Updated on January 29, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
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.
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.
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.
There are three primary types of constipation. These are:
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.
Constipation, particularly chronic constipation, has both physical and mental effects.
If you’ve been experiencing more than two of the above symptoms for several months, your constipation is likely chronic.
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 statistics reported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information include:
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:
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.
Other changes in your lifestyle can help prevent or relieve constipation, including:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 spotpromoting 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.
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.
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).
You can take your marijuana and constipation therapy in multiple ways.
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.