Can Your Genetics Determine If Cannabis Will Improve Your Gut Health?

March 23, 2020


Can Your Genetics Determine If Cannabis Will Improve Your Gut Health? by Nicco Reggente

Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease are becoming commonplace in the population. Both of these conditions affect the gut, where it is estimated around 70 percent of the immune system resides. What’s worse is that the symptoms of IBS and celiac disease affect every aspect of a person’s life. Researchers are starting to link cannabis to relief from the symptoms associated with IBS and celiac disease.

What is IBS?

IBS is a chronic condition marked by abdominal issues, such as pain, nausea, gas, bloating, cramps, and abnormal bowel movements like chronic diarrhea and constipation. 

In the United States, IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people, two-thirds of whom are female. Worldwide, between 10 and 15% of the population has IBS, and the ailment affects people of all ages. 

Unlike most gut health conditions, IBS is not inflammatory as it only affects the colon. The disease also doesn’t destroy tissue. However, IBS is still a very problematic condition. People with IBS have to continually watch what they eat and drink to avoid triggering an IBS flare-up, a problem that can last for 2-4 days and leave someone in a debilitating state. What’s sadder is that the condition requires lifelong management — people who suffer from IBS are constantly a risk of experiencing a flare-up.  

As bad as IBS is, it’s not the only worrisome condition affecting the gut. Celiac disease, a severe autoimmune condition, has also become common, affecting 1 out of 100 people worldwide. 

Celiac Disease and its Symptoms

Put simply, people with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten at all. Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune condition that damages the small intestine whenever someone consumes gluten, a protein that’s found in wheat, barley, and rye. The damage that celiac disease causes eventually makes it difficult for people to absorb the nutrients in their food, and the symptoms of this condition are exhausting. 

Common signs of celiac disease include anemia, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, weight loss, and depression. While more people are starting to become aware of celiac disease and its symptoms, two and one-half million Americans are still undiagnosed, leading to an increased risk of developing long-term health complications. 

Thankfully, there’s an easy way for people to start learning if they have gut health conditions like IBS and celiac disease: genetic examination. 

Specific Genes Linked to IBS and Celiac Disease 

Genetics plays a crucial role in determining whether someone is predisposed to developing IBS or celiac disease. Scientists have linked specific genetic variations to multiple gut health conditions, and knowing these genes can lead to more diagnoses, medical treatment, and better health decisions. 

Surprisingly, however, a few different genes are linked to both IBS and celiac disease, meaning just one of the gene variants can dictate whether someone is predisposed to experiencing a gut-health condition. Currently, scientists believe these genes are reason to worry:

Genes linked to IBS:

  • CDKAL1
  • SLC22A4
  • SLC22A5

Genes linked to Celiac Disease:

  • HLA-DQA1
  • HLA-DQB1

Determining whether someone has these genes can easily be accomplished through genetic testing, but what’s more important is deciding what people should do once they discover that one or more of their genes is connected to IBS or celiac disease. 

Right now, the treatments for IBS are limited to food suggestions and exercise routines. For celiac disease, the treatments are even more restricted, solely comprising of a life-long gluten-free diet. But as cannabis becomes more popular, researchers are starting to wonder if the plant can actually help relieve the symptoms associated with IBS and celiac disease. 

Six Cannabinoids and Terpenes that Could Provide Relief

People are using cannabis for various medical conditions, from anxiety to depression to epilepsy. But cannabis’ potential expands way beyond those few ailments. In fact, there are a number of specific cannabinoids and terpenes that can alleviate the symptoms of IBS and celiac disease. 


THC has anti-emetic properties, meaning it can mitigate nausea, which is a primary symptom of IBS. While researchers still have to conduct studies on THC’s specific impact on IBS, scientists have already discovered that THC is an effective anti-nausea agent for people undergoing chemotherapy. In a study that evaluated the anti-emetic properties of THC in children, scientists gave several kids THC oil drops on the tongue or in food. After 480 treatments, researchers found that THC controlled nausea and vomiting, leaving only slight irritability as the primary side-effect of chemotherapy.


CBD has an anti-prokinetic effect, which helps control acid reflux, a condition where stomach acid flows back up the esophagus and causes irritation. Unsurprisingly, acid reflux is another bothersome symptom of IBS, but thankfully, CBD can help alleviate it due to its ability to reduce small intestine contractions.

All human beings have an endocannabinoid system that not only has numerous functions but also plays a crucial role in people’s gut health. The endocannabinoid system shows anti-secretory effects on stomach acid, and it also helps lower inflammation, which occurs when the stomach acid reaches the esophagus. When CBD reacts with the endocannabinoid system, it helps to calm peristalsis, a process that moves waste and food through the digestive tract. 


Cannabichromene (CBC) helps block pain and reduce inflammation, especially when it’s combined with THC. Cannabinoids like CBC mitigate inflammation differently than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The cannabinoid also doesn’t produce any of the unpleasant (and potentially dangerous) side effects that most medications do. 

In an animal study, researchers combined CBC and THC to discover that the cannabinoids produced an anti-inflammatory effect when joined together. Theoretically, CBC could also decrease or eliminate the inflammation associated with celiac disease when the cannabinoid is working synergistically with THC. It’s the entourage effect at play, and it can alleviate a lot of issues. 


Beta-caryophyllene is a terpene with potent anti-inflammatory effects on the lining of the stomach and small intestine. By connecting to the same CB2 receptors that THC and CBD attach to, beta-caryophyllene jumpstarts its anti-inflammatory properties while also boosting the immune system. For those with celiac disease, beta-caryophyllene is another great terpene to mitigate inflammation. 


Alpha-pinene is a terpene with gastroprotective properties, making it another excellent solution for those who want to avoid the inflammation that’s linked to celiac disease. In a 2015 study, researchers discovered that alpha-pinene pretreatment repressed ethanol-induced gastric lesions, decreased volume and acidity of the gastric juice, and improved gastric wall mucus. The scientists also found a correlation between the concentration of alpha-pinene and a gastroprotective effect. While the researchers did not examine alpha-pinene’s specific effects on celiac disease, their study’s results suggest that the terpene is an ideal option for those with gastrointestinal issues, which still relates to celiac disease.


Myrcene is a terpene that can help with muscle relaxation, pain reduction, and inflammation. The latter two functions are perhaps the most useful for people with IBS and celiac disease—both conditions cause a fair amount of discomfort and pain, especially in the abdominal area, and celiac disease is known explicitly for inflammation. With a terpene like myrcene, people can alleviate these symptoms and find some relief so they can function normally throughout the day. 

Cannabinoids and Terpenes for Gut Health

Using genetics to determine whether someone is predisposed to developing IBS or celiac disease is a great first step to tackling these common gut-health issues. But people still need better treatments for these ailments. IBS and celiac disease cause a lot of discomfort, pain, and stress. 

Because the symptoms are so uncomfortable, people who suffer from these gut-health conditions have to be hypervigilant about what they eat and drink. However, cannabinoids and terpenes, combined with a lifestyle suited to those conditions, can help alleviate the symptoms associated with these digestive issues, even more than just a healthy lifestyle.

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