Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is the cause of many a middle-school snicker, but for anyone who knows what it feels like, the situation is no laughing matter. Severe cramping, bloating, chronic abdominal pain, constipation, and worse are just a few symptoms to anticipate. According to Mayo Clinic, with an unknown cause and no cure available, patients can only adapt to long-term management.
There is evidence of a strong connection between the brain and the gut. Called the brain-gut connection, Johns Hopkins Medicine attributes the gastrointestinal tract with the function of a “second brain.” This means that mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, likely accompany IBS and its symptoms, with one probably fuelling the other.
In plain speak, this means that up to 3.5 million people in the United States are living in pure hell. Therefore, if doctors in the Netherlands believe that a cannabis-infused chewing gum made by a pot company in America can “cure” IBS, then they may be onto what would prove a big deal indeed for billions of people worldwide.
Cannabis Chewing Gum
In scientific circles, it is a well-known fact that cannabidiol, or CBD, the non-psychoactive compound famous for its anti-inflammatory properties, is a promising treatment for IBS. It was just a question of time, then, before an IBS-specific treatment arrived in a compact CBD-derived pharmaceutical drug: CBD-infused chewing gum.
According to the Daily Mail, medical researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands tested this gum. Made by Medical Marijuana Inc., a company based in San Diego famous for its hemp-derived CBD oil, the company has extensive experience marketing CBD oils across the United States and even Mexico, although its ability to continue after the Drug & Administration Agency classified CBD oil as a Schedule 1 substance remains unclear.
As the Daily Mail reports, laboratory testing of “CanChew” was the first time the efficacy of CBD as a treatment for IBS has undergone any type of study. Until now, all evidence has been anecdotal, although there are plenty of firsthand accounts of its effectiveness in treating IBS. The real value of CBD could be in decreasing the severity and frequency of colon spasms afflicting IBS victims.
By lowering tension in the digestive tract, the idea is to reduce bloating, cramping and other associated IBS symptoms, while normalizing bowel movement for sufferers. Each piece of chewing gum contains 50 milligrams of CBD. In clinical trials, 40 IBS patients ranging between the ages of 18-years and 65-years chewed up to six pieces of gum daily to control their symptoms. Other participants received placebos.
AXIM, an investment arm of Medical Marijuana Inc., believes that the gum could also prove an effective treatment for other diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, such as Crohn’s disease and colitis. If so, that would help millions of people, as Crohn’s disease has a particularly horrid reputation that requires surgical removal of intestinal parts to treat it.
Patients such as Seantrel Henderson, a player in the National Football League, is facing total dismissal or, at the very least, suspension from the league for using marijuana to treat his Crohn’s disease. He had some of his intestines removed as part of his treatment. It is uncertain when IBS patients in America will get access to the gum, but AXIM is ready for a second bout of clinical trials if it succeeds in the Netherlands.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
For most IBS sufferers, the mornings prove most trying. That is when the stomach cramps start again and the need to be near a bathroom is constant and all consuming. Some patients can take as long as two hours just to get ready for work, and when they do eventually leave the house, they choose routes with plenty of public restrooms available.
According to WebMD, this is the reality for nearly 20 percent of adults in the United States who succumb to IBS at some time in their lives. Symptoms vary between individuals, as well as the severity of them. For those with IBS, quality of life hinges on the behavior of their digestive systems, and a simple flare-up can mean hours of painful misery.
According to Jeffrey Roberts, IBS sufferer and president of the IBS Self Help and Support Group, “IBS is an illness which seems to strike people down,” but what exactly causes recurring symptoms of constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, and severe abdominal pain? For now, researchers do not fully understand what IBS is or what causes it exactly, but scientists do have some theories:
- IBS patients may have higher colon sensitivity than non-sufferers.
- The brain is more acutely perceptive of gut contractions in people with IBS than those without it are.
- Stress and infection may cause different immune responses among patients with IBS.
- With women making up 70 percent of all IBS victims, hormonal changes may trigger symptoms of IBS.
- Serotonin, a neurotransmitter produced in the gut, could affect nerves in the digestive tract. Serotonin levels in the gut are typically higher among those with diarrhea, but those with constipation generally have lower levels of serotonin in the digestive tract.
Although the cause of IBS remains an unsolved mystery, doctors unanimously agree that IBS is a legitimate and debilitating medical condition. None considers it an “all in your head” affliction, and according to the American College of Gastroenterology, it may be easier to define IBS by what it is not:
- IBS is neither a structural nor an anatomical issue.
- IBS is not a recognized chemical or physical disorder.
- IBS has no association with cancer and does not cause cancer either.
- IBS is not responsible for other gastrointestinal conditions.
In non-medical speak, IBS is a condition characterized by a collection of symptoms persisting for at least six months, and occurring at least thrice monthly over three months. The condition is always discomforting and abdominally painful. For doctors to diagnose IBS, however, the pain must involve at least two of these three defining characteristics:
- Pain relief immediately after defecation
- Changes in stool frequency
- Changes in stool appearance
Some situations or foods can cause symptoms of IBS to flare up. Patients with this condition should keep a diary to record their symptoms, as well as what triggers them. A symptom journal helps to identify IBS triggers and how best to avoid them. Anyone suspecting IBS should visit a doctor for proper care and diagnosis.
Although no cure is available for IBS yet, there are several ways to manage it. These include managing stress, changing your diet, behavioral therapies, medication, and alternative treatments, such as the new marijuana-infused chewing gum. As Roberts explains, “It is a matter of trying to live with your symptoms, rather than having your symptoms take over your life.”