Cannabis and Your Gut Microbiome

Stephen Andrews
07 Dec 2021

A complex and intricate system, the gut microbiome is said to be "the second brain" in the human organism. Trillions of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms live in the gut and influence various bodily functions and processes scientists are merely beginning to become aware of. One of the questions that are also looked at in research is how cannabis affects the gut? In what way do cannabis and the endocannabinoid system engage with the countless number of microbes inhabiting our digestive system?

Why is your gut microbiome so unique?

In the long journey of human evolution, our species learned to live along with microbes. Microbes have become an essential part of our organisms, performing critical functions and affecting our body's health the second we're born. 

The gut microbiome helps control digestion and benefits the body's immune system. Both healthy and unhealthy microbes inhabit the digestive tract; for the human body to be healthy, there needs to be a balance between all the different microorganisms, good and bad. 

When this balance is undermined a number of health issues may arise, including weight gain, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol. The microbiome affects gut health and may contribute to diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

The imbalance of gut microbiota is known as gut dysbiosis. It manifests with bloating, cramps, and abdominal pain, symptoms that people struggling with IBS are all too well familiar with. Microbes produce excess gas and chemicals, reinforcing the sensation of abdominal discomfort. 

In addition, an imbalanced gut microbiome has been linked to various neurological disorders like anxietydepressionand autism. A healthy gut microbiome on the other hand, contributes to a healthy and happy brain.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods are known to promote a healthy balance in the microbiome. Probiotics and yogurt can also help nourish beneficial bacteria and improve the condition of your gut. And so might cannabis!

What's the relationship between the gut microbiome and the endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) has been associated with a number of vital functions in the body as well. It helps regulate mood, emotions, appetite, and our responses to pain and stress, among other things. The ECS encompasses all cannabinoids that naturally form in the body, known as endocannabinoids or cannabinoid receptors and enzymes; they are found all over the body, including the gut. 

Research has found that the endocannabinoid system plays a significant function in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Endocannabinoid receptors in the abdominal area regulate various biological processes, such as how food moves through the intestines as well as immunological and inflammatory responses.

The same receptors also help pass information to the brain about any changes that happen in the intestines, and that is something that often results in a neurological reaction. For example, the gut microbiome is out of balance, the info travels throughout the brain-gut axis mediated by the ECS system and there is a sudden change of the mood in the person. It's a complex reaction that started with cannabinoid receptors in the gut. Similarly, a person may feel more cheerful when the gut-to-brain interaction says "all is fine" with the gut. 

cannabis microbiome gut health.

How cannabis affects the gut microbiome?

When cannabinoids enter the body, they interact with all and any cannabinoid receptors, including those present in the gut. There's growing evidence that cannabis can contribute to a healthy gut microbiome, gut-brain communication, and overall gut health.

Cannabis is commonly used to treat pain, cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Both THC and CBD can generate soothing effects on the gut, however, when used medicinally to treat specific conditions, a doctor's consultation is more than recommended. In part, because a specific diagnosis may require a particular quantity and/or combination of cannabinoids. More severe health conditions may also require a broader scope of medicines, and sometimes cannabis will not fit the picture because of side effects. 

Nevertheless, some of the research is exciting, to say the least, of how cannabis can help contribute to a healthier gut. Below is a quick sum up:

Cannabis can protect against weight gain

Some research concerns THC, the primary psychedelic cannabinoid extracted from cannabis. When tested on obese mice, THC helped the rodents maintain a healthier gut balance, plus it reduced various symptoms linked with obesity, such as chronic inflammation and gut leak. 

One other study that involved humans, found that cannabis users had fewer bacteria linked with obesity in their tummies. People who use cannabis in their day in and day out are also less likely to develop obesity, according to some more research. However, THC is known to open up a ferocious appetite, widely known as the munchies. (and you can read here how to deal with munchies if that is something that bothers you every time after you smoke weed). 

While more research is needed to obtain comprehensive insight into how THC affects gut health and appetite, when it comes to weight management, there just might be another minor cannabinoid that may steal the show in the future. THCV has already been billed as the one cannabinoid that can help people lose weight. 

Cannabis may promote healthy gut microbiota. 

More studies on mice have shown THC combined with CBD can induce higher levels of specific short-chain fatty acids found in the large intestine, associated with immune responses and metabolic processes. The same acids contribute to a healthier central nervous system and a more stable brain-gut communication.

Cannabis can reduce inflammation in the gut and brain.

There's more significant evidence on the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis. Many different strains are beneficial when tackling inflammatory processes in the body. Some of the current research is directed at how minor cannabinoids such as CBN as well as terpenes such as beta-caryophyllene may affect both brain and gut health.

There's much more to discover about how cannabis and the gut microbiome interact. But one thing is obvious. There's a complex interaction in place, and there's certainly a space for medical practice to advance further and come up with more precise information that can help people better maintain their gut health. 

Stephen Andrews