Cannabis & Your Stomach

Written by Brian Pietrus May 13, 2018
The Plant

Uh-oh. You’ve just consumed a reasonable amount of cannabis, and now you’re hungry af. You already ate dinner earlier, but the hunger is insatiable. It sounds like you’ve got a case of...the munchies. (cue dramatic soap opera organ) The munchies are the intense, aggressive hunger that some people seem to experience after smoking weed. In most TV sitcoms and movies, when a character is getting high they usually have insatiable cravings for junk food like pizza and ice cream. But what actually causes this reaction within the body? And what effects should you expect when smoking cannabis for stomach problems?

Cannabis contains naturally-occurring compounds called cannabinoids, which are largely responsible for the euphoric, relaxing, and pain-relieving properties associated with cannabis. You’ve probably heard of cannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which makes you feel “high,” and CBD (cannabidiol), which is often used to treat painful and debilitating conditions without getting you stoned. Cannabis has a long, well-documented history of medicinal use, and stomach ailments are one of the most common conditions treated with cannabis.

Feeling Snacky

So, why does smoking weed cause the munchies? The answer lies in your brain chemistry. One prominent effect of smoking cannabis is that your brain essentially tricks you into thinking that you’re starving. This makes you feel hungry, even if you’re already full. Smoking weed can also heighten your sense of taste and smell, making food seem more appetizing after you get stoned.

These changes in brain activity are thought to be related to our sense of pleasure and reward. Every time you eat food while you’re high, your brain releases dopamine, a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter that creates feelings of happiness and causes pleasure-seeking behavior. You may recall that dopamine is also released when people fall in love, feel comforted by a loved one, eat sweet foods, or receive text notifications. In other words, when you get stoned and eat a smorgasbord of snacks, your brain believes that you’re experiencing a reward and creates a sense of euphoria, ultimately making you want to do it more.

All of this can lead to late-night fast food runs and a lot of snacks at home.

Finding Relief

While overeating can be a problem for some people when they’re high, these cannabinoids are generally good news for your GI health! In fact, some people depend on those hunger-inducing properties in cannabis to combat the symptoms of some very serious medical conditions. For example, cannabis is known to help alleviate nausea and reduce weight loss due to chemotherapy and cachexia. That type of relief is invaluable for patients living with cancer and AIDS, who often struggle with nausea/vomiting and decreased appetite.

Cannabis can help with other digestive problems as well. Research has shown that cannabinoid receptors in your gastrointestinal tract play a key role in managing abdominal pain, cramping, and nausea. Once these cannabinoid receptors are activated, they trigger a response that slows down motility (muscle spasms and contractions) in your gastrointestinal tract. Once motility is slowed down, your GI tract calms down and experiences a reduction in cramping, diarrhea, and other painful symptoms. This offers a great sense of relief to patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.

Medical cannabis patients know how effective cannabis can be in treating all kinds of ailments, but even recreational (age 21+) users can also enjoy the therapeutic effects of cannabis by treating upset stomach and indigestion whenever they experience minor discomfort. In fact, a study in 2016 found that 57.1% of surveyed cannabis users enjoy weed for its therapeutic effects to some degree, whether it’s for strictly medicinal purposes or for a mixture of medical and recreational use. Just because you don’t have a doctor’s recommendation, there’s no reason why you can’t find your own medicinal uses for cannabis!

Treating Your Stomach Ailments

You might be wondering where to start in treating your own gastrointestinal ailments. While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about using cannabis for stomach pain, here’s our roadmap to finding stomach relief through cannabis.

1. Start with CBD.

Many recreational over-21 cannabis consumers look for the products with the highest THC content, but if you’re trying to treat the symptoms of a medical ailment, CBD may offer the relief you need. Even many socially-conservative states that don’t allow intoxicating forms of cannabis permit qualified patients to use CBD extracts, which highlights the consensus among many medical professionals that CBD has valid applications as a medical treatment.
CBD does not get you high. In fact, some consumers actually use CBD to calm down when they feel anxious from ingesting too much THC.

  • CBD oil is available in edible forms as well as topical lotions/salves and cartridges that you can vape with.
  •  If you prefer smoking flower, try a CBD-dominant strain of weed. Some strains, like Charlotte’s Web, ACDC, and Ringo’s Gift, have a very high CBD concentration and low concentrations of THC - meaning you’ll get all the medicinal benefits of cannabis without the feelings of intoxication.
  • You can also find strains that have varying ratios of CBD to THC. These include Sour Tsunami, Cannatonic, Harlequin, and Harle-Tsu.

2. Stick with indicas.

While some sativa and sativa-dominant strains offer pain relief, indica-leaning strains are most known for their ability to knock out cramps, nausea, pain, and indigestion. That may be due in part to the higher concentrations of terpenes like linalool and caryophyllene, which offer anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. Try an indica strain like Blackberry Kush or Northern Lights, but be aware that indicas can also have a sedative effect. For daytime pain relief, try sativa-dominant hybrids that have a partial indica lineage, like Sour Diesel or Jack Herer.

3. Try vaping for discretion and portability.

For cannabis users who don’t have a strict medical need, cannabis can offer relief from indigestion and stomach discomfort on an as-needed basis. If you live with a chronic condition like Crohn’s disease or IBS, though, you may find that pain, nausea, cramping, and diarrhea can strike without warning. This can be embarrassing and frustrating for many patients. If you’re looking for an easy way to medicate when you’re on the go, you may want to try a vape pen from your local dispensary.

  • Vaping offers near-instant relief, just like smoking, so it’s easy to regulate your dosage. Just remember that concentrates (which are in your vape cartridge) are exponentially stronger than flower forms of cannabis, so a little goes a long way!
  • The other big advantage of vaping over smoking is that it makes medicating discrete and easy. There’s little to no odor, so you won’t have to worry about whether anyone smells that stinky roach in your pocket!
  • Remember to always be responsible with your cannabis use. Just because you can vape discreetly, there are still many places and situations where consuming cannabis is not appropriate. Getting high at work or when operating a vehicle can get you fired from your job or in trouble with the law, even if you have a doctor’s recommendation.

4. Consider cannabis tinctures.

While some studies suggest that orally ingested cannabis offers the same overall effects as smoked cannabis, the effects you feel from eating edibles tend to last longer than the effects from smoking. However, the effects from eating cannabis (whether as a baked good, capsule, or infused beverage) take a lot longer to kick in - at least one to two hours. By contrast, when you smoke or vape cannabis, you’ll feel the effects almost instantly.

  • Tinctures offer a good middle ground. The effects kick in faster than edibles, but they offer comparably long periods of relief.
  • Tinctures can be swallowed, but they take effect much more quickly when they’re absorbed sublingually (under the tongue) or buccally (along the cheeks and gums inside your mouth).
  • Your mouth and tongue are lined with capillaries that make absorption relatively quick - some tinctures take effect in as little as 15-20 minutes, though others can take more than twice as long. By contrast, edibles need to be broken down by the liver, which can take one to two hours before you even begin to feel the effects.
  • Start with a low dose. Consult the packaging on your specific tincture to gauge how to properly dose that product.
  • Be patient. Always wait at least one to two hours before ingesting any more cannabis. You can easily consume more down the line, but you can’t take less once you’ve already ingested it.
  • Remember that tinctures and edibles last longer. When you smoke weed, the effects typically start to wear off after an hour or two. With orally-consumed cannabis, though, the effects may last for several hours (depending on your metabolism and other factors).

5. Don’t get discouraged.

Anyone who’s taken prescription medications will know that some medications work better than others - it all depends on your unique body chemistry. Sometimes doctors have to prescribe multiple medications before finding one that works best for a specific patient, so don’t get frustrated if the first indica flower or tincture you pick up at the dispensary doesn’t give you the relief you need.

  • Figuring out your body’s medicinal needs is often a process of trial-and-error.
  • If one product like tinctures isn’t working for you, try something new! Give edibles a shot, or try a different brand of the product you’ve been using. Eventually you’ll find the right treatment for your needs!

Even if you’re currently taking prescription medications for a stomach/GI condition, you can still incorporate cannabis into your treatment plan. Talk to your doctor about how cannabis can help you find the relief you need, then pick up the indica strains and CBD products you need through Blackbird!

- US National Library of Medicine
- US National Library of Medicine
- US National Libary of Medicine
- Psychology Today
- Psychology Today
- The National Academy Press