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Cannabis seems to have both positive and negative effects on digestion. The herb may help some people more than others. To paint a picture of how this lovely plant may impact your stomach here is a handy summary of the major pros and cons of cannabis for digestion.  

Pro: Cannabis increases appetite

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It’s well-known that cannabis gives you the munchies. THC stimulates a hunger hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is what drives you to find food and eat a lot of it.

At the same time, THC triggers the release of pleasure compound dopamine. This means that you’re not only hungry, but you get more pleasure from eating food. This is great news for anyone who struggles to maintain appetite. It’s also why synthetic THC is prescribed to those with wasting syndrome caused by cancer and HIV/AIDS treatments.

Con: Cannabis may reduce stomach acid

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Though a little paradoxical, some studies show that THC can reduce stomach acid. An early study from the 1970s found that cannabis use more than twice a week was associated with low stomach acid output.

More recent studies have confirmed that activation of the cannabinoid receptor 1 (the binding location for THC) can decrease gastric acid secretion.

For some people, this may be beneficial. For others, not so much. You need stomach acid to properly break down your food so that the body can absorb nutrients. However, research on cannabis, stomach acid, and nutrient absorption is sorely lacking.

So, it is difficult to tell what sort of impact this has on the body or if other lifestyle factors contribute to this phenomenon.

Pro: Cannabis can calm intestinal inflammation

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Have diarrhea? Both animal and small human studies have shown that cannabis can lend a helping hand. The herb reduces inflammation and calms intestinal cramping. In instances of hypermotility (where food moves through you too fast), cannabis has ample therapeutic potential.

This is great news for those who have an irritable bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome, or celiac disease. In these diseases, cannabis may actually improve nutrient status by promoting weight gain and healing the intestine.

In fact, one study found that three months of medical cannabis consumption encouraged weight gain in those with IBD. This shows that, at least in this case, those with IBD were able to absorb nutrients with cannabis consumption just fine.

Con: Cannabis may not help constipation

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If food is moving through you too fast, cannabis can be a lifesaver. In constipation, however, things are a bit different. More than anything, cannabis seems to slow down motility. If you struggle with constipation, the herb may not be the most effective source of relief.

Though, some anecdotal reports and a small pilot study suggest that cannabis may be helpful in improving constipation for some people. According to just a couple of accounts, the herb may be especially helpful for those taking opioid pain medications.

One early study suggests that though THC is very effective at slowing things down, it is not as constipating as morphine. The study articulated that neither CBN nor CBD slowed motility, however, THC depressed motility in a dose-dependent manner.

Pro: Cannabis can prevent nausea

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It’s fairly common knowledge that cannabis has potent anti-nausea effects. The herb seems to calm nausea and vomiting through its effect on the central nervous system.

The endocannabinoid system, the network that cannabis engages in the body, plays a major role in controlling the vomiting response.

Research has shown that THC blocks the potentially nausea-inducing effects of the body’s own endocannabinoids (the human version of THC). This is one reason why the herb is so effective in helping cancer patients during chemotherapy.

Con: In some people, this may not be good

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Sometimes the body just really needs to clear some stuff out. Recently, a rare condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) has been making headlines. No one knows much about CHS, but the condition causes some chronic cannabis consumers to violently vomit.

There is no information about how many people may experience this response. The condition was only first hypothesized back in 2004, so it is very new to the medical world and is far from a fully-fledged theory. But, it is thought to be some form of cannabinoid toxicity that occurs in some people after around 3 years of heavy cannabis consumption.

Some researchers currently think that the vomiting may stem from a buildup of waste and a lack of proper digestion in the gut. Since cannabis may slow down bowel movements, one hypothesis is that poor waste clearance may contribute to the condition.

Though, as mentioned, CHS is rare. There are many long-term cannabis consumers who have never had this problem. It is unclear why some people get it and some don’t, or if other factors contribute.

To sum up cannabis and digestion

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When it comes to cannabis and digestion, there is a lot more to know. This is one are of cannabis research that is rapidly evolving. The digestive tract is one of the most complicated systems in the body. Not only are the gut and the brain closely linked, but the gut houses trillions of microflora and 80% of the immune system.

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on down there. While the world awaits more scientific research, the willingness of patients to come out and share their medical cannabis stories is the best way to understand how the herb affects digestion issues.

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Delilah Butterfield

Delilah Butterfield is a Pacific Northwest native with a passion for cannabis and natural health. Contact her on Twitter @delilahbfield.
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