CBD for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

The use of CBD against the symptoms of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis has become widespread. Does it really work? Here we'll tell you.
CBD for Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Franciele Rohor de Souza

Reviewed and approved by the pharmacist Franciele Rohor de Souza.

Last update: 24 February, 2023

In recent years, the consumption of cannabidiol (CBD) has aroused interest among those suffering from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The reason? Some studies suggest that it has positive effects on symptom control and an increased sense of well-being. Stay with us as we see whether CBD for Crohn’s disease is effective or not.

Both disorders are grouped into the so-called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is characterized by the presence of cramps, diarrhea or constipation. They are inflammatory in nature and are associated with an altered immune system response. However, other factors are involved in each condition.

While Crohn’s disease penetrates the intestinal wall and affects more than one section, ulcerative colitis only involves the inner lining of the intestine. Whatever the case, quality of life is diminished, especially when symptoms tend to become more acute. Does CBD for Crohn’s disease work?

Use of CBD for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the main compounds in the Cannabis sativa plant. It’s also the substance to which much of the medicinal effects of this species are attributed.

As explained in an article shared in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it differs from THC in that it does not have psychoactive effects. On the contrary, there is evidence of its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anxiolytic, antiemetic, and neuroprotective activity.

Studies have also determined that this cannabinoid has positive effects in patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While not a substitute for medical treatment, it appears promising as an adjunct for symptom control.

A review reported in Phytotherapy Research suggests that CBD is a promising treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases. This is apparently due to its ability to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which, in turn, influences the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal system.

CBD for Crohn's disease.
Research on CBD is growing. Its history goes back decades, although it only acquired legal status a few years ago for refractory epilepsy, for example.

You may also be interested in: What Is CBD Shampoo and What Are Its Benefits?

The evidence is limited

However, as another review in Expert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology points out, research on cannabis and its potential against Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is still in the early stages.

According to this paper, so far there are only three small placebo-controlled studies on the use of CBD for Crohn’s disease in humans. Of these, only two showed clinical improvement, but none showed relevant changes in inflammation.

Even so, it’s a topic that remains under study. Experts emphasize that no firm conclusions can be drawn about its safety and efficacy in the management of these disorders.

They point out that more comprehensive studies are needed, which would also make it possible to determine the appropriate doses and forms of administration.

Risks and side effects of CBD consumption

No optimal dose has been established for the consumption of CBD for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. That poses a problem, as it prevents us from determining the doses that may be safe for these patients. At the doses tested, results have been mixed.

In a clinical trial shared in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases , some participants didn’t tolerate well doses of 50 mg twice daily of a CBD extract. Furthermore, in another study, 90% of patients reported side effects and many opted to discontinue treatment.

Of these, the main reaction reported was dizziness. However, other unwanted effects have been described, such as diarrhea, fatigue, and changes in appetite and weight.

And although the authors of several studies add that CBD is safe in most cases, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t yet approved its use for this pathology. In fact, it warns that it can trigger the following problems:

It must be taken into account that neither CBD oil nor other derived products are regulated by the FDA. This also poses a risk, not only because there are no established dosages, but also because there’s no guarantee of its purity and effectiveness.

Crohn's disease.
Abdominal pain can seriously alter the quality of life in inflammatory bowel diseases. Hence the search for effective therapeutic alternatives.

Presentations and recommendations for CBD consumption

Despite the experts’ warning about the lack of studies on CBD for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, many patients are attracted to this type of treatment. Thus, anecdotal evidence of its effects has grown considerably. Because of this, many people consult online stores and herbalists for these supplements on a daily basis.

They are often available in the form of pills and capsules, oils and tinctures, lotions, and creams. It’s paramount to consult the manufacturer’s recommendations for the proper use of each. But, apart from choosing one option or another, we  must be aware that  medical treatments must be continued.

This includes the use of medication, lifestyle changes, and any other therapy suggested by the specialist. If possible, you should tell your doctor about your intention to try CBD. It shouldn’t be overlooked that there may also be interactions with other prescription drugs or supplements.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Brugnatelli, Viola et al. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Manipulating the Endocannabinoid System as First-Line Treatment.” Frontiers in neuroscience vol. 14 371. 21 Apr. 2020, doi:10.3389/fnins.2020.00371
  • Meissner H, Cascella M. Cannabidiol (CBD) [Updated 2022 Feb 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556048/
  • Ahmed W, Katz S. Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2016;12(11):668-679.
  • Esposito G, Filippis DD, Cirillo C, Iuvone T, Capoccia E, Scuderi C, Steardo A, Cuomo R, Steardo L. Cannabidiol in inflammatory bowel diseases: a brief overview. Phytother Res. 2013 May;27(5):633-6. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4781. Epub 2012 Jul 20. PMID: 22815234.
  • Pandey S, Kashif S, Youssef M, Sarwal S, Zraik H, Singh R, Rutkofsky IH. Endocannabinoid system in irritable bowel syndrome and cannabis as a therapy. Complement Ther Med. 2020 Jan;48:102242. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.102242. Epub 2019 Nov 13. PMID: 31987224.
  • Kafil, Tahir S et al. “Cannabis for the treatment of Crohn’s disease.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews vol. 11,11 CD012853. 8 Nov. 2018, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012853.pub2
  • Peter M Irving, MA MD FRCP, Tariq Iqbal, MD FRCP, Chuka Nwokolo, MD FRCP, Sreedhar Subramanian, MD MRCP, Stuart Bloom, FRCS MRCP DM, Neeraj Prasad, MRCP MSc, Ailsa Hart, MRCP PhD, Charles Murray, MA PhD FRCP, James O Lindsay, MA PhD FRCP, Adam Taylor, PhD, Rachel Barron, BVetMed MRCVS, Stephen Wright, MA MD FRCPE FFPM, A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Parallel-group, Pilot Study of Cannabidiol-rich Botanical Extract in the Symptomatic Treatment of Ulcerative Colitis, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Volume 24, Issue 4, April 2018, Pages 714–724, https://doi.org/10.1093/ibd/izy002
  • Picardo S, Kaplan GG, Sharkey KA, Seow CH. Insights into the role of cannabis in the management of inflammatory bowel disease. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2019;12:1756284819870977. Published 2019 Sep 3. doi:10.1177/1756284819870977
  • Iffland K, Grotenhermen F. An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):139-154. Published 2017 Jun 1. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0034
  • What you need to know (and what we’re working to find out) about products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds, including CBD. (2020). a

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.