Is Cannabis Safe for IBS?

4 Ways Cannabis Helps Me Manage IBS

For most of my thirties, I was terrified of lunch. Back then it wasn’t uncommon for me to fall into a comatose sleep after my midday meal, a nap so deep a kitchen fire couldn’t wake me. And it felt totally random, so I never knew if my next meal would be the one to knock me out.

I lived with this problem for years, unable to work consistently, and feeling slave to a body that seemed unpredictable at best, and a cruel form of punishment at worst. When I finally figured out how to address the problem, I realized the solution had been staring me in the face for years.

Is Cannabis Safe for IBS?

Though I’d been living with IBS for decades, in my thirties, I still didn’t understand the condition, my trigger foods, or the ways my emotions interacted with my digestive system. Most days by mid-morning, my belly had swollen to the size of a basketball. My wardrobe consisted of clothes that hid my stomach because I’d never know how big it would be from day to day.

The worst part was the bloating, the pain of it, the discomfort it caused. It interfered with work, making concentration impossible. It curtailed my social life, dulling my confidence. I was hungry and thirsty all the time but also unable to eat without paying a price afterwards, an unending and exhausting cycle.

I hear lots of women ask if cannabis is a safe way to manage the symptoms of IBS but I can only speak from personal experience. There are no studies to confirm that cannabis is a treatment for IBS but there are studies to show that it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

Cannabis works by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is located throughout the body, and controls functions such as cognition, motivation, motor function, homeostasis and emotional responses. It’s been shown to modulate the nervous and immune systems.

As IBS is a condition that is triggered by high-stress situations, it therefore makes sense that cannabis could provide some relief by modulating the nervous system. However, it was the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties that proved most effective for me. Here, I explore the 4 ways cannabis helped me manage the symptoms of IBS.

1. Eliminates Belly Bloat

I lived with the discomfort of bloating for decades. It wasn’t until I quit drinking alcohol and joined a gym in 2014 that I was able to gain some control over the cycle. That’s when I learned that exercise was a way to ease the discomfort of belly bloat. Pretty soon I was going to the gym every day to manage my IBS symptoms.

In 2016, I started writing for the cannabis industry, and learned how to cook with cannabis. As someone who had smoked cannabis for years, I was like a kid in a toy store discovering a much-loved toy had new and super exciting features.

I learned how to make cannabis butter and ghee, and added it to everything from cookies and breads to pizza and pancakes, making low-carb versions with almond and coconut flour. After a few weeks, I noticed a shift in my symptoms. My bloating had eased.

Then I tried something new. Whenever, I had a flare-up, I’d eat a cookie, and noticed that within an hour the bloating would pass. I kept a stock of cookies in the fridge for this purpose, and ate them for about six months, at which point my symptoms dissipated and have not returned.

Today, I eat a strict low FODMAP diet and exercise regularly but there’s no question of the way eating cannabis impacted my IBS symptoms, specifically belly bloat. It’s my belief that the cannabinoids in cannabis acted as a prebiotic, bringing much-needed balance my microbiome though this is speculation on my part.

But I promise you, the change was explicit. A cannabis cookie took about an hour to be effective. Whenever, a flare up occurred, I’d eat a small cookie, and it acted like a pressure release, easing the bloat in my stomach until it disappeared. I don’t eat it anymore, as there’s no need. I still get flare-ups if I eat a trigger food but nothing like the belly bloat I experienced in the past.

2. Stirs Appetite

When I’m not stoned, I hardly eat at all. Hunger may gnaw my stomach, but I’ll ignore it, stay seated at my desk, working, more interested in hitting a deadline than fuelling my body. This is a habit built up over years of living with IBS, by which I mean, I learned not to eat rather than risk the chance of a flare-up.

Lots of women with IBS will identify with me on this. We tend to see food as an inconvenience at best, or a threat at worst. Lots of us live with extreme food fear. For this reason, most of us have bad eating habits, waiting till we’re ravenous to eat, and then eating whatever is easiest, not what is best for us.

Before I got into fitness, I used to binge eat. I go for days without eating and then, splurge. This wasn’t some form of bulimia, as I never threw up what I ate. By the time I ate, I was so hungry it wouldn’t even occur to me to throw up – all I wanted was sustenance.

Cannabis stirs my hunger, impelling me to cook. But the change happened on two levels. First, through my fitness journey, I changed my relationship to food, learning how I needed it to fuel my workouts. Along the way, I experimented with lots of eating styles, in particular, Atkin’s, Paleo, and Keto.

Ultimately, none of these diets worked for me, and instead, I had to find a combination that suited my specific physical needs. But cannabis motivates me to get in the kitchen and experiment. It also stirs my appetite to the point that I can enjoy meals.

3. Aids Sleep

When I smoke cannabis, I get sleep! I’m a highly-strung person, and if I’ve got things on my mind, will stay up late, working or reading or re-arranging the furniture in the spare room. Not so when I’m stoned. I get sleepy when it gets dark and like to be in bed by ten pm.

Research into the ways cannabis impacts sleep is still in its infancy. Early results suggest that while it will help you fall asleep, it may disrupt the quality of the sleep you get, meaning you get less REM sleep, that deep restorative sleep that so important for the immune system.

4. Provides Perspective

When I smoke cannabis, I take time out for self-reflection and can gain perspective on whatever is bothering me. Yes, it’s true I’m highly-strung, and am therefore more susceptible to blowing things out of proportion. But cannabis helps me see I’m also a conscientious person who cares deeply about the wellbeing of the people in my life.

When I started writing for the cannabis industry, as well as learning to cook with it, I also learned how to grow it. This deepened my connection to nature, as I learned the simple pleasure of sticking my fingers in a pot of clay, and the joy of nurturing a plant from seed to flower. There is nothing more grounding than this.

Now, when I get stressed out, I don’t need to smoke, as cannabis has taught me that spending time in nature is a powerful drug with unique abilities to calm a haywire nervous system. I now believe that IBS isn’t a digestive issue but a nervous system dysfunction. Again, that’s pure speculation on my part but it’s a realisation I’d never have discovered without cannabis.

PRACTICE

Discover the medicinal qualities of gardening. Do you have a garden or potted plants? Do you know how to germinate a seed? Visit a garden centre this week and pick yourself up some seeds.

GUIDELINES

If you’d like more information on how cannabis can help you improve your eating habits, get in touch today, email wildwomanaw@gmail.com

Published by The Healthy Hashhead

Challenging attitudes to cannabis, nutrition and fitness with conscious questions.

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