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Have you ever wondered why you have butterflies in your stomach when you are stressed? Or why you run to the bathroom before speaking in front of an audience? These are clear examples of how your gut responds to stress. There is a gut-brain connection that links the nervous system to the digestive system.

There are two competing components to your nervous system: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system is the “fight or flight” response. This system kicks into gear when you have to speak publically, meet a deadline, or exercise. The sympathetic system causes your pupils to dilate, heart rate to increase, blood pressure to rise, and body to sweat.

The parasympathetic system helps you sleep, dream, and relax, but it also helps you digest your food. Especially during these stressful times, many of us are living in a perpetual state of “fight or flight.” We are overworked, exhausted, and anxious about what the future holds. This constant state of “fight or flight” results in digestive ailments such as bloating, irregular bowel movements, acid reflux, and rapid weight gain/loss. Overexertion on the sympathetic system may also cause a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the stomach, which can lead to cramping, inflammation, or an imbalance of gut bacteria.

The ECS System

The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a vast and essential system that modulates and interfaces with all the other systems throughout your body. It regulates physical functions, such as movement, pain sensation, and immune responses, as well as cognitive or mental capacities, like perception, mood, and memory. The ECS naturally produces cannabinoid-like molecules that stimulate the body’s cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are in many areas of the body, such as the brain, muscles, and gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Why and How does CBD affect the Nervous System?

Did you know that our brains make their own internal cannabis molecules (endogenous cannabinoids)? Anandamide (named after the Sanskrit word for bliss, ananda), helps temper stress and balance the nervous system, so we are not spiraling out of control on high sympathetic overdrive. Sympathetic overdrive takes a toll on the body that can eventually lead to a state of adrenal fatigue if left untreated. Adrenal fatigue causes everything from a compromised immune system to a decreased ability to handle stress and memory problems.

This anxiety, stress, and chronic sleep deprivation all inhibit GABA, a naturally occurring brain chemical that directs neurons to slow down or stop firing. This neurotransmitter also helps to induce sleep, relax muscles, and calm down. In essence, GABA directs the body to chill out.

By modulating GABA, CBD helps return the body to its normal functions. CBD directs the brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces a state of calm. The cannabinoids produced by your own body make you resistant to stress, similar to the way endorphins provide natural relief from pain. Integrating CBD products can help bring the body back into a state of balance.

There is also a relationship between the gut microbiome and our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is your internal 24-hour clock within your brain that communicates its signal to every other region of your brain and every organ in your body. This biological clock controls not only sleep but emotions, appetite, hormones, metabolism, and body temperature.

A key player in our gut-brain connection is the gut microbiome, the collection of genomes of the microorganisms that exist in the gastrointestinal tract. Sleep deprivation and a disruption in our circadian rhythm alter the overall gut microbial makeup, which can promote dysregulation of the microbiome and, in turn, alter sleep.

Increased Usage of Cannabis and CBD in Gastrointestinal Medicine according to an across-sectional study presented at Digestive Disease Week, approximately one-third of patients with inflammatory bowel disease do report actively using cannabis. In the same study a 45 percent report using cannabis for better management of their IBD (Irritable Bowel Disorder) symptoms. Many others anecdotally report that medical cannabis helps manage stomach pain, bloating, nausea, and appetite.

From my vantage point, there is a connection between CBD, gut, and brain that more in-depth research will certainly illuminate. CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, and it may potentially be useful in the treatment of IBD and related gastrointestinal conditions. It appears to reduce inflammation in the digestive tract and help relieve the anxiety and stress linked to GI disorders.

CBD and hemp oil (which is not the same thing as CBD but a rich source of omega fatty acids) are two excellent ways to reduce inflammation and help an unhappy gut. If you are thinking about integrating CBD for digestive issues, do not stop taking your prescribed medications; instead, talk to your healthcare provider and try the Low-FODMAP diet.

James T. writes about education, science, music, and art. He has a Psychology degree from University of Central Florida and an Information Technology degree from Phoenix University.

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