CBD for Gut Health
The gut is often called the ‘second brain’ of our body. Some people, however, think it’s actually the first, as the gut came first in evolutionary terms and was crucial to the survival of mankind. Without a properly functioning gut, people couldn’t have the energy to walk, hunt, or gather food.
In recent years, we have learned a lot about the gut. Its work, it turns out, is not simply to digest food and turn it into energy. The digestive system does much more than absorb nutrients to help our body make the most of the food we eat.
Since the 1990s, we have started to explore the ways that link the gut to our endocannabinoid system and the central and peripheral nervous systems. We now know that our gut is closely linked to our brain and interacts with it, affecting each other. Surprisingly, many of our neurotransmitters are produced in the gut rather than in the brain. For example, most serotonin and dopamine are made in the gut.
All in all, our gut appears to be at the centre of our wellbeing in ways that still have to be properly understood.
Given its relation to the endocannabinoid system, how does CBD work with our gut? Can it help maintain your gut’s balance and overall health?
What does our gut do?
Hippocrates is quoted saying that ‘all diseases start in the gut’. Research  seems to agree. You will be amazed by how much work our gut does. A well-balanced gut will digest foods properly, absorb all the necessary nutrients, and produce a healthy balance of neurotransmitters.
Our gut contains trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that work together in dynamic harmony. These keep each other in optimal numbers to form our gut microbiome. Imagine your gut microbiome as a community of living organisms. This ecosystem is responsible for most of the gut’s functions.
Digestion of foods
The most obvious task of the gut is to digest the foods we eat. Our digestive system has to move food from our mouth through the oesophagus, the stomach, and the intestines. Any leftovers are then released through the anus.
Absorption of nutrients
The gut absorbs nutrients through its lining. This is how our bones get calcium, our blood gets iron, and our whole body gets the minerals and vitamins it needs. When our gut fails to properly absorb any nutrients, our body feels the effects right away.
Production of neurotransmitters
Our gut also produces neurotransmitters. Although most people assume that neurotransmitters are produced in the brain, a large percentage of them is, in fact, manufactured in the gut.
Research has discovered that various gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Findings are showing that “while serotonin is broadly used throughout the body, 90–95% of serotonin resides in the gastrointestinal tract.” 
So, could this mean that the gut is simply a storage space for neurotransmitters rather than producing them? Well, no, as a clinical trial on mice has already tested this possibility . Researchers removed gut microbes in mice and found that these germ-free mice produced 60% less serotonin than conventional mice. The particularly interesting part was that serotonin production increased again when the germ-free mice guts were recolonized with microbes and bacteria.
What do gut bacteria do?
Besides the obvious tasks our gut regulates, the bacteria have many responsibilities:
- To maintain a balanced gut microbiome, gut bacteria must prevent intestinal inflammation. Inflammation will produce an imbalance that can identify itself as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, bloody stools, or abdominal pain.
- A significant portion of our immune system resides in our gut. Gut bacteria must maintain the immune system active and robust to fend off unwanted intruders.
- Thanks to a balanced production of bacteria, the gut balances our neurotransmitters. Healthy levels of neurotransmitters are associated with mental stability. If our gut bacteria fail to regulate our neurotransmitters, then our brain feels the effects: depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions are partly due to inadequate levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
What does the ECS do with the gut?
Our endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for regulating many bodily functions. It is tasked with maintaining homeostasis, the body’s natural balance, and monitors our appetite, mood, learning, temperature perception, motor perception, reproduction, immune system, and inflammation, among others.
Our endocannabinoid system works by releasing cannabinoids and receptors produced by the body. When the ECS senses that something is amiss, it sends its cannabinoids to bind to their receptors and alert the cells to start mending the problem.
ECS receptors across the body, including the gut
Cannabinoid receptors are spread across the body. So far, scientists have identified two main types of cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found in the brain and spinal cord. CB2 receptors are mainly found in the gut and immune system.
That is our first clue that the endocannabinoid system has a close connection to our gut system. Several recent studies confirm the possible interactions between the endocannabinoid system and gut bacteria, known as the microbiota . Further research  supports this view and notes that cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous ligands, the endocannabinoids, participate in the regulation of gut motility.
So, it looks certain that the ECS is involved in the functioning of the gut system. But how does CBD tie in with this?
How does CBD work?
CBD is a phytocannabinoid (plant cannabinoid) found in cannabis. CBD products sold in the United Kingdom are produced from industrial hemp, which is a variety of cannabis. Industrial hemp is rich in CBD but only contains traces of THC, which is the psychotropic cannabinoid that produces the ‘high’ associated with cannabis.
CBD works in tandem with ECS
CBD has a close affinity to one of the human cannabinoids called 2-AG. CBD appears to help the ECS work better.
While the ECS is responsible for maintaining the body’s natural state of balance, it is sometimes unable to perform its task. Illness, stress, and disease can prevent the ECS from regulating the body with its own endocannabinoids. CBD seems to nudge the ECS to work more efficiently in such cases. With a gentle push, CBD appears to support the ECS, thus helping restore the body’s balance.
This only raises more questions, though. Besides the gut, the ECS is also active in the brain. What it the relationship between brain and gut? Can CBD affect this—and how?
Two unlikely partners: the brain and the gut
Scientists talk about the brain-gut axis. The vagus nerve connects the brain and the gut. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) further binds and interconnects our brain with our digestive system and gut. Brain and gut affect each other in a circular way.
Have you ever felt butterflies in your belly? What happens when you feel stressed and the fight-or-flight instinct kicks in? In both cases, your gut reacts to your mental upset. That’s the first sign that our brain is very closely connected to our gut. They send messages to each other and affect their respective state.
Research and clinical trials have studied this connection and the findings are conclusive: the presence and abundance of bacteria affect our mental state. For example, research suggests that particular levels of gut bacteria are linked to bipolar disorder and depression . Furthermore, a clinical trial on mice revealed that gut microbiota influences depressive-like behaviour .
Additional research  suggests that the ECS is the bridge that links the brain and gut. It is a seamless system that runs through both. When the gut microbiome is in balance, our brain feels the benefits. When things start going awry, the ECS intervenes to return the microbiome to its equilibrium and help the brain and gut regain their well-being.
Can CBD help with gut problems?
What happens when the microbiome of our gut gets out of sync?
When our gut microbes and bacteria lose their natural balance, inflammation occurs. Most gut health problems occur from inflammation. Gut inflammation is responsible for conditions as diverse as colitis, irritable bowel disease, and Crohn’s disease.
If our ECS is having trouble restoring the gut’s balance, then perhaps CBD might help. Clinical trials  suggest that cannabidiol may help reduce intestinal inflammation. Furthermore, the endocannabinoid system was found to be involved in gastrointestinal (GI) motility . When constipation occurs, CBD may help the ECS restore the gut’s balance and alleviate constipation.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Disease, and Crohn’s Disease
A recent review  analyses how the gut microbiome can be related to conditions and diseases such as colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, celiac disease, obesity, colorectal cancer, and even autism spectrum disorder:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is associated with gut microbiome imbalance. Stress can trigger an episode of IBS, thus confirming the connection between the brain and gut.
- Irritable bowel disease (IBD) is due to an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It slowly damages sections of the gut.
- Crohn’s disease is another inflammatory gut condition. It differs from IBD in regards to the location of the inflammation: in Crohn’s disease, inflammation usually occurs in the small intestine while in IBD it is commonly found in the large intestine.
CBD may help with the above because it has been found to regulate the production of cytokines and interleukins . Cytokines are proteins responsible for creating inflammation by signalling our immune system to start an inflammatory response to a perceived problem. Since most gut problems are linked to inflammation, CBD may have the potential to mediate cytokine production and reduce gut inflammation.
Obesity and weight management
Obesity is a complex issue. Diet and exercise are closely linked to healthy body weight. However, research is increasingly suggesting that the gut microbiome is linked with obesity as well . Different species of gut bacteria and an overall asymmetry between microbes, bacteria, and fungi could help explain obesity and weight problems that are not due to poor diet or lack of exercise.
CBD, the gut, and the brain
The relationship between CBD, the gut, and the brain is fascinating.
If researchers confirm a connection between CBD and gut health, then we may soon witness the birth of new approaches to fighting diverse conditions and diseases related to gut inflammation.
Besides helping with problems related to the gut, the next step would be to evaluate whether CBD can improve the gut microbiome and consequently the brain balance. We could someday be taking CBD for gut microbiome stability and hence mental stability and wellbeing. This would be a huge step forward for people wishing to use CBD to fight anxiety and depression or simply to support their mental focus.