There’s never a pleasant time or way to talk about your bowels. Although society has made great strides in opening up the conversation about a lot of taboo topics recently, gastrointestinal disorders are still not on the table for comfortable discussion. And it makes sense: Nobody wants to hear about your poop problems, especially if they didn’t ask. But as long as cannabis remains stigmatized by many general practitioners, its use as an effective treatment for bowel discomfort is often overlooked.

The reality is that cannabis won’t completely fix or heal your Crohn’s, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or any other inflammatory bowel disease. It’s not a cure and it shouldn’t be considered one. But it can really help manage these conditions, reduce the discomfort, and leave all us afflicted ones a little better off.

A small-scale, randomized, and placebo-controlled Israeli study found significant evidence that even non-psychoactive cannabis can alleviate the more treacherous symptoms of Crohn’s. It can put a stop to or significantly slow instances of bloody diarrhea (or regular diarrhea, for that matter), fever, abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding. (Bizarrely, in the same study, it wasn’t shown to do anything for gut inflammation.) Anecdotal evidence from patients with other types of irritable bowel disease suggests that the same relief is experienced in many similar forms of gut disease.

Studies like this are the reason that, in states with very limited medical cannabis programs like New York, an inflammatory bowel disease is one of a very small number of conditions that will qualify you for the statewide program. The case is the same in Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and West Virginia, with each state having one or more inflammatory bowel disease on their list. For full information and to check if you may qualify, it’s always best to look at the state-run website. Regardless, given how strict the laws on cannabis are in many of the aforementioned states, if it is a treatment you are considering, a medical card can’t hurt. And if you’re feeling hesitant, just know, it’s even supported strongly by the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. Unfortunately, the US is a little behind.

Other, unstudied benefits of cannabis as medicine for irritable bowel disease are more obvious. It’s non-addictive, unlike opiates, which are often prescribed for severe cases of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. It can help reduce nausea. And it helps patients who are experiencing loss of appetite. Cannabis across the board reduces abdominal pain, something also proven in patients with non-gut related diseases like endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome.

What I’m saying is that it’s a really good treatment, and one absolutely worth checking out if you’re afflicted by the discomfort associated with a gastrointestinal disorder. As someone with lymphocytic colitis — a condition that causes inflammation of the large intestine — I can attest to its efficacy. Hopefully, in the future, science will catch up with what we already know and tell us exactly why it works so well for the symptoms of all irritable bowel disorders.

For now, it’s worth listening to the small studies and the many anecdotal accounts. Like all treatments and medications, there will be people for whom this doesn’t work. But there’s overwhelming evidence that it works for a lot of people — and that makes it worth a shot.

By Carolyn Hanson

December 16, 2018

Carolyn is an NYC-based writer, by way of Northern California. Outside of cannabis, she works in fashion and beauty and takes care of her cat, Malachi. Her bylines appear in L'Officiel USA, Billboard Style, Merry Jane, V Magazine, NYLON, PAPER Magazine, et al.