FAQ Nausea and Cannabis

What does scientific research say about cannabis as a treatment for nausea?

What does scientific research say about cannabis as a treatment for nausea?

A helpful side effect of cannabis is it revives appetite. Along with the analgesic effects of its most discussed compounds, THC and CBD, cannabis has proven in numerous studies to reduce nausea and vomiting.

One of the first well-known modern medicinal uses of marijuana was to stop the weight loss and muscle wasting of AIDS patients in the 1980s.

It is frequently cited by chemotherapy patients as the one substance that allowed them to keep food down after treatment. According to a 2016 report from Dr. Donald Abrams, a renowned oncologist and cancer specialist at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine: “For the cancer patient, cannabis is useful in combatting anorexia, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, pain, insomnia, and depression.”

Abrams’ study showed that patients receiving chemotherapy found that, as an antiemetic, cannabis was more effective than most pharmaceutical drugs such as prochlorperazine, metoclopramide and domperidone.

A 2011 British Journal of Pharmacology study also demonstrated the efficacy of cannabis in reducing nausea and vomiting. And according to a 2013 survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 76 percent of physicians responding from around the world were in favor of medicinal cannabis, even though many came from jurisdictions in which it is totally illegal. A 2014 WebMD survey reported that 82 percent of U.S. oncologists and hematologists were in favor of patients having access to medical cannabis—representing the strongest approval among all medical subspecialties.

How does cannabis help prevent nausea?

Anti-nausea medications are called antiemetics, and prescription drugs such as Nabilone and Dronabinol are often prescribed for patients suffering from cancer. Antiemetics work by blocking serotonin and dopamine, both of which are associated with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). The components in cannabis work much the same way.

The feeling of being nauseous often has much more to do with brain than the stomach. Cannabinoid receptors are found in areas of the brain associated with nausea. The active ingredients in cannabis act on specific pathways found in the body known as cannabinoid receptors. These receptors help regulate many bodily functions. Research shows that cannabinoid receptors suppress nausea and vomiting when they’re activated.

There are more than 100 compounds in cannabis, including terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids and other chemical components. The body absorbs cannabis because it is similar to the cannabinoids the body naturally produces. Research suggests that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) both relieve nausea and stimulate appetite in people receiving chemotherapy.

However, THC alone is not as effective as whole plant cannabis. Marinol, which is a pharmaceutical form of 100 percent THC, has been on prescribed since the 1980s to treat nausea. But the efficacy of Marinol has proven to be inferior to inhaled cannabis.

Smoke, vape or eat: what method is best for nausea?

Non-smoked methods of cannabis consumption are the preferred option for many users who are concerned about health effects of smoking. But for nausea sufferers, inhalation may be the most effective treatment. For those who choose not to smoke, vaporization is an inhaled form that may be preferable.

Edible cannabis may not be the best option for two reasons:

  1. Eating or drinking cannabis requires your body to digest the cannabis and relief take up to two hours. For most nausea sufferers, immediate treatment is needed.
  2. Many nausea patients have difficulty keeping food down. The mere act of swallowing something as small as a pill or capsule can induce vomiting in many cases, especially those undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

Smoking and vaping deliver immediate relief. Inhalation also allows you the ability to maintain the proper dosage throughout the day. More cannabinoids are absorbed in inhaled form than in ingested form, since the body attempts to metabolize any ingested medication before absorption.

According to a report from the Institutes of Medicine: “In patients already experiencing severe nausea or vomiting, pills are generally ineffective, because of the difficulty in swallowing or keeping a pill down and slow onset of the drug effect. Thus, an inhalation (preferably not smoking) cannabinoid drug delivery system would be advantageous for treating chemotherapy-based nausea.”

Vaporized cannabis is a healthier alternative to traditional smoked cannabis, and avoids many issues encountered with the ingestion of other medications. If is highly recommended that you start low and go slow when treating nausea with inhaled cannabis. Take small “sips” while vaporizing to prevent coughing, which often exacerbates the nausea.

Make sure to consult staff at your Greenlight approved retailer. Be specific about your symptoms and what brought them on.

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