Around 1.6 million people in the United States are living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

While there are a number of different treatments for IBD, many symptoms like severe abdominal pain, bloody stool, diarrhea, and loss of appetite aren’t completely controlled by available medications.

So, people are starting to look elsewhere for relief from IBD symptoms. Many are turning their attention — and hope — toward cannabis products, which include cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

This article will delve into the current research on how CBD may be helpful for people with IBD.

CBD is a naturally occurring compound found in the cannabis plant. It has the potential to help treat many different types of chronic illnesses.

Unlike THC, CBD is nonpsychoactive, meaning it doesn’t give you the “high” feeling that is typically associated with marijuana. This is because it interacts differently with your endocannabinoid system.

Although both compounds are known to have medicinal benefits, many people are choosing CBD to avoid the psychoactive side effects of THC.

CBD has a lot of health benefits, from reducing anxiety and pain to reducing inflammation. This makes it particularly useful for many different types of chronic illnesses, including IBD.

Though cannabis has been used for thousands of years to treat inflammation of the gut, it’s only recently become a focus in research. As more studies are done, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of CBD’s role in the body. Here’s what we know so far.

CBD may help people manage IBD symptoms

A 2018 study out of Israel, which hasn’t yet been published, found that CBD helped people with Crohn’s disease better manage their symptoms. Interestingly, however, it didn’t actually reduce the inflammation in their guts.

CBD may help reduce leaky gut

A 2019 study looked at using CBD and palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) to reduce intestinal hyperpermeability – or leaky gut. PEA is a fatty acid amide made by the body, and is known for reducing pain caused by inflammation.

The study showed that CBD and PEA together reduced permeability in the colon, which could be beneficial for people with IBD.

However, the study noted that many of the variables used could have affected their findings, and the study wasn’t done exclusively on people with IBD.

CBD may help treat colitis when taken with other cannabinoids

A 2016 study done on mice found that when CBD was taken alone, it had no effect on colitis. However, when CBD was taken along with other cannabinoids, it decreased damage from colitis.

At best, we can surmise that CBD can positively affect the symptoms associated with IBD. However, we can’t say for certain that it has any effect on the inflammation itself.

The medical community acknowledges that there’s still not enough clinical trial data to prove efficacy, safety, and long-term tolerability in people with IBD.

Takeaway Research on using CBD to treat IBD is ongoing. While it may help relieve symptoms of IBD, more research is needed to say for sure.

As mentioned previously, CBD works with your endocannabinoid system. But researchers are still figuring out exactly how it does that.

There are two main theories: CBD uses the natural cannabinoids that already exist in your body and encourages them to remain active for a longer period of time, and CBD binds with receptors in your body.

CBD and body receptors

When CBD binds with your serotonin receptors, it can help reduce anxiety, pain, nausea, and sleep interruptions. These symptoms are common in people with IBD.

When CBD binds with vanilloid receptors, it could alter pain perception and lessen inflammation. An older study indicated vanilloid receptor’s involvement in rats given CBD. This could help explain why CBD may help reduce inflammation in the body.

There are many different ways to take CBD, including pills, oils, balms, lotions, vaping devices, and edibles. While all of these may have positive effects on symptoms, the method of delivery does affect how quickly you may feel relief.

Generally, smoking or vaping CBD will take effect the quickest, and eating or applying it to your skin will take effect the slowest. Keep in mind that although smoking and vaping produce effects quickly, they may have other negative effects on your health.

Purchasing guidelines

The current market for over-the-counter CBD products is unregulated by the FDA and is getting bigger every day. Before you purchase anything, take the time to research the company and their product.

When comparing CBD products, you’ll want to look at a few things:

  • How pure is the CBD, and how much does the product contain?
  • Is there a test analysis available to review its potency?
  • Does it contain THC? If so, how much?
  • How is the CBD sourced?
  • What other ingredients are in the product?

Look for a product made from U.S.-sourced cannabis. Some research shows that full- or broad-spectrum CBD is more effective than CBD isolate. This is known as the entourage effect.

Full-spectrum CBD contains all cannabinoids found in cannabis. Broad-spectrum CBD contains other cannabinoids besides CBD, but it doesn’t contain THC. CBD isolate is only CBD, with no other cannabinoids.

The potential benefits of CBD may outweigh any side effects associated with it. However, it is important to note that research has found there can be side effects.

Possible side effects

  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in weight

Beyond side effects, some research has found that CBD could have an effect on the liver, similar to the way that alcohol can. Even so, CBD is generally regarded as safe, and the World Health Organization (WHO) states that CBD has a “good safety profile.”

It’s important to note that since CBD isn’t regulated by the FDA, there are currently no official dosing guidelines. It’s best to start with a low dose and increase until the desired effect is achieved.

As with all medications and supplements, especially those that aren’t FDA-regulated, be sure to talk to your doctor before you try CBD. This is especially important if you’re currently taking any other medication, as interactions may occur.

Is CBD Legal? Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Check your state's laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.


Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade. She began as a blogger shortly after her multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2006 and later continued to (over)share her battle with ulcerative colitis (UC) in 2009. In navigating her way around having UC, she saw a massive hole in support for women living with inflammatory bowel disease and ostomies. Jackie founded Girls With Guts, a nonprofit that offers education and support for women around the globe. She’s had the privilege of giving keynote speeches, traveling to the Hill, sitting on various advisory boards, and partaking in countless other opportunities all in the name of improving healthcare and sharing the patient experience. By day, she’s an online marketing consultant, a chronic over-committer, a wife to Adam, a pet mom to four fur babies, and a roller derby athlete. You can find her online at JackieZimmerman.co, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.