Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, including functional bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and colitis, afflict more than one in five Americans, particularly women. While some GI disorders may be controlled by diet and pharmaceutical medications, others are poorly moderated by conventional treatments. Symptoms of GI disorders often include cramping, abdominal pain, inflammation of the lining of the large and/or small intestine, chronic diarrhea, rectal bleeding and weight loss.

Although several anecdotal reports[1-2] and a handful of case reports[3-4]exist in the scientific literature supporting the use of cannabinoids to treat symptoms of GI disorders, virtually no clinical trial work has been performed in this area, aside from a 2007 clinical study assessing the impact of oral THC on colonic motility.[5]

However, numerous preclinical studies demonstrate that activation of theCB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors exert biological functions on the gastrointestinal tract.[6] Effects of their activation in animals include suppression of gastrointestinal motility,[7] inhibition of intestinal secretion,[8] reduced acid reflux,[9] and protection from inflammation,[10] as well as the promotion of epithelial wound healing in human tissue.[11] As a result, many experts now believe that cannabinoids and/or modulation of the endogenous cannabinoid system represents a novel therapeutic approach for the treatment of numerous GI disorders — including inflammatory bowel diseases, functional bowel diseases, gastro-oesophagael reflux conditions, secretory diarrhea, gastric ulcers and colon cancer.[12-14]


[1] Gahlinger, Paul M. 1984. Gastrointestinal illness and cannabis use in a rural Canadian communityJournal of Psychoactive Drugs 16: 263-265.

[2] Swift et al. 2005. Survey of Australians using cannabis for medical purposes. Harm Reduction Journal 4: 2-18.

[3] Baron et al. 1990. Ulcerative colitis and marijuanaAnnals of Internal Medicine 112: 471.

[4] Jeff Hergenrather. 2005. Cannabis alleviates symptoms of Crohn’s Disease.O’Shaughnessy’s 2: 3.

[5] Esfandyari et al. 2007. Effects of a cannabinoid receptor agonist on colonic motor and sensory functions in humans: a randomized, placebo-controlled studyAmerican Journal of Physiology, Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology 293: 137-145.

[6] Massa and Monory. 2006. Endocannabinoids and the gastrointestinal tractJournal of Endocrinological Investigation 29 (Suppl): 47-57.

[7] Roger Pertwee. 2001. Cannabinoids and the gastrointestinal tractGut 48: 859-867.

[8] DiCarlo and Izzo. 2003. Cannabinoids for gastrointestinal diseases: potential therapeutic applicationsExpert Opinion on Investigational Drugs 12: 39-49.

[9] Lehmann et al. 2002. Cannabinoid receptor agonism inhibits transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations and reflux in dogsGastroenterology 123: 1129-1134.

[10] Massa et al. 2005. The endocannabinoid system in the physiology and pathophysiology of the gastrointestinal tractJournal of Molecular Medicine 12: 944-954.

[11] Wright et al. 2005. Differential expression of cannabinoid receptors in the human colon: cannabinoids promote epithelial wound healingGastroenterology 129: 437-453.

[12] Massa and Monory. 2006. op. cit.

[13] Izzo and Coutts. 2005. Cannabinoids and the digestive tractHandbook of Experimental Pharmacology 168: 573-598.

[14] Izzo et al. 2009. Non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids: new therapeutic opportunities from an ancient herbTrends in Pharmacological Sciences 30: 515-527.