Cannabis and nausea seem to pair well together; but is there scientific evidence to support this relationship?
Nausea affects millions of people around the globe. Some groups are more vulnerable than others, this includes pregnant women in their first trimester, patients receiving chemotherapy, as well as those suffering from chronic conditions.
When nausea occurs infrequently it may not be a significant cause for concern as regular OTC anti-emetics may help to settle things. On the other hand, chronic nausea can be debilitating. As you will learn later in this article, chronic use of OTC anti-emetics is associated with mild to severe side effects. This has prompted both clinicians and patients to seek alternative forms of treatment for nausea. It appears that cannabis has potential as a natural alternative for treating nausea. Before getting to what research has revealed, here is a little bit of background information on nausea that will ensure that we are on the same page.
What is Nausea?
Nausea is an urge to vomit that can be acute or chronic. Vomiting is a protective defense mechanisms that helps the body to eliminate toxins from the body. The toxins may be from ingested food and drinks such as alcohol, bacterial or viral infections. Nausea and vomiting can also be triggered when particular centers in the brain (medulla oblongata) are affected by disease such as brain tumors.
Chronic nausea can be debilitating. It can also herald more serious problems.
It usually begins with a queasy feeling in the stomach that is followed by a strong urge to vomit. The feeling of nausea originates from the brainstem in the medulla oblongata. This part of the brain regulates many autonomic (involuntary) functions such as vomiting, breathing, and sneezing.
Common Causes of Nausea
- Pregnancy morning sickness
- Brain tumors
- Head injury
- Severe pain
- GI infections
- Heart attack
- Premenstrual syndrome
How is Nausea Treated?
Nausea can be treated using pharmaceutical medications (anti-emetics). It may also be treated using herbs or by making nutritional or lifestyle changes.
Common Antiemetic Drugs and their Side- Effects
- Bismuth-subsalicylate: dark tongue and stool
- Antihistamines: Fatigue and drowsiness
- Dopamine antagonists: Fatigue, constipation, muscle spasms, and tinnitus
- Neurokinin receptor agonists: decreased urination, and heartburn
- Serotonin 5-HT3 receptor antagonists: Constipation and drowsiness
- Corticosteroids: Indigestion, acne, and thirst
How Does Cannabis Help With Nausea?
Cannabis works through different pathways that affect the nausea center in the brain. It also works through indirect mechanisms that address the underlying causes of nausea.
Different cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis work together to address nausea. This mechanism is referred to as cannabis synergy or the entourage effect. However, THC (which is the psychoactive compound in cannabis) has the most direct effect on nausea.
What Does Research Say?
CBD has a mild effect against nausea, this is as compared to THC. Research has shown that CBD interacts with the serotonin system through receptors. In small doses this helps to relieve nausea and vomiting.
CBD also addresses some of the causes of nausea such as anxiety and pain.
THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system through a network of CB1 receptors that are primarily located in the brain and central nervous system. THC binds to CB1 receptors that are located in specific parts of the brain (medulla oblongata) that control nausea and the urge to vomit. Research has shown that THC is effective in controlling nausea.
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is the precursor or the acidic form of CBD. This novel cannabinoid is becoming a center of interest in the clinical setting. Some studies have shown that CBDA has strong antiemetic effects; in perspective, stronger than the antiemetic effects of THC. CBDA is abundant the cannabis plant before it has been exposed to high temperatures. Fresh cannabis juice should have high amounts of this compound.
How to Use Cannabis for Nausea
Medicinal cannabis comes in different forms. This includes capsules, tinctures, topicals, edibles, gummies, and smokable forms.
For nausea, topical forms of cannabis such as creams and lotions may not be as effective. Smokable forms such as joints and vapes will deliver speedy relief since the cannabinoids will hit the bloodstream minutes after you take the first puff. This works perfectly when you need immediate relief. However, you should exercise caution with combustible joints as this has been linked to lung cancer. Note that it is the toxic chemicals produced in the process of combustion that are a concern, not the cannabinoids.
Vape cartridges are considered a safer alternative. What you need to ensure is that you purchase the cartridges from legal marijuana dispensaries and not off the high-street. Late last year several people found themselves in hospital with lung injuries (some fatal) after using vape cartridges that had been laced with toxic vitamin E acetate as a diluent.
Cannabis edibles, gummies, and capsules are very safe and effective in controlling nausea. The only challenge exists in getting the cannabis in since nausea is a concern. If you can manage to swallow the edible, gummy, or capsule, it should take about 1-2 hours before you can start feeling the effects. Fortunately, the therapeutic effects after taking edibles last for a longer time. If you want to understand how long cannabis edibles last, consider reading our full article that explains this in-depth. A word of caution; with cannabis edibles always “start slow and go slow.” You have probably heard this before but the importance cannot be over emphasized.
Can you Mix Cannabis With Anti-Nausea Herbs?
Yes you can.
Herbs offer anti-nausea properties through different mechanisms. When combined the anti-nausea effect is likely to be wholesome. Herbs that have anti-nausea effects include ginger, chamomile, peppermint, and lemon balm. You can consume fresh herbs or opt for herbal supplements, the effects should be the same.
Cannabis and Chemotherapy Induced Nausea
One of the most grueling side- effects of chemotherapy is severe nausea and vomiting. This aggravates cachexia (severe weight loss) in cancer.
Nausea related to chemotherapy occurs due to different reasons. One of them is anxiety or the “nocebo effect.” Having negative expectations may trigger anticipatory nausea. This is common during the first round of nausea.
Prescription antiemetic are usually not effective in addressing this kind of nausea. However, pre-clinical research has shown that cannabis shows promise as an effective treatment for anticipatory nausea related to chemotherapy. Clinical trials are needed to confirm these findings.
Best Marijuana Strains for Nausea
The best marijuana strains for nausea need to have high amounts of THC and moderate amounts of CBDA and CBD. Such strains include Sour Tsunami, Harlequin, Blue Dream, Durban Poison, and OG Kush.
A Few Extra Tips
- Go for high-quality cannabis products
- Choose strains that are high in THC and have moderate amounts of CBD to balance out some of the negative effects of CBD
- You can combine the cannabis with herbs that have anti emetic effects such as ginger, peppermint, or chamomile
In summary, preliminary findings suggest that cannabis has potential in the treatment of nausea and vomiting. We will keep you posted as further research paints a clearer picture on cannabis and nausea.