CBD for IBS: Does it Work?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What is CBD?

CBD is a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its close cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD doesn’t produce a “high” feeling. It also has fewer potential unpleasant side effects than THC.

There are three different types of CBD:

  • full-spectrum CBD, which contains multiple cannabinoids, including THC, as well as terpenes and flavonoids
  • broad-spectrum CBD, which contains many cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, but no THC
  • CBD isolate, which is pure CBD only

Can CBD help IBS?

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While an IBS-friendly diet and stress relief can help reduce IBS symptoms, some people may want to try additional treatments — especially during flare-ups.

Doctors sometimes prescribe medications for IBS, but some of these only target specific symptoms and may have undesirable side effects. If you’re looking for something natural that might help with IBS, you may wonder about CBD.

Because there are cannabinoid receptors all over our body, including our stomachs, it’s possible that ingesting cannabis-derived products, like CBD, may help with digestive symptoms.

Studies have also shown that cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory qualities, something that might make them good at treating gastrointestinal disorders like IBS. However, studies from 2011 and 2012 on cannabinoids and IBS have specifically looked at the effect of dronabinol, a synthetic cannabis product that mainly contains THC.

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One review from 2020 suggests that CBD may also have potential therapeutic benefits for conditions like IBS. However, more research is needed to confirm the link. Right now, there’s just not enough evidence to firmly declare that CBD can help with IBS.

What kind of CBD is best for IBS?

There’s no specific research about which type of CBD is best for IBS. That said, research suggests that taking THC and CBD together might be more effective than taking either alone — this is called the entourage effect.

Because of this, full-spectrum CBD products might be better at easing symptoms than broad-spectrum CBD or CBD isolate.

As for product type, topicals won’t be particularly helpful for IBS symptoms. Ingesting edibles like gummies and oils might be a better bet.

How to find a quality CBD product

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When shopping for CBD, whether for IBS or another concern, consider the following:

CBD source

Buy from a company that’s open and honest about where they source their hemp.

Third-party testing

A quality product should come with an up-to-date, detailed certificate of analysis (COA) from a reputable third-party lab.

A COA lets you know whether the product’s potency actually matches what’s on the label. It’s also best to look for a COA that contains information about contaminant testing. That way, you can be sure the product has been tested for potentially harmful substances like heavy metals and mold.

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Avoid companies that promise you the moon. It’s NOT OK for companies to make claims that their CBD products cure ailments — not only because there isn’t enough research to support this, but it’s also against Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules.

In fact, the FDA sends warning letters to companies that make false health claims. Checking the warning letter database can be a good way to steer clear of brands that have a poor reputation.

CBD type

Full-spectrum products are thought to be more effective than other types, but they do contain small amounts of THC (no more than 0.3 percent).

If you prefer to avoid THC, opt for a product made with CBD isolate or broad- spectrum CBD. But keep in mind that any CBD product may contain trace amounts of THC.

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Dosing varies a lot across CBD products, so always check the label to learn more about the potency. A higher potency might be the reason for a higher price tag — but not always.

What dosage should you use?

CBD dosing differs for everyone. Don’t assume that what worked for a friend will solve your symptoms. You may need a higher or lower dose.

If you’re just starting out, err on the side of caution and start with the smallest dose. Keep in mind that when ingesting CBD edibles, the effects may take a few hours to kick in. Only take more when a full 2 hours have gone by.

If you need more help with figuring out how to dose CBD, check out our CBD dosing guide.

Safety and side effects

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CBD won’t get you “high” and is generally considered pretty safe. Still, there’s a possibility that you’ll experience side effects, such as:

  • fatigue
  • changes in weight or appetite
  • diarrhea

Since CBD can cause diarrhea in some people, it may make IBS symptoms worse for some.

The risk or severity of side effects may increase if you take CBD with a high fat meal.

Another thing to keep in mind is that CBD may interact with some medications. Be sure to talk with your doctor before trying CBD. This can help you avoid unpleasant side effects or drug interactions.

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If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t take CBD.

Frequently asked questions about CBD for IBS

Is CBD good for IBS?

It’s possible that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties may help curb IBS symptoms, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll work for you. Right now, the research on whether CBD can help relieve IBS symptoms is limited.

Can CBD make IBS worse?

In some people, CBD can cause side effects like diarrhea, which isn’t ideal if you’re already dealing with IBS.

Does CBD affect bowel movements?

A possible side effect of taking CBD is diarrhea. Research also suggests that taking CBD may increase gut motility, or movement in the digestive system, in people with IBS.

The takeaway

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There’s growing research that suggests taking CBD may have health benefits, including anxiety and pain relief. However, the jury is still out on whether CBD can help with IBS symptoms.

Until we know for sure whether CBD helps with IBS, there’s likely not much harm in trying it out. Just be sure to talk with your doctor before giving it a whirl. Some people may experience IBS-like symptoms, like diarrhea, when taking CBD.

Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3 percent THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.

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