Cannabis edibles offer an increasingly popular consumption method for consumers who want to add the benefits of cannabis to their wellness routine but are cautious about the harms caused by smoking or vaping cannabis.
If you recently consumed a weed edible and experienced diarrhea afterwards, however, chances are your problem lies less with the THC or other compounds in that edible and more with having consumed a low-quality food product.
In this article, we’ll conduct a brief overview of cannabis’ history of supporting gastrointestinal health before diving into what current research says about weed edibles and digestive issues.
The cannabis plant has a long history of being used to treat gastrointestinal distress in traditional medical practices, according to an frequently cited overview of cannabis’ medicinal use published in 1981 by researcher Mia Touw.
In Ayurvedic medicine, which has its roots in the Indian subcontinent and is tied to Hindu religious practices, cannabis is considered capable of increasing “gastric fire” and can actually be used specifically to treat diarrhea, Touw writes.
Touw reports that cannabis is viewed as a potent anti-inflammatory agent in the Ayurvedic tradition, adding that its antispasmodic and antibiotic properties made it especially useful for treating dysentery, which is essentially a very intense and historically life-threatening presentation of diarrhea.
Interestingly, she also notes the assertion that cannabis can be used to treat diarrhea is shared by Unani Tibbi medicine, which has its roots in Persian and Arabic traditions and is informed by Islamic religious practices.
Traditional Chinese Medicine tends not to use cannabis flower (Touw speculates that this aversion is a remnant of an ancient association with shamanistic practices that fell out of favor).
Instead, seeds from the hemp plant are used as a laxative — though the odds you’re experiencing unintentional diarrhea from an edible because of hemp seeds are negligible. Still, this use case affirms another connection between the cannabis plant and your gastrointestinal system.
Current research supports the historical use of cannabis to treat gastrointestinal issues, and it sheds light on its potential effects on diarrhea. A 2017 review examining cannabis and digestive disorders highlights myriad use cases for the plant’s compounds in treating gastrointestinal issues, including:
Given the lack of evidence suggesting that cannabis — and cannabis-infused products — cause diarrhea, you might still be left wondering why your last experience with an edible kept you on the toilet.
Many current safety issues involving cannabis edibles are less a matter of cannabis consumption and more a matter of a lack of strong oversight designed to ensure consumers have access to well-made, high-quality cannabis edibles. These are more or less the same problems that any new food product seeking to enter the market must also address.
In a 2017 editorial letter, charmingly titled “Diarrhea ain’t dope,” a group of three researchers flagged a variety of potential unaddressed risks in the cannabis edible production process that could negatively impact consumers ahead of Canada’s national legalization of cannabis.
“Considering that provincial and municipal governments already have robust food safety legislation and regulatory agencies in place that are well equipped to deal with potential food safety issues, it may be wise for the federal government to officially classify edible marijuana products as food,” the researchers argue.
A 2020 review examining the public health implications of widespread edible consumption in Colorado similarly found multiple avenues that might introduce contaminants to cannabis edibles during the production process.
“The production of any cannabis-infused edible food product includes cultivating the cannabis plant, processing plant material to extract concentrated oils, manufacturing the food, and infusing concentrated cannabis oil into the food. Each step in this process is subject to potential food safety hazards,” the authors state.
“Additionally, there are food safety risks associated with non-cannabis ingredients,” they add.
The researchers identify the three following specific reasons why you might have experienced gastrointestinal distress — including diarrhea — or other discomfort after consuming a cannabis edible:
Based on this review, as well as the lack of evidence supporting the claim that cannabis itself can cause diarrhea, it’s clear that the chance of edibles causing diarrhea is less connected to the interaction between THC (or another cannabinoid) and your gastrointestinal system and more to having consumed a low-quality cannabis product.
Since it’s unlikely that cannabis is the root cause for your diarrhea after consuming an edible, the following advice is broadly applicable to dealing with the risk of foodborne illnesses.
As with all foods you consume, make sure you’re acquiring your cannabis edibles from a reputable source and keep an eye out for any product recalls that might occur.
To minimize the risk of pesticides or other contaminants making their way into your edibles, consider buying from companies that use organic growing practices designed to limit the use of potentially harmful substances during the growing process.
To avoid the risk of consuming edibles made with extracts from impure solvents or containing leftover solvents, check out products from reputable companies that use solventless extraction to create the raw materials for their edible products.
(If you’d like even more control over what goes in your edibles, check out Jointly’s recipe for cannabutter, which is great for infusing baked goods and other snacks, as well as for cannabis-infused gummies, brownies, avocado ranch dressing, chicken pot pie, and even bhang).
Jointly is also a great tool for keeping track of what cannabis products work best for you — including whether a particular product has given you stomach issues in the past.
If you’re already dealing with diarrhea from consuming an edible containing a food-borne pathogen, there are a few steps you can take to manage your symptoms.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, your best bet for treating acute cases of diarrhea is taking an over-the-counter medication like loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate). However, always consult a healthcare professional for advice tailored to your specific situation.
It’s also important to keep yourself well-hydrated, as diarrhea can lead to a loss of fluids. If you have blood in your stool or a fever, or if your diarrhea lasts for more than two days, see a doctor as soon as possible.
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