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How Does Cannabis Affect the Gut Microbiome?

By Danyal Swan March 23, 2023

The human gut microbiome is a complex and dynamic ecosystem that plays a crucial role in human health. It is host to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and even helminths that live in the gastrointestinal tract of animals and humans. These microorganisms play a vital role in maintaining our health and well-being.

When in balance, the gut microbiome can provide numerous benefits to the human body. So, how can you ensure your gut microbiome remains in balance, preserving your health and well-being? Research suggests using cannabis may have a positive impact on your gut microbiome via a complex set of interactions with your endocannabinoid system.

What Does the Gut Microbiome Do?

Microorganisms in the gut have a number of functions including regulating the immune system, boosting immune function, digesting food, generating critical vitamins, eliminating pathogens, and fortifying the barrier between the gut and the rest of the body. The gut barrier is a lining in the gastrointestinal tract that allows the absorption of nutrients while also blocking the entrance of pathogens and other harmful molecules.

In this way, the gut microbiome exists in a symbiotic relationship with the human host, working together to maintain overall health. In fact, it influences a wide range of physiological processes, including digestion, metabolism, immune system health, and even brain function. The composition of the gut microbiome is shaped by numerous facets, including diet, genetics, environmental exposures, and the use of antibiotics. The composition is also unique to each individual and can change over time in response to these factors.

An imbalance in the gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis, is associated with a number of diseases, including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and even certain cancers. Researchers are continuing to study the gut microbiome in order to better understand its role in health and disease and to develop ways to manipulate it for therapeutic purposes. However, it is clear that the gut microbiome is a key player in human health, and its complexity and dynamism make it an exciting area of study.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex network of receptors, enzymes, and chemicals that are involved in a variety of physiological processes in the body. It interacts primarily with cannabinoid compounds, named after the plant Cannabis sativa L. The ECS plays a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in the body, achieved by regulating a variety of processes, including appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory.

The ECS consists of two main types of receptors: Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CB1) and Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2). While CB2 receptors are found throughout the body, CB1 receptors are found more densely populated among the central nervous system, particularly within the neocortex, hippocampus, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and brainstem regions of the brain. Both types of ECS receptors bind to chemicals called endocannabinoids, which are produced naturally by the body. The ECS is also influenced by plant-derived cannabinoids, such as those found in cannabis and some other plants.

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
Endocannabinoid System

When the ECS is activated, it can help to regulate various functions in the body, including immune system responses, brain activity, and the release of hormones. Dysregulation of the ECS has been linked to a number of health conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety, and addiction. There is also a growing body of evidence suggesting that the gut microbiome and the endocannabinoid system (ECS) are interconnected and may influence one another's function. 

How the ECS Affects the Gut Microbiome

There are a host of ways in which cannabis affects the body, including the GI tract and gut. Cannabis compounds are known to affect the gut microbiome in different ways, with THC, the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis, having the most pronounced effects. There is evidence that the ECS may influence the composition of the gut microbiome. For example, it appears that cannabinoids can affect the abundance of certain bacterial species in the gut. Additionally, the gut microbiome may play a role in the metabolism of cannabinoids like THC.

The gut microbiome is also involved in the production of various compounds that can affect the ECS, known as endocannabinoids. The ECS, in turn, is involved in regulating various functions of the gut, including motility (movement of contents through the digestive tract) and inflammation. Dysregulation of the gut microbiome has been linked to changes in the ECS and vice versa. For example, changes in the gut microbiome can alter the expression of ECS receptors and endocannabinoid levels in the body, while ECS activation can affect the composition and function of the gut microbiome.

The way the ECS and the gut microbiome appear to work together is a phenomenon known as the gut-endocannabinoid axis. The axis theory posits that the increase of important cannabinoids and the decrease of some endocannabinoids can affect the production of helpful bacteria. This, in turn, can affect the overall function and health of the GI system.

Is Cannabis Good for the Gut?

Cannabis and the Gut

Cannabis appears to be a therapeutic substance that can help to strengthen the positive interactions between the ECS and the gut microbiome.

Let’s take a look at all the effects cannabis can have on the gut microbiome.

THC Can Influence Gut Motility

When THC is consumed, it can bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body, including those in the gut, and alter gut motility (a term that describes contracting of muscles to mix and propel materials through the GI tract). Specifically, THC has been shown to stimulate contractions in the small intestine, which can lead to an increase in peristalsis (the wave-like muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract). For individuals with disorders that involve insufficient peristalsis, such as Hirschsprung's disease and certain types of IBS, increased peristalsis may be desired. However, THC may also slow stomach emptying, which can have a positive effect on patients with chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Moderate-Dose CBD May Increase Gut Motility

Cannabidiol (CBD), another compound found in cannabis, has been shown to increase gut motility in animal studies. CBD and gut motility may depend on the individual and may be influenced by factors such as the person's age, gender, and overall health parameter.

So, is CBD good for the gut? Research has shown that CBD taken in moderate, targeted amounts, can help stabilize the gut microbiome.

Both THC and CBD Increase Beneficial Bacteria

Treatment with THC has been shown to increase the abundance of the bacterial species Akkermansia muciniphila, which helps regulate fat storage, control adipose tissue metabolism, improve endocannabinoid signaling between the gut and brain, strengthen the gut barrier, and control inflammation in the body. Animal studies reveal that mice treated with THC demonstrated increased levels of A. muciniphila in the gut. Mice were given either a high-fat or lean diet and either THC or a placebo daily for six weeks. At the end of the study, the mice on the high-fat diet without THC gained weight, while the mice on the high-fat diet with THC did not gain any weight on average.

A. muciniphila has been linked to a number of health benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity, improved glucose tolerance, and weight loss. One interesting aspect is its potential relationship with cannabinoid signaling in the gut-brain axis. Recent research has suggested that these bacteria may influence the gut-brain axis through the production of a compound called N-acylethanolamine (NAE), a fatty acid derivative that has been shown to bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

It is important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between Akkermansia muciniphila, cannabinoid signaling, and the gut-brain axis. The  initial findings are promising, however, and suggest that this bacterium may play a key role in maintaining overall health and well-being.

Cannabis Appears to Decrease Levels of Disease-Inducing Bacteria in the Gut

The interesting relationship between cannabinoids and the digestive tract can also serve to diminish the numbers of some bacteria. There is evidence to suggest that cannabis may have antimicrobial effects on certain microorganisms, thus affecting the gut microbiome in humans. Certain bacteria in the human gut, such as Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, may contribute to conditions like obesity and colorectal cancer.

Studies have found that treatment with THC can restore balance by diminishing these bacteria, thus preventing the negative effects associated with obesity, like increased gut permeability, inflammation, and changes in fat storage and metabolism.

Cannabis Increases Gut Mucus Production

Cannabinoids have been shown to have a number of health benefits, including the ability to strengthen the gut barrier. The gut barrier, also known as the intestinal barrier, is a thin layer of cells that lines the intestine and helps to protect against harmful pathogens. It does this by secreting mucus, a thick, sticky substance that helps to keep unwanted substances out of the body.

Research has found that cannabinoids can increase mucus production in the gut, which helps to make the gut barrier more resilient against pathogens. This is important because a damaged gut barrier can lead to a number of health problems besides disease, including inflammation, food allergies, and autoimmune disorders.

One of the ways cannabinoids may increase mucus production is by activating the CB2 receptors found in the gut. Activation of these receptors has been shown to increase the production of mucus, which helps to protect against harmful pathogens. Overall, the research suggests that cannabinoids may be a useful tool in the fight against harmful pathogens and the maintenance of a healthy gut.

Cannabis and Gut Health FAQ

Cannabis and Gut Health

While it is clear that cannabis compounds have the potential to play a significant role in maintaining overall health and well-being, the relationship between cannabis and the gut is complex. Here are a few common questions regarding cannabis and gut health.

A Healthy Gut Can Contribute to a Healthy Life

A healthy gut microbiome is crucial for overall health and well-being. It plays a vital role in digestion, metabolism, and immune function and can help protect against a variety of diseases. By paying attention to your diet, lifestyle, and overall well-being, it is possible to support the health of the microbiome and enjoy the many benefits it provides.

There are many ways to support a healthy gut and cannabis-influenced microbiome, including eating a diverse and varied diet rich in fiber and fermented foods, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. It is also important to limit the use of antibiotics, as they can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut. Many people have also found value in using cannabis to further support the gut-brain axis and improve their overall well-being. In particular, top-quality medicinal cannabis from a reputable Florida medical dispensary may be the key to helping you balance your gut microbiome.

For more information about how the premium medical cannabis products found at your local MÜV Dispensary could help you improve your health, connect with our Patient Care Team or visit our learning center to keep reading!

A Healthy Gut Can Contribute to a Healthy Life

References:

  1. Bie, B., Wu, J., Foss, J. F., & Naguib, M. (2018). An overview of the cannabinoid type 2 receptor system and its therapeutic potential. Current opinion in anaesthesiology, 31(4), 407–414. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACO.0000000000000616
  2. Kendall, D. A., & Yudowski, G. A. (2017). Cannabinoid Receptors in the Central Nervous System: Their Signaling and Roles in Disease. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 10, 294. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2016.00294
  3. Srivastava, R. K., Lutz, B., & Ruiz de Azua, I. (2022). The Microbiome and Gut Endocannabinoid System in the Regulation of Stress Responses and Metabolism. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 16, 867267. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2022.867267

Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.

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