CBD has a very interesting connection to the gut, and, in my opinion, should definitely be part of a supplement program that supports healthy gut function. But to really appreciate why, you have to know a couple of basics—like, for example, why is gut health so important to begin with?
The gut—the whole intestinal tract—contains the body’s largest interface between a person and his external environment. (1) Think about it. The single-celled wall of cells that line the gut is the only line of defense protecting the bloodstream from assorted toxins and irritants that wind up in the digestive tract. Its healthy functioning is absolutely essential to nearly any aspect of human health, including, by the way, mental health.
The gut is like a second brain.
In fact, the gut has been called “the second brain” precisely because of the direct line of communication that exists between the brain and gut. Most folks are surprised to hear that ninety percent of the body’s serotonin—that “feel-good” neurotransmitter in the brain that we’ve all heard so much about—is actually manufactured in the gut!(3) The relationship between the two organs—it’s called the “gut-brain axis” —may indeed be partly controlled by the endocannabinoid system.(2)
So, integrity of the gut wall is essential. You can think of a healthy gut lining as a layer of tightly woven mesh. It has a very important function: it keeps the riff-raff—like undigested food particles and toxins—out of the bloodstream.
Injury to the gut lining lets the bad guys loose.
But when there’s injury and/or inflammation in the gut, it’s like poking a hole in the cheesecloth. Now stuff that doesn’t belong, leaks into the bloodstream. This state of affairs is called leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability. When errant particles get into the bloodstream where they don’t belong, the immune system immediately goes on high alert. It sees “foreigners” and mounts an attack. And you get all kinds of symptoms.
These symptoms can range from constipation and diarrhea to disruptions in gut motility (the speed at which food moves through the digestive tract) to the activation of autoimmune symptoms. Symptoms frequently include a general, non-specific feeling of un-wellness. That’s why so many doctors say things like, “Treat the gut first,” or “Health begins in the gut.”
So how does CBD fit into the picture?
Actually, CBD plays an important role in both the structure and the function of the gut. Remember, there are both CB-1 and CB-2 receptors throughout the gut, further supporting the case for the involvement of the endocannabinoid system in gut health. Here are some of the ways CBD can specifically support gut health.
1. It affects TNF-alpha production.
It’s been demonstrated that CBD helps suppress the release of TNF-alpha, one of the major inflammatory compounds released when the gut’s inflammatory response is out of kilter. By dialing down TNF-alpha production, CBD helps support a healthy inflammation response in the gut.
2. It affects gut motility.
We also know that the endocannabinoid system affects gut motility.(7,8) When motility is too fast, it generally results in diarrhea. When it’s too slow, you get constipated. CBD helps support healthy gut motility. It can help the body achieve the “Goldilocks effect” when it comes to digestion—not too fast, not too slow, but just right.
3. There’s cross-talk between the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and the gut microbiome.
There’s good evidence of “cross-talk” between the trillions of good and bad microbes that live in your gut (the “microbiome”) and the endocannabinoid system.(6) Multiple animal studies have shown that the administration of CBD produced gut-related health benefits. (4,5). And finally, human studies of people sick with gut health issues have found a positive effect when CBD was added to their treatment regimen.(9) Though there was no significant difference in remission numbers between the CBD-supplemented group and the placebo group, the group that didn’t supplement with CBD experienced more gastrointestinal distress. And according to physicians’ subjective impressions, the CBD-supplemented group saw many significantly improved quality-of life outcomes, including, by the way, the patients’ own impression of the severity of their illnesses.
All of which is to say that I consider CBD an important addition to a supplement regimen, the purpose of which is to support the healthy structure and function of the human gut.