Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a collection of inflammatory diseases affecting the digestive tract. IBD symptoms include severe cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. These symptoms can be painful and disruptive to your daily life.

In recent years, there’s been growing interest in trying to manage these symptoms with cannabidiol (CBD), an active compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant.

Unlike the plant’s other active compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD has no psychoactive properties. This means it doesn’t get you high. CBD does, however, have some therapeutic qualities. It’s been used to help relieve conditions ranging from chronic pain and anxiety to side effects of cancer.

Though research is limited and study results are mixed when it comes to CBD’s effectiveness, it does appear to be generally safe for adults. In addition, people with IBD report improvements in symptoms and quality of life after using it.

More clinical research is needed to determine whether CBD can effectively treat IBD symptoms. In the meantime, CBD should not be considered a replacement for more comprehensive, traditional IBD treatment.

Keep reading to learn about the different forms of CBD, what types can be used to potentially alleviate symptoms of IBD, and how to determine dosage. We’ll also review potential risks and side effects.

While new delivery methods for CBD come on the market almost daily, most fall into the following categories:

Forms of CBDDescription
oils, tinctures, and nasal spraysManufacturers infuse CBD in a carrier liquid such as olive or coconut oil. Oils placed under the tongue with a dropper or sprayed into the nose absorb quickly into the bloodstream.
soft gels or capsulesCBD pills contain a version of an oil or tincture. The time from ingestion to onset of effect can take a while.
topical creams, lotions, salvesTopical CBD creams are often applied to the skin to ease muscle or joint pain. They’re also used to treat skin conditions like acne or psoriasis. Most topicals do not enter the bloodstream. Instead, they affect local cannabinoid receptors in the skin.
transdermal patchesPatches typically penetrate the skin to reach the bloodstream. They may have an advantage over creams by providing a steady infusion of CBD for localized treatment, according to a review in the journal Molecules.
suppositoriesRectal and vaginal suppositories are typically made with cocoa butter. They’re claimed to treat a variety of conditions including menstrual cramps.
ediblesCBD is also infused into mints, gummies, lollipops, and other candies. Like capsules, time from ingestion to effect can take a while.
vaping oilsInhaling vaporized CBD oil (with the use of vaping pens or e-cigarettes) is the fastest way to experience effects. Compounds are absorbed directly from the lungs into the bloodstream.

The two main diseases that fall under the IBD umbrella are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Crohn’s tends to cause patchy areas of inflamed tissue, usually in the wall of the small intestine. Ulcerative colitis typically forms near the rectum and spreads up into the colon, also known as the large intestine.

While there are other differences between the two conditions, they share common symptoms, including:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • blood in the stools
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • lack of appetite

Some of these symptoms may be alleviated by the use of CBD.

One small study found that CBD oil, taken in pill form, may help relieve Crohn’s disease symptoms. Other research suggests that CBD may help reduce inflammation caused by colitis.

Which forms to use

Forms of CBD that you can use to potentially relieve symptoms of IBD include:

  • Pills and capsules. Daily use of CBD pills may help keep IBD symptoms at bay.
  • Vaping. Vaporizing CBD may be helpful for sudden IBD flare-ups.
  • Edibles. These gummy-like candies or chocolates are good options for those who have trouble swallowing pills.
  • Oils and tinctures. These are typically placed under the tongue and absorb quickly into the bloodstream. Like edibles, they’re a good option for people who have trouble swallowing pills.
  • Skin creams and lotions. Topical creams are designed more for treating joint problems and skin conditions, like eczema.

There are three main types of CBD you may consider for IBD treatment. But not all types may be right for you.

Full-spectrum CBD

Full-spectrum CBD contains all the compounds from cannabis, including THC in varying amounts. It usually comes in oils, tinctures, vaping oil, edibles, and creams.

By law, full-spectrum CBD products can contain only 0.3 percent THC. However, CBD products aren’t as tightly regulated as standard medications, so the actual amount of THC may vary considerably from product to product.

Broad-spectrum CBD

Like full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD contains other compounds from the cannabis plant. However, all THC has been removed. This type is less popular, and is usually sold as an oil.

CBD isolate

CBD isolate is pure CBD. It’s usually derived from hemp plants and contains no other compounds. It comes in oil or tincture form, as well as small powdery products that can be eaten.

What the research says

A 2018 review of several small studies found that full-spectrum CBD oil, which contained some THC, helped improve quality of life and eased some Crohn’s disease symptoms.

Other research into various forms of CBD has been promising in treating IBD. However, more, larger clinical trials are needed before more doctors will feel confident recommending this treatment.

Because CBD is a relatively new treatment option, healthcare providers are still learning what dosages are both safe and effective for various diseases and people.

In one study of CBD to treat ulcerative colitis, participants took 50 milligrams (mg) of CBD oil twice daily to start, going to up 250 mg per dose if it was well-tolerated. Those taking CBD reported greater improvements in quality of life compared to those who took a placebo, but other results were mixed.

Other research on dosage suggests starting with around 40 mg and increasing from there.

As with most medications, you want to start with the lowest dose that’s still effective. You can then increase to a stronger dose if needed. Lower doses of most medications tend to have lower risks than higher doses.

The long-term risks of CBD use have yet to be established, though researchers are collecting data every year.

It’s also important to note that the FDA doesn’t yet regulate CBD and other dietary supplements for purity and safety. This means there’s always a risk that you may ingest THC or other compounds that you would otherwise avoid.

Interactions with other medications

If you take the anticoagulant warfarin (Coumadin), CBD may raise the level of the blood thinner circulating in your body. This increases the risk of bleeding complications.

CBD may increase the levels and activity of other medications, too. Be sure to talk with your doctor before taking CBD and other medications.

Unlike THC, which carries a long list of potential side effects, CBD appears relatively safe for most adults. Some possible side effects include:

  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in weight

Living with IBD usually means modifying your diet and lifestyle to manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

Some common dietary changes include:

  • limiting certain fruits and vegetables, such as prunes, that can increase stool output
  • increasing food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, which can help reduce inflammation
  • reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption
  • eating several smaller meals throughout the day, rather than two or three large meals

To learn what foods may trigger your IBD flare-ups, keep a food diary to track what you eat and when you have digestive troubles.

Other lifestyle adjustments include regular exercise and not smoking.

Joining an IBD community

You might also consider joining an online IBD community where you can connect with others who understand what it’s like to live with IBD. Read more here.

If you have IBD, you should be under the care of a doctor. Standard medications for IBD include:

In serious cases, surgery may be needed if IBD has severely damaged part of your digestive tract.

If you’re interested in trying CBD to help relieve your IBD symptoms, talk with your doctor first.

Is CBD legal?

Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on a federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Check the laws of your state and anywhere you may be traveling. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not regulated by the FDA, and may be inaccurately labeled.

Was this helpful?

CBD is getting more and more attention from those with IBD who are searching for symptom relief. It’s also getting attention from healthcare providers who see the compound as a potential new weapon in the fight against this painful digestive condition.

CBD isn’t regulated by the FDA, and there are no large clinical trials to support its use. However, if you’re looking for something else to complement your current IBD treatment, it may be worth asking your doctor if you would be a good candidate to try CBD for symptom relief.