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Medical Marijuana and Constipation

Marijuana and Constipation

Throughout thousands of years and human cultures, people have been using cannabis in medicinal ways — and modern science today is confirming its positive effects on many health conditions and treatment side effects, constipation included. And, while people mistake the herb as nothing more than a way to get "high," science is convincing lawmakers, health care professionals and laypeople in increasing numbers of its medicinal properties.

What Is Constipation?

When you have three or fewer bowel movements each week, you are said to have constipation, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Your stool can be dry and hard when you’re irregular, and you can have pain while trying to pass them. Everyone struggles with constipation from time to time. Typically, it's not severe and only lasts a brief period.

Bowel Movements


You can prevent constipation in a variety of ways, including:

  • Drinking a lot of water.
  • Eating more grains, fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber.
  • Having a bowel movement when needed.
  • Getting plenty of exercise.
  • Avoiding medications causing constipation.
  • Using laxatives only under a doctor's advice.

Each person varies on the timeframe between their bowel movements. While some individuals have three bowel movements a day, others only have them one or two times a week. When you go more than a few days without having one, it’s essentially too long. Your stool will likely get hard and become more of a challenge to pass.

Even though constipation is usually not serious, when your bowel movements are regular, you'll feel much better.

Types of Constipation

There are three primary types of constipation. These are:

  1. Atonic constipation — With this kind of constipation, you don't have enough intestinal muscle tone. Poor health habits are typically the cause, and include things like not drinking enough water, not eating enough fiber and not exercising.
  2. Obstructive constipation — You have an actual physical obstruction causing constipation. You will require treatment for this type of constipation.
  3. Spastic constipation — Irritation of your intestines or bowel causes this constipation type. You'll most likely need to eat a low-fiber diet. Sometimes, spastic constipation is a symptom of a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

History of Constipation

Since ancient times, people viewed defecation as one facet of a person's body needing attentive control to protect their health. But the 2002 book Inner Hygiene, by James Whorton, suggests the Industrial Revolution and improvements in public health from the mid-19th century led to the increase in medical concern with bodily waste disposal.

By approximately 1900 to 1920, society had generated a hypothesis that constipation allowed poisons to build up in the body — thus leading to an outright obsession to avoid constipation. In 1909, Arbuthnot Lane even went so far as to suggest colon removal as a cure for constipation and all its accompanying ills.

Effects of Constipation

Constipation, particularly chronic constipation, has both physical and mental effects. The physical signs and symptoms of chronic constipation include:

  • Passing fewer than three stools each week.
  • Having to strain to have a bowel movement.
  • Having hard, dry or lumpy stools.
  • Feeling like you can't empty your feces completely from your rectum.
  • Feeling like you have a blockage in your rectum keeping you from having a bowel movement.
  • Requiring help to empty your rectum, like having to press down on your abdomen with your hands or having to insert your finger into your rectum to remove stool.
  • Regularly using laxatives or enemas to eliminate built-up feces.

If you've been experiencing more than two of the above symptoms for several months, your constipation is likely chronic.

The Brain/Gut Connection

Although constipation usually produces physical effects on your body, it may also bring on adverse psychological side effects, too. Believe it or not, constipation may also affect your mood.

Your brain directly affects your stomach. For instance, just the thought of eating can trigger the release of your stomach juices before you even swallow your first bite of food. This affiliation, however, can go both ways. If your intestine is having problems, it also sends signals to your brain — just like your brain would send signals to your gut when having issues.

Therefore, your intestinal and stomach distress could either be the cause or the effect of stress, anxiety or depression. This is because your gastrointestinal system and brain connect intimately. Chronic constipation may produce a recurrent effect of depression and anxiety. For some people, their anxiety and depression cause their chronic constipation — and for others, it's the other way around.

Researchers have studied the essential role of psychological factors concerning adults with constipation. For instance, constipated adults in the studies had greater psychological distress than those without constipation. In fact, there's a 65 percent rate of psychological impairment in patients with constipation. Of the many emotional side effects, the most prevalent are pain, depression and anxiety disorders. Constipated patients also report social dysfunction and somatization — which is the result of psychological concerns expressing themselves as physical symptoms. 

Constipation Psychological Affect

Constipation Statistics

Constipation statistics reported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information include:

  • Chronic constipation may affect from 2 to 27 percent of the population.
  • Estimate of chronic constipation incidence ranges from 1 to 8 percent of the U.S. population, according to one study.
  • Another study estimates constipation to affect up to 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Current Treatments Available for Constipation and Their Side Effects

The treatment you receive for your constipation depends on its duration, severity and cause. Other factors could come into play, including whether you have health issues, take medications or eat a low-fiber diet. Your doctor will evaluate your situation to devise a treatment plan tailored specifically to your case.

Some treatment options may include:

Dietary and Lifestyle Changes

When you lack fiber in your diet, it often causes constipation. Adults should get around 25 to 38 grams of fiber every day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Getting proper amounts of fiber through consuming whole-grain cereals, beans, fruits, vegetables and bread can help ease constipation.

Drinking water and other healthy beverages regularly is also helpful for constipation relief, since liquids can assist fiber in maintaining regularity more effectively, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Drinking Water

Other changes in your lifestyle can help prevent or relieve constipation, including:

  • Having your bowel movement each day as close to the same time as possible, such as 30 minutes after you eat breakfast, since you stimulate colon activity when you eat.
  • Not ignoring the urge to go to the bathroom.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Making enough time to have your bowel movement.

Laxatives

If you can't adequately relieve your constipation through lifestyle and dietary changes alone, taking laxatives orally or rectally could help. It’s prudent to speak to your doctor first before taking laxatives.

Laxatives commonly used include:

  • Saline and osmotic laxatives draw in more water to your stool and intestines. Examples include Cephulac, Miralax and Milk of Magnesia.
  • Bulk-forming laxatives help absorb intestinal fluid. Examples are FiberCon, Citrucel and Metamucil.
  • Stool softeners help reduce the strain of your bowel movements by moistening your stool. Examples are Surfak or Colace.
  • Lubricants grease your stool, allowing it to move better through your intestines. Examples are Zymenol or Fleet — mineral oil.
  • Stimulant laxatives cause your intestinal muscles to contract. Examples are Correctol, Dulcolax and Senokot.

Common side effects of laxatives include:

  • Stomach and abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Burping
  • Diarrhea

Other Medications

If your chronic constipation is due to IBS, your physician might prescribe you other medications like lubiprostone —the chloride channel activator Amitiza — or linaclotide — the guanylate cyclase-C agonist Linzess. 

Side effects of these types of medications may include:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Headache
  • Abdominal or stomach discomfort or pain

Surgery and Other Procedures

If a bowel obstruction is the cause of your chronic constipation, your physician might suggest surgery or another procedure to treat the condition.

Rectal prolapse is a potential complication of constipation. It occurs when a section of your rectum is sticking out of your anus, which blocks your ability to have a bowel movement and empty your bowels. You may require surgery to correct rectal prolapse.

Side effects of rectal prolapse surgery may include:

  • Bowel obstruction
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Narrowing of your anal opening
  • Damage to organs, nerves and other nearby structures
  • Fistula
  • Recurrence of rectal prolapse

If you have a condition called colonic inertia where your colon muscles aren't working properly, a surgeon may have to remove your colon.

Side effects of this surgery may include:

  • Blood clots in your lungs or legs
  • Reactions to anesthesia
  • Hernia
  • Internal bleeding
  • A leak in the area where your intestines are stitched together
  • Adhesions, or scar tissue in your stomach blocking your intestines

Sometimes, a dysfunction of your anorectal muscles may cause chronic constipation. Your physician may suggest biofeedback, which is a procedure where the doctor uses sensors to monitor muscle activity. Through biofeedback, you may be able to retrain your anorectal muscles to work correctly.

How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for the Side Effects of Constipation

While countless studies have shown medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for constipation, you should take note cannabis can affect the digestive system in both positive and negative ways. Marijuana use can sometimes lead to digestive problems and constipation in some cases. Typically, this event only affects those who use the herb heavily and regularly for several years.

Medical Marijuana as a Laxative

One of the treatment lines for constipation is natural and medicinal laxatives. Laxatives work in several ways. They can spur the movement of fecal matter through the bowel. They can also soften and loosen difficult-to-pass fecal matter. Laxatives are usually taken as a suppository or orally. At their most effective, they work by clearing the intestines and bowels, thereby relieving constipation. 

Research reveals medical marijuana can treat digestive disorders, including constipation. Constipation can also be caused by digestive disorders treated with medical marijuana. Furthermore, medical marijuana can substitute or reduce the dosage of certain medications causing constipation, such as opiates. This indicates medical marijuana may not only treat constipation itself, but some underlying causes. 

According to Medical Marijuana: The Conflict Between Scientific Evidence and Political Ideology by Peter J. Cohen, one of the earliest examples of marijuana as medicine for constipation comes from China, around 2700 BCE.

Of course, several thousand years have passed since then, and we have seen marijuana be touted as a cure for numerous conditions. While the evidence that marijuana can aid in bowel movements is largely anecdotal, much of it stems from the attestation of recreational and medical marijuana users.

Marijuana to Prevent Constipation

Constipation comes and goes, even in those with chronic constipation. Once medication, food or the body helps hard or large feces to pass, your constipation resolves. However, it typically comes back. Healthy individuals who do not suffer from chronic irregularity will likely have the condition again as well, but it will not be as resistant to treatment as in those with chronic constipation.

Individuals who have chronic problems moving their bowels, are taking medication causing constipation or have a condition making being bound up more likely can take certain measures, such as increased fiber intake, to prevent their irregularity. 

A University of California, San Francisco study found pain sufferers on opiate pain medications were able to reduce their doses if they coupled their medication with medical marijuana. This decreases the potential for side effects, such as constipation, while on the drug. Furthermore, research into marijuana as a treatment for digestive disorders has shown receptors reacting to the components in marijuana in the human digestive system. 

Though we have some proof medical cannabis can positively affect digestive symptoms, we still need further research to uncover all of the components of medical marijuana affecting the evacuation of fecal matter and digestion.

What Side Effects and Symptoms of Constipation Can Medical Marijuana Treat?

Symptoms cannabis and constipation treatment can help with include:

The anti-emetic properties of medical weed may alleviate constipation of intestinal reflexes. Constipation relief was among the initial marijuana indications ancient Chinese emperor Shen-Nung cited 5,000 years ago. Since then, historical medical references have included marijuana’s constipation relief observations.

Cannabis Benefits

Opioid-Induced Constipation

Opiates, such as morphine and Vicodin, often cause severe constipation. Marijuana for constipation can help your pain, without causing severe binding as opiates do. Opioid-related constipation has become such a prevalent issue that pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca invested in an expensive Super Bowl ad spot promoting prescription medication to relieve it. A 2014 study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association found consuming medical pot reduced opiate-related overdose deaths.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Constipation Symptoms and Side Effects

Each of us has experienced constipation at one time or another in our lives. We know being bound up sure doesn't feel good, and we are always seeking ways to relieve ourselves of the condition. Using medical marijuana can help to relax your bowel muscles so you can pass your stool easily.

Constipation does a lot more to your body than simply bind you up, though. As you've read, it can cause a range of other symptoms like the ones below — and luckily, specific marijuana strains can help with each of these discomforts. Let's take a look.

  • Pain: Marijuana for constipation is a natural pain reliever. Many people consume it to address their daily chronic pain. Whether you're struggling with chronic constipation pain or abdominal pain, some good pain-relieving strains you can try include Girl Scout Cookies (hybrid), White Widow (hybrid) and Jack Herer (Sativa). 
  • Nausea and vomiting: A popular medical use of medical weed is to treat nausea. Strains you may want to try for nausea and vomiting include Northern Lights (Indica), Lavender (hybrid) and White Fire OG (hybrid).
  • Depression and anxiety: Let's face it, when you're dealing with chronic constipation, you’ll feel stressed. Stress can lead to anxiety. When stressed, you experience a decrease in your endocannabinoid production relating directly to your cognition, emotion and behavior.

Interestingly, when you introduce supplemental cannabinoids into your system, you reduce your symptoms of depression and anxiety. Relieve your anxiety and depression with strains like Blue Dream (hybrid), Sour Grape (hybrid) and Lemon Skunk (Sativa-dominant hybrid).

  • Sleep problems: Medical cannabis for constipation also helps you not only fall asleep more quickly, but provides a long, deep, restful night of sleep. The key here is to find the best-working strain for you. Some great insomnia strains include Kryptonite (Indica-dominant hybrid), Granddaddy Purple (Indica) and Skywalker OG (Indica-dominant hybrid).

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for the Side Effects of Constipation

You can take your marijuana and constipation therapy in multiple ways.

  • Juicing: Since you need to increase your fluid intake when you’re constipated, juicing your marijuana makes perfect sense. Now, you can make your own homemade cannabis laxative. Add 10 to 15 grams of marijuana seed into your food processor or blender. Gradually drizzle in good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, then add the fruit of your choice and Meyer lemon zest.
  • Smoking or vaporizing: Vaporizing or smoking marijuana can help relax your bowels. When you smoke cannabis, it produces instant results, typically in under two minutes. You can find herbal extracts with hemp seed oil laxative products.
  • Other methods: Edibles, tinctures, suppositories, transdermal patches, topicals and sublingual sprays are other methods to take marijuana. Speak to your marijuana doctor or budtender at your dispensary to see if any other cannabis and constipation methods may be beneficial for you.

How to Get Medical Marijuana for Constipation Relief

Whether you're an inexperienced cannabis user or have been using the herb for years, medical marijuana has only recently become legal in many states. While you may already know all the amazing benefits of the herb, you may be confused on how to obtain it legally.

Your first step is to take a look at the abundant resources we provided for you at MarijuanaDoctors.com. For instance, you can search for a cannabis dispensary or find a medical marijuana doctor. You'll then go through a series of steps to get your marijuana card so you can shop for your desired constipation-relief strain.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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