Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Does Weed Help IBS?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

medical marijuana doctor

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that causes digestive issues, like gas, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, among other symptoms. IBS is surprisingly common. Some estimates state that between 10% and 15% of the adult population in the US has IBS, but far fewer are diagnosed. That’s because IBS is mild for most people, but it can cause severe symptoms in some instances.

IBS is a functional GI disorder caused by a dysfunctional interaction between the brain and gastrointestinal tract. This interaction with the brain may play a role in why cannabis helps alleviate IBS symptoms.

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What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

The underlying causes of irritable bowel syndrome remain unknown. It is understood that there is a link between the gut and the brain involved in IBS, and there are a series of known risk factors, including:

  • Nervous system issues
  • Family history of IBS
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Severe infection
  • Stress in childhood
  • History of abuse
  • Intolerance to certain foods
  • Changes in the GI microbiome

People under 50 are far more likely to develop IBS than older individuals. Women have a higher risk of developing IBS as well. A family history of the condition also indicates that someone may develop IBS. Anxiety, depression, and other related mental health conditions can also indicate an increased risk of IBS.

Certain foods and stress can trigger IBS, like wheat, dairy, beans, cabbage, citrus, and carbonated drinks.

IBS Signs & Symptoms

If you have IBS, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms frequently:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Changes in frequency of bowel movements

How Cannabis Can Help Alleviate IBS Symptoms

fainting after smoking marijuana

The underlying mechanisms behind IBS remain largely unknown. 

Researcher Ethan Russo theorized that deficiencies in the body’s endocannabinoid system played a role in IBS and other conditions.1 He later linked fibromyalgia and migraines to endocannabinoid deficiencies because there’s a high incidence of two or more of those conditions presenting in the same individuals.2 Subsequent research has supported his findings.3 

Additional research indicates that cannabis can affect the entire GI tract and may play a role in treating an array of disorders, including IBS.4 In treating IBS, evidence indicates that cannabis can help bring intestinal regularity and reduce painful contractions. It also helped decrease the activity of the colon in people with a certain gene variation. However, it was less helpful in other areas. While the research largely backed up Russo’s theory, it wasn’t conclusive.

Further research into inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a close relative of IBS, found that patients reported a significant reduction in symptoms. Multiple studies demonstrated that the majority of participants who used cannabis to treat IBD found relief from their symptoms.5

Additional research has indicated that CBD, as well as other cannabinoids, can modulate states of hypermotility in the intestine, decreasing the speed at which material passes through the digestive tract.6 Since CBD also has anti-inflammatory properties, researchers believe it can play a role in treating IBS by decreasing inflammation.

In addition to directly treating the symptoms of IBS, it’s possible that cannabis effects  the underlying causes or triggers. IBS is often triggered or made worse by stress. Evidence supports that cannabis is effective at treating stress and anxiety. The same can be said for inflammation associated with IBS.

While many studies have shown cannabis may have a role to play in treating IBS, there are conflicting findings on how effective it can be for patients. Further research is needed.

Legality and Doctor’s Recommendation

To determine if your state considers irritable bowel syndrome to be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, check out our Laws & Regulations section for the medical cannabis rules for your state.

If you find that your state recognizes IBS as a qualifying medical condition, you can seek a doctor’s recommendation to register for your state’s medical marijuana program. 

How NuggMD Can Help

NuggMD is the nation's leading medical marijuana technology platform, serving patients in 22 states and growing. We’ve connected over 1,000,000 patients with their new medical marijuana doctors face-to-face via our state-of-the-art telemedicine platform. 

We believe that every human being has the right to explore the benefits of medical cannabis and are fully committed to helping each patient explore all of their options in their journey to wellness. For further information on whether you qualify for medical cannabis, select your state.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Cannabis & IBS

Which strains are best for irritable bowel syndrome?

The research around cannabis and IBS is sparse, so there isn’t conclusive insight into which strains are best for alleviating IBS symptoms. There are a few strains that patients report have offered relief. Many of the strains reported to help with IBS are high in CBD and include:

  • Cannatonic
  • White Widow
  • Blue Dream
  • Harlequin
  • Blueberry Diesel
  • Pennywise
  • One To One

Can CBD help with IBS?

There is evidence to suggest that CBD may help relieve some symptoms of IBS.

Do edibles help with IBS?

This topic  hasn’t been studied extensively, but current research suggests that cannabis alleviates  IBS when cannabinoids enter the bloodstream and bind to endocannabinoid receptors. Since that happens with edibles, they are a form of cannabis that may be effective.


1. Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effects.” British Journal of Pharmacology, vol. 163, no. 7, 12 July 2011, pp. 1344–1364, 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x.

2. Russo, Ethan B. “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, vol. 1, no. 1, Dec. 2016, pp. 154–165,, 10.1089/can.2016.0009.

3. Smith, Steele Clarke, and Mark S. Wagner. “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) Revisited: Can This Concept Explain the Therapeutic Benefits of Cannabis in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Other Treatment-Resistant Conditions?” Neuro Endocrinology Letters, vol. 35, no. 3, 2014, pp. 198–201,

4. Cannabis in Gastrointestinal Disorders – Practical Gastro.

5. Carina Hasenoehrl, Martin Storr & Rudolf Schicho (2017) Cannabinoids for treating inflammatory bowel diseases: where are we and where do we go?, Expert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 11:4, 329-337, DOI: 10.1080/17474124.2017.1292851
6. Martínez, Vicente, et al. “Cannabidiol and Other Non-Psychoactive Cannabinoids for Prevention and Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders: Useful Nutraceuticals?” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 21, no. 9, 26 Apr. 2020,, 10.3390/ijms21093067.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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