repair greatly depend upon.

Anecdotal evidence has revealed that cannabis can either increase or decrease appetite, abate or induce nausea, and possibly help patients that suffer from Crohn’s disease among other symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disesases depending on the levels of cannabinoids a strain provides. More studies are needed to fully understand how cannabis can either help or hinder the digestive system, but there’s enough evidence that suggests it can help some patients suffering from various digestive disorders.

Digestion begins in the mouth, when we place food in the mouth and begin to chew our salivary glands secrete the first enzymes that begin digestive break-down. The walls of our throat and esophagus engage in a series of contractions that move food into the stomach where powerful enzymes take over and complete digestion. Food mass is transformed into a liquid or paste by our stomach then travels through the small intestine as bile from the liver and enzymes from the pancreas continue breaking down the food into absorbable nutrients. When it reaches the large intestine, nutrients have been been absorbed and what’s left is eventually evacuated as waste.

The most common noticeable effect of cannabis on the digestive system is dry mouth or what’s known as cottonmouth. Studies indicate THC binds to receptors on the submandibular glands, which are the major glands responsible for secreting saliva. It seems that THC blocks signals from the parasympathetic nervous system that tell the glands to secrete more saliva, and thus dry mouth results.

Cannabis is also known to influence appetite in opposing ways depending on the ratios of THC and CBD found in a strain. It is believed that THC induces hunger while CBD causes the stomach to feel fuller faster. Neuroscientist Tamas Horvath of Yale found that the neurons responsible for releasing hunger-suppressing hormones are the same that are activated to promote the hunger sensation, increasing appetite. The specific hormone that gets secreted depends upon the protein signal given in the cells mitochondria. And when CB1 receptors are activated by THC, the mitochondria send signals that cause the secretion of hormones that encourage hunger. This is why you may find that most strains high in THC, and low in CBD, are usually the culprits when it comes to bringing on ‘the munchies’.

The people most likely to search for alternative treatment for their nausea are cancer patients. It’s been found that two synthetic cannabinoids, nabilone and dronabinol, are superior in their effects of reducing nausea symptoms compared to traditional dopamine receptor antagonist medications used for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea. Investigating how real cannabinoids from the cannabis plant help reduce nausea is needed, but anecdotal evidence and some research confirm that cannabis helps reduce nausea for more than just cancer patients.

Current studies involved in reducing the symptoms of inflammatory bowl disease are still being trialed, however, there’s enough evidence to propose that inflammation in the digestive system can be mitigated with cannabinoids like CBD. CB2 receptors are present throughout the intestinal tract, and when activated, can serve as a braking system for inflammation resulting from immune activation.

However, to truly know just how cannabis impacts diseases of the digestive system, studies will need to be done using the scientific standard which is large, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials, perhaps ones using biopsy findings and serial measurement of inflammatory markers. This means that results and findings will take a long time to gather, along with finding the right patient candidates from a small network of volunteers that have a specific digestive disorder.

With information gathered from a survey and by evaluating blood lab results, it was found that cannabis consumers, on average, have smaller waist circumferences as well as a 16% decrease in fasting insulin. The data gathered from the survey suggests that cannabis may assist in metabolizing carbohydrates as a potential dietary supplement. This is a question additional studies still need to investigate.

CBD has proven time and again to act as a muscle relaxant, and this goes for the smooth muscle that is part of the walls of the intestines as well. Anecdotal evidence supports the notion that cannabis may help relieve constipation, but research still needs to be done to investigate the many ways cannabis helps our digestive tract.

There is little evidence which suggests that cannabis has any negative impact on the digestive system as studies continue to support its uses as a medication that improves digestive function. If you’re a consumer, the best way to maintain healthy digestion is to have healthy, gut-friendly snacks stockpiled in your house in case hunger arises, and to avoid drinking dehydrating substances such as alcohol, soda or caffeine.