Gut Reaction: The Endocannabinoid System and the Gastrointestinal Tract

Written by Maryanna Phinn

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) impacts every major biological system within the body, including your “gut” or gastrointestinal tract. ECS is found throughout the bodies of horses, dogs, humans and most mammals.  It is a complex cellular signaling network of naturally occurring cannabinoids with two primary receptors called CB1 and CB2. The main role of ECS is to maintain homeostasis or stability and balance within the body. Internal cannabinoids are used by the body’s endocannabinoid system to stabilize gut functions as well as most other bodily functions. ECS is also influenced by external phytocannabinoids derived from cannabis plants such as hemp. CBD (cannabidiol) extracted from hemp can bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors to help relieve or stabilize problems related to the gut and many other organs.

Digesting the Role of ECS and the Gut

The gut is the digestive tract consisting of a long tube that starts from the mouth and extends to the back passage or anus. Its main functions are to digest and absorb food and eliminate waste using the digestive tract’s primary parts including the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, intestines, rectum and anus.[i]

ECS in the gut serves many functions to help support normal digestive functions and maintain well-balanced gut flora and gut pH or the good microorganisms and bacteria living in the intestines. CB1 and CB2 receptors are found throughout the digestive system. These work to support and moderate proper digestion and bowel health and function. They also work to limit occasional or ongoing gastric distress. ECS in the gut supports normal motility or muscular movement of the digestive tract through each phase until food is digested and eliminated.[ii]

The endocannabinoid system’s naturally occurring cannabinoids within the body or externally produced hemp-related products, such as those found in Doc’s Hemp CBD for horses and dogs, may help with gut-related disorders. Some examples of these irregularities are diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, irregular bleeding or regurgitation.

ECS and the Brain-Gut Axis

If you ever said: “I’ve got butterflies in my stomach” or “I had a gut reaction,” or “That’s my gut instinct,” there’s a real scientific reason for these common expressions. Scientists have realized for many years the powerful connection between the brain and the digestive system. Known as the “brain-gut axis,” it is a two-way communication system with major psychological and physical implications.[iii]

The brain consists of billions of neurons or nerve cells. Their job is to send and receive messages from the brain to the body and its immune system. The gut has millions of nerve cells that communicate through the nervous system, especially through the vagus nerve which is the primary connection from the brain to the gut and other major organs.[iv] Research conducted over the last 25 years is demonstrating that the CB1 and CB2 receptors within the endocannabinoid system play a significant role in signaling the brain-gut axis to help regulate and stabilize conditions such as stress, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal pain, diarrhea, anorexia, obesity and many other common physical or emotional problems that mammals such as horses, dogs and humans experience.[v]

Future Research on ECS and the Gut

Scientists who discovered the endocannabinoid system in the early 1990s named it after the cannabis sativa plant, mainly the hemp and marijuana species, after research on cannabis led to its discovery in mammals. Research is growing significantly in the United States and worldwide on the ECS system and phytocannabinoids as cannabis usage and laws change. Research on animal and human health-related supports for improving digestive and brain health, such as Doc’s Hemp CBD products, will likely increase and trend in a positive direction over the next decade.

 

References

[i] https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/digestive-disorders/biology-of-the-digestive-system/overview-of-the-digestive-system; Overview of the Digestive System  by Atenodoro R. Ruiz, Jr., MD, The Medical City, Pasig City, Philippines; Last full review/revision Oct 2019| Content last modified Oct 2019.

 

[ii] https://todayspractitioner.com/cannabis/the-endocannabinoid-system-and-the-gut/; The Endocannabinoid System and the Gut. March 25, 2019 by Jacqueline Jacques.

 

[iii] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27133395/; Sharkey KA, Wiley JW. The Role of the Endocannabinoid System in the Brain-Gut Axis. Gastroenterology. 2016 Aug;151(2):252-66. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2016.04.015. Epub 2016 Apr 29. PMID: 27133395; PMCID: PMC4961581.

 

[iv] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-brain-connection; The Gut-Brain Connection: How it Works and The Role of Nutrition. Written by Ruairi Robertson, PhD; Updated on August 20, 2020.

 

[v] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25715910/; Malik Z, Baik D, Schey R. The role of cannabinoids in regulation of nausea and vomiting, and visceral pain. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2015 Feb;17(2):429. doi: 10.1007/s11894-015-0429-1. PMID: 25715910. 

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