Irritable Bowel Syndrome



What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a spectrum of disorders characterized by abdominal discomfort and pain, associated with altered bowel habits. The exact cause of IBS is unknown. It is thought to be due to many factors, including the nerves in the bowel being more sensitive than usual (allowing the person to feel sensations they wouldn’t normally feel), chronic inflammation of the bowel, and psychological factors.

As many as one in five Australians may develop IBS at some point in their lifetime. It is twice as common in women as it is in men, often starting in the late teens or early 20s.

IBS is diagnosed based on symptoms and physical examination. There is no medical test that confirms a diagnosis, although tests (e.g. blood test or a colonoscopy) may be required to rule out other conditions.


Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain and a change in bowel habits. This can be episodes variably of diarrhoea or constipation. There may also be bloating, and pains relieved by passing wind or going to the toilet. IBS does not of itself cause bleeding from the bowel. The symptoms vary in severity and are generally episodic.

IBS, episodes can be triggered by an infection, stress, food intolerance, hormonal factors such as menstruation or some medicines.


There are no specific medical complications from IBS. However, it can cause distress and impact on quality of life.

Established treatment

There is no specific treatment or cure. Managing IBS can include changing your lifestyle and diet ( including adequate dietary fibre and minimising foods which aggravate the symptoms in the individual) and reviewing medications that might aggravate diarrhoea or constipation. Avoidance, where possible of known triggers helps. Managing stress is important as is getting adequate sleep.

Medications can assist with symptoms when they flare up. These may include anti-diarrhoeal or anti constipation medicines, analgesics, antispasmodics (to ease cramping) and in some instance’s antidepressants.

Treatment with Medicinal Cannabis

Treatment for IBS with medicinal cannabis

Research has shown that the endocannabinoid system is involved in the regulation of numerous gastrointestinal functions including motility, sensation and secretion under both physiological and pathophysiological conditions. Drugs that alter the levels of endocannabinoids in the gut also reduce motility and attenuate inflammation.

Medicinal cannabis can assist with symptoms of cramping and abdominal pain. It can be prescribed by a doctor when other treatments have failed to help or have caused unacceptable side effects.

Advocacy groups

There are several organizations in Australia which provide information and support to people with IBS and their families. Below are links to their websites:

IBS Patient Support Group