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Marijuana and Constipation: Does Cannabis Affect Your Digestive System?

The answer isn’t as simple as yes or no.

Marijuana has found a place in our society in large part as a natural tool that can help people with a wide range of medical problems. While children with severe seizures and cancer patients are often attached to medical marijuana stories, not all of marijuana’s medical benefits apply to only serious problems. In fact, for thousands of years, people have believed there is a healing link between marijuana and constipation, including the Chinese in 2700 BCE.

Cannabis has been used as a treatment for many digestive related illnesses such as Crohn’s Disease and the side effects of Chemotherapy, and while the science on cannabis’ laxative effects is limited, studies seem to indicate that cannabis use, THC to be more specific, may help combat the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and help reduce diarrhea.

Marijuana and Constipation

However, much like anything else, too much can cause the opposite of the desired effect, although to understand exactly how THC plays into your bathroom schedule requires more research. The same goes for CBD.

There is evidence that shows CBD, among other cannabinoids, does affect gastric motility – which determines how quickly or slowly matter passes through the intestines. How cannabis affects you is dictated in large part by which cannabinoids you’re consuming. Given the fact that there are over 70 known cannabinoids until cannabis is legalized and we can research each cannabinoid more in-depth, any answer that you receive regarding cannabis and constipation is going to come with an asterisk.

Medical marijuana can often be a huge help in many problems that arise from the standard opiate protocol that many doctors prescribe (like constipation.) Not only do patients feel like they have more control, but they also are less likely to become addicted to opiates and subsequently not have to face harsher side effects from opiates.

The science on everything marijuana-related is limited, but according to this self-reported data, long term cannabis users often experience constipation as one of the symptoms that can develop with cannabis use. This study does have its flaws though. In general, there is nothing wrong with self-reported data. However, it mentions that many of the individuals who reported constipation with marijuana also have irritable bowel syndrome. Since constipation can be a side effect of IBS, these results should be taken with a grain of salt.

Claims That Cannabis Help With Constipation Are Not Based In Science

There are websites that will claim that cannabis can actually help with constipation. Marijuanadoctors.com says that “Research reveals medical marijuana can treat digestive disorders, including constipation. Constipation can also be caused by digestive disorders treated with medical marijuana.”

However, the one thing noticeably missing from the entire article is the actual research that supports that claim. They aren’t the only culprits, either. If you search “marijuana constipation” on Google, the entire first page of search results is full of “experts” coming to baseless conclusions about the benefits of cannabis when it comes to constipation. This is a prime example of misinformation poisoning the cannabis dialogue and setting back any efforts to legitimize the plant and the industry. The real answer is there isn’t enough research right now to definitively make the claim that cannabis helps OR hurts your constipation.

Marijuana use has long been considered a tool to help constipation, but much of that evidence is largely anecdotal without any actual scientific evidence. While that may be the norm for answering any health-based questions related to cannabis, it can cause real-world problems for people who then have to blindly test if the claims are solid.

What To Do If You’re Constipated

A problem that people can run into is the fact that constipation can’t actually be cured by marijuana, meaning that if you really want to fix the problem you may have to try some stool softeners or make some lifestyle changes.

Any serious constipation problems that you have may be from underlying health issues instead of THC, but the relationship between our bowel movements and our smoking habits is real and something that you should monitor. If you run into any small problems with your bowels and suspect that it may have something to do with your cannabis consumption, some of the quick fixes that you could try out include switching the strains, looking at your diet, or taking a break from weed. If you have constipation, but no alarming symptoms, try journaling everything you ingest (food and cannabis) for a week or two to see if you can figure something out yourself.

If you have serious concerns, you’ll definitely want to consult your doctor, especially if you exhibit any of these symptoms:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Fevers
  • Inability To Pass Gas
  • Severe Rectal Pain

CBD and Diarrhea

iStock / Tinnakorn Jorruang

CBD has been said to cause diarrhea, which can cause way more problems in the short-term if not dealt with.

Diarrhea comes from a number of different reasons and illnesses that our body can cook up, with the bathroom nuisance often being a side-effect of another problem. However, diarrhea is often the cause of dehydration.

CBD related problems often occur from the act of overdoing it, as smaller doses and non-daily use will not likely cause many health issues for you. However, as with THC and constipation, the relationship between CBD and its side-effects are understudied, to say the least.

There are potentially other reasons you are suffering from diarrhea, including:

  • Infections
  • Food allergies and intolerances
  • Digestive tract problems
  • Certain medicines, like antibiotics

If you are dealing with some nasty side-effects and think CBD is to blame, try changing your dose, the strain or the method you use to take it. Going from oil to topical treatment may be all you need to stop unwanted effects, plus it is never a bad thing to try new things.

You should consult your doctor about your diarrhea if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea for more than 2 days
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • 6 or more loose stools in 24 hours
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • Diarrhea that is bloody or resembles coffee grounds

Where Do We Go From Here?

There is a common theme when it comes to answering questions about how cannabis interacts with the body: more research is needed. Until cannabis is federally legal and the appropriate studies can take place, we won’t know definitively all the ways in which cannabis affects your body and why.

Marijuana and constipation are often talked about together, but there isn't enough research to conclude if marijuana helps or hurts your cause.

Does cannabis make you poo?

Have you ever sat down for a nice session but after a few tokes suddenly have to get up to hit the bathroom? I noticed a connection so I asked the internet, which provided abundant anecdotal evidence , proving I wasn’t alone in my pondering. After I started peeking into what science had to say on the matter, my curiosity only increased.

I did a deep dive into studies on the subject, as well as consulted a couple experts, and it turns out the connection between smoking a bowl and going #2 is no coincidence. Between cannabis calming our nerves, its effect on the gut’s microbiome, and the endocannabinoid system being involved in the activity in this department, it looks like weed can, indeed, make us doodie.

Too stressed to go

I spoke with medical cannabis exper t and integrative medicine physician Dustin Su lak, D.O. “ Endocannabinoids absolutely do affect motility, both directly and indirectly. The most powerful way in which cannabis could help a person defecate is by helping them to relax and get into a more parasympathetic state,” said Sulak.

Another way to think of a parasympathetic state is “rest and digest,” with defecation being part of the digest aspect. This is opposed to the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the body to act quickly. There is an evolutionary reason for not being able to poo while in a fight-or-flight state enacted by the sympathetic nervous system: “If we’re escaping from a bear attacking us, we don’t want to have to defecate,” said Sulak.

He continued, “Conversely, when it’s time to relax and empty our bowels, we don’t want to feel threatened. That has to happen in a place where we feel comfortable. But, unfortunately, a lot of people are taking their stressors around with them, even into the bathroom, with their phones or just in their minds, remaining stressed out, feeling threatened in some way.”

But cannabis, and endocannabinoids that our bodies produce, can help. “Our inner pharmacy’s version of cannabis, the endocannabinoids, and herbal cannabis, have the ability to suppress this excessive sympathetic activity. So if the fight-or-flight response is turned on too strongly, the right dose of cannabis can suppress it. This is obvious to people who use cannabis to help them relax and find relief from anxiety. The same mechanism would allow someone to shift into rest and digest, or parasympathetic dominance, and get the job done,” he said.

The Goldilocks zone

Endocannabinoids help keep the body in balance. One of those endocannabinoids, 2-AG, is an important physiologic regulator of gastrointestinal motility —i.e., pooping—and behaves like THC. “That’s one of our body’s signaling molecules that mimics THC, or THC mimics it. 2-AG is active in regulating the sympathetic and parasympathetic influence on the gut, and in the gut itself, where it suppresses excessive activity and brings the system into balance,” said Sulak.

So in this way, cannabis could lead to a deuce by helping keep our nervous system and our gut in the “ Goldilocks zone ,” or the healthy range of activity.

Cannabis can also help someone get into the needed relaxed state by relieving pain. “When people are in chronic pain, even if it has nothing to do with the rectum—if it’s their foot or their leg or their head—that still creates a kind of threatening internal state. So it can be hard when in pain or feeling anxiety to relax enough to use the bathroom. Cannabis can be very useful for that,” said Sulak.

Dr. Sulak concluded with a word of caution: “For people with constipation not related to stress or pain, cannabis could potentially worsen the issue because it can suppress muscular contractions and secretion in the colon, the same ways in which it can help with diarrhea.”

More on cannabis and BMs

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is also integral to the brain-gut axis, which modulates activity in this realm, including helping people poop. This 2016 study says that the ECS is “ An important physiologic regulator of gastrointestinal motility,” meaning bowel movements.

F orem ost psychopharmacology researcher Ethan Russo, M.D., also told us, “ A lot of people note easier bowel movements after cannabis. This can alleviate both constipation or diarrhea associated with irritable bowel syndrome, a presumptive clinical endocannabinoid deficiency syndrome. THC also positively alters the gut microbiome and this effect should not be discredited.”

Additionally, a 2019 study found that cannabis consumption was associated with a 30% decrease in constipation.

So, if you’ve ever wondered if there’s a connection between enjoying herb and needing to head for a #2—‘tis not in your imagination. Next time you need a little help, maybe try sparking up a doobie so you can dookie.

If you've ever had to run to the bathroom after sparking up a doob, there might be a reason. Read on to see why.