Everything you need to know about CBD & The Gut Microbiome:
The Ultimate Expert's Guide.
CBD & The Gut Microbiome: The Connection Between CBD & Our Digestive Microbiota. Effects, Benefits, Research, Science & More:
We take you through the benefits, research, latest science & how you can improve your gut health with CBD.
New research suggests CBD is closely linked to the health of our gut microbiome and overall digestive health.
A lot of us have heard recently about the potential benefits of CBD, but researchers are honing in on a new and unexpected direction for research into this unique natural compound: the relationship between cannabinoids, whole-plant extracts and our digestive tract. Specifically, preliminary research suggests CBD could contribute positively to the health of our gut microbiome, the tiny organisms that help us digest our food.
Anyone that’s suffered from a stomach ache can appreciate the importance of good digestion, but researchers suspect it could go far deeper. Scientists today are discovering that the health of our gut microbiomes could be intimately linked to everything from mental health to our immune systems.
Clearly, humanity is still learning about all ways the health of our digestive tract affects the health of other parts of our bodies. Understanding where CBD fits in is even more experimental.
Even so, we wanted to share what researchers know today about the connections between CBD and gut microflora health.
The Gut Brain connection: Our gut is now referred to as our second brain. Scientists call this little brain the enteric nervous system (ENS). And it’s not so little. The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum.
Understanding the gut microbiome & how it influences our health
Scientists have understood the importance of good nutrition and healthy digestion for a long time. Only in recent years have researchers truly begun to appreciate the key role of our microbiome in our overall health.
Millions of microscopic bacteria, viruses and fungi live in our digestive tract. Together, these tiny organisms are known as the gut microbiome. If you’ve ever eaten yogurt in order to improve your gut health, then you’ve already interacted with your own personal microbiome.
Gut bacteria are responsible for producing hundreds of essential neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. For example, gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.
Scientists have discovered the gut microbiome (the millions of bacteria in our guts) plays a key role in everything from mental health to our immune systems.
Currently, most of the research focuses on the bacteria in our microbiome. Researchers believe that up to 1,000 different types of bacteria live in our guts, many of them in a special pocket in the large intestine. Collectively, they could weigh as much as five pounds; that’s almost as heavy as our brain.
Basically, the microbiome makes up an internal organ of its own, and has sometimes been referred to as a “second brain” because of how much it may influence our health. It seems like the more scientists look, the more they learn about the importance of our gut microbiome. Studies have linked the microbiome to our immune systems, the healthy function of our brains, even weight gain or loss and the health of our hearts!
The link between CBD & our gut microbiome
CBD and other cannabinoids found in hemp and cannabis work by interacting with the human endocannabinoid system (or ‘ECS’).
Simply put, our body creates its own chemicals that are similar to the compounds found in hemp and cannabis. These compounds, called endocannabinoids, and the plant-based compounds in hemp (or “phytocannabinoids”) interact with special receptors found in our nervous system and all throughout our bodies.
Our “endocannabinoid system” seems to play a key role in encouraging gut bacteria to maintain the lining of our digestive system, which in turn plays a profound role in our overall health.
How does that connect to the microbiome? A thin lining of our digestive tract called the “epithelial barrier” seems to be crucial in keeping us healthy, and the gut microbiome is responsible for maintaining the epithelial barrier. As reported by Project CBD, an important 2012 study suggested that key receptors in the ECS encourage the bacteria to maintain a healthy epithelial barrier.
Keith Sharkey, a University of Calgary professor and expert in the gut microbiome, told Project CBD in September 2020 that the endocannabinoid system seems to be a “control element.” encouraging the microbiome to act to prevent or repair damage to our digestive tract.
“We have developed as mammals this very intricate control system, which prevents damage or quickly repairs damage, to prevent further erosion of our bodies,” Sharkey said. “The bacteria we have in our gut contributes to that system.”
Although research into the links between the endocannabinoid system and the epithelial barrier is just beginning, he stressed that we need to remember we live in a “mutualistic symbiotic relationship” with our gut microbiome.
Other ways CBD might help digestive health.
There are other ways CBD might contribute to a healthy digestion, according to research and consumer reports.
Research suggests that CBD, along with other compounds found in the hemp and cannabis plants such as CBG, can have a potent anti-inflammatory effect throughout our bodies. A number of troubling health conditions can be caused by inflammation of the digestive tract and other internal organs. A 2011 study suggested CBD might even reduce inflammation and intestinal damage linked to Crohn’s disease.
Research suggests cannabinoids like CBD & CBG can reduce inflammation and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, all of which could also improve the health of our digestive tracts.
While researchers are just now discovering how the health of our guts can affect the health of our minds, we’ve long known about the links between mental health and good digestion. Digestive upset is frequently a symptom of anxiety and depression. And research suggests CBD could reduce symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
In a 2018 personal essay published by Ministry of Hemp, Annalise Mabe described how CBD not only reduced the abdominal pain caused by Crohn’s but also helped ease “arguably the worst parts” of her disease: “the psychological burden/worry … and overall anxiety.”
With mental health linked to our digestive health, and the health of our gut microbiome in turn linked to our mental health, it seems to create a feedback loop where one can balance or imbalance the other. And cannabinoids like CBD seem like they might play a part in all of it.
The intriguing science of gut health
It’s intuitive knowledge that eating right and supporting your digestive tract is good for your health.
Even so, researchers are giving us a much deeper appreciation of how much it matters to keep the millions of bacteria in our guts healthy and happy too. Even the health of the soil where our food (or our hemp!) is grown could affect the health of the gut microbiome.
Your microbiome actually begins to form as we pass from your mother’s birth canal into the world. It really is extraordinary to think how closely our lives are linked to these organisms, literally from the moment we’re born.
As we learn more about our gut microbiome, we’re learning about new ways to support these tiny friends, from understanding the right nutrition for our personal chemistry to learning how to support the microbiome with supplements like CBD and probiotics. Research keeps opening new doors into better health, and they all seem to lead back to our digestive tract!
Writer: Kit O’Connell is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. His work has also appeared in Yes! Magazine, the Texas Observer, and elsewhere. He served as Editor in Chief of the Ministry of Hemp from 2017 until 2021.