Marijuana for Nausea: Helping Cancer Patients for Decades

It took a lot of time for humanity to “rediscover” the medical potential of cannabis.

Although there’s still a long way to go, cannabis has been accepted by many as a tool for treating regular nausea, but also nausea caused by chemotherapy.

Nausea was actually one of the main reasons why medical cannabis became legal in some US states. Marijuana for nausea became FDA approved and available for medicinal use in 1985 in the US, and Canada legalized it for these purposes back in 2001.

Since then, countless patients found relief in cannabis, even though most of the times doctors would only recommend it when all other “mainstream” options were exhausted.

Cannabis is now commonly used for treating chronic nausea, vomiting caused by chemotherapy and severe nausea caused by HIV and AIDS treatments.

About nausea and vomiting, their causes and treatment

We have all been nauseous at some point in our lives. That uncomfortable feeling is sometimes followed by an urge to vomit, and this urge actually has a purpose: To discourage us from repeating whatever caused this unpleasantness in the first place, but also to “purify” the body in case we ate something bad.

There are cellular receptors in our brain and in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract that produce, but also bind to serotonin, which sometimes creates nauseating effects.

This is why many antiemetic medications block serotonin.

Countless factors can cause nausea: Crohn’s disease, motion sickness, gastritis, stomach infections, food and drink poisoning, anxiety, hypoglycemia, early pregnancy, arachnoiditis, migraines, side effects of medications and much more.

Most of the times, short-term nausea and vomiting are something we don’t have to worry about too much. People usually recover after a few hours without the need for any treatment whatsoever.

Depending on the cause and duration, nausea and vomiting can sometimes do a lot of harm to our body. Prolonged vomiting can cause electrolyte imbalances and severe dehydration, so whenever this happens, make sure to drink a lot of fluids.

For example, some women suffer from something called hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy, which is a severe form of nausea and vomiting, exceeding the usual morning sickness.

There are some factors that will definitely cause prolonged nausea, and by that I mean chemotherapy, and other side effects of various medications.

In that case, nausea is usually treated with antiemetic medications, which are apparently safe to use during pregnancy too. Also, antihistamines are often used for treating nausea, especially when it’s caused by motion sickness.

However, some people don’t react well to antiemetics—most notably cancer patients going through aggressive chemo.

And that’s where cannabis comes into play.

Research on cannabis and nausea

One of the first studies on this topic was published in 1975, when a group of researchers looked deep into THC’s antiemetic effects in 20 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. (1)

They were more than surprised to see that all 20 participants felt immediate relief after receiving a dose of THC.

That’s when things slowly started to change for cannabis…

Many newer studies had to prove this over and over again, in order to convince the general public that cannabis works wonders for nausea. (2)

As the time passed, cannabis research evolved and scientists started noticing there’s more to cannabis than just THC.

In fact, CBDV and THCV, the two less prevalent cannabinoids, showed a great potential in reducing nausea in rats. (3)

Although they were conducted on animals, these studies were important because they provided a better understanding of how cannabis affects other mammals, including humans.

Weed for nausea

Synthetic cannabis for nausea

It took another 10 years, and even more research, for the FDA and the rest of the world to be convinced that cannabis actually works for vomiting and nausea.

But once they were sure, Big Pharma desperately wanted a piece of it, so they created a number of medications that consist of artificially created synthetic cannabinoids (not to be mistaken with Spice/K2 and similar) were made, including Marinol or Dronabinol.

In my opinion, synthetic forms of cannabis are not as effective as the herb itself, or other formulations that are made from plant material, like Sativex (Epidiolex in the US) by GW Pharmaceuticals, or extracts like RSO.

First of all, these medications contain only one cannabinoid, usually just THC, while the actual cannabis plant is rich in numerous other cannabinoids and terpenes.

Over a hundred cannabinoids and a great number of terpenes work synergically in what’s dubbed the entourage effect, where multiple compounds contribute to each other’s medical benefits.

Also, many patients simply do not tolerate synthetic cannabinoids well, as they can upset the stomach and make people even sicker. In fact, in one big study 1,366 cancer patients were given nabilone, dronabinol and a placebo drug. (5)

Patients who were given synthetic forms of cannabinoids did report some improvements for their nausea, but also stated that there were a lot of negative effects: Drowsiness, dizziness, anxiety and depression, drops in blood pressure, and even hallucinations and paranoia.

You might think that natural cannabis can also trigger paranoia and anxiety. Yes, cannabis does create its own side effects, but all of them can easily be avoided.

For example, the psychoactive cerebral effect (also known as “the high”) that comes with THC can indeed be overwhelming, especially for people who are just starting to get acquainted with pot.

Once you get accustomed to this feeling, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable with it.

Also, dosing is key.

With lesser quantities of THC in your system it is extremely difficult to have any negative sensations, but the health benefits will still be there.

The psychoactive effects of THC can also be manipulated with the right dose of CBD. That’s why strains with a similar or exact amount of THC and CBD produce little to no psychoactive effects.

Certain man-made forms of cannabis contain only one isolated cannabinoid, and because of this can never be as effective as the whole-plant product which has a vast number of different cannabinoids and terpenes.

Best strains for nausea

Marijuana is famous not just for resolving nausea, but also for boosting appetite. This is important because when we are nauseous, we really don’t feel like eating anything.

Indica strains are usually responsible for this effect, but there are some sativa and hybrid strains that can also help to manage appetite.

Find the right strain for you

Whether you want to relieve anxiety, pain or depression, the right strain is out there. Use our online tool to narrow the search.

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In addition, here are the top 5 strains for nausea that you should try.

GSC (Hybrid)

GSC will give you a cerebral rush and afterwards introduce a wave of relaxation in your body. Also, it really helps with appetite.

Durban Poison (Sativa)

As a sativa strain, Durban Poison is a perfect choice to get you going through the day. It makes your head clear while stimulating creativity. It’s a well-known strain for treating a number of conditions, but most importantly it affects appetite, kills pain and relieves nausea.

Optimum Prime (Indica)

Known also as 3X Crazy, Prime is an indica dominant strain that will provide you with a potent head buzz along with full body relaxation. It eases nausea and pain and is recommended for nighttime use.

OG Kush (Hybrid)

OG Kush is a powerful strain which has the ability to crush stress and improve appetite. What is so special about this strain is that it gives you the feeling of euphoria followed by extreme relaxation.

Sour Diesel (Sativa)

Sour Diesel is another global favorite, so you’ll have no trouble finding it in practically any dispensary. Like other sativa strains, Sour Diesel provides a welcome energy boost, especially for patients going through chemotherapy. It also effectively calms nausea.

References

  1. Sallan SE, Zinberg NE, Frei E; Antiemetic effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in patients receiving cancer chemotherapy; The New England Journal of Medicine; October 1975; 293(16):795-797
  2. Parker LA, Rock EM, Limebeer CL; Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids; British Journal Pharmacology; August 201; 163(7):1411-22
  3. Rock EM, Sticht MA, Duncan M, Stott C, Parker LA; Evaluation of the potential of the phytocannabinoids, cannabidivarin (CBDV) and Δ(9) -tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), to produce CB1 receptor inverse agonism symptoms of nausea in rats; British Journal of Pharmacology; October 2013; 170(3):671-678
  4. Rock EM, Bolognini D, Limebeer CL, Cascio MG, Anavi-Goffer S, Fletcher PJ, Mechoulam R, Pertwee RG, Parker LA; Cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic component of cannabis, attenuates vomiting and nausea-like behaviour via indirect agonism of 5-HT(1A) somatodendritic autoreceptors in the dorsal raphe nucleus; British Journal of Pharmacology; April 2012; 165(8):2620-2634
  5. Tramèr MR, Carroll D, Campbell FA, Reynolds DJ, Moore RA, McQuay HJ; Cannabinoids for control of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting: quantitative systematic review; BMJ; July 2001; 323(7303):16-21
Categories Health

Journalist with a decade-long experience of using cannabis for stress relief. Her spare time is mostly divided between dancing, traveling and reading.

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