Treating nausea is one of the oldest uses of medical marijuana, with over 50 studies from around the world supporting its efficacy.
For most people, the word "nausea" is associated with mild unpleasantness. But for those undergoing chemotherapy, treatment for HIV/AIDS, or a handful of other chronic illnesses, nausea can be an extremely serious problem. Chronic nausea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, weight loss, malnutrition, and other conditions that complicate the initial illness and inhibit recovery.
Used to Combat Chemotherapy Side Effects Since the 1970s
Researchers have known since the 1970s that marijuana relieves nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment. In more recent years, it has been used in conjunction with AIDs treatment to reduce nausea and improve appetite. A survey published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reported that of physicians polled, 77% felt that medical marijuana was more effective than conventional medications, and more than 44% had recommended medical marijuana to their patients.
It is speculated that cannabis' anti-nausea effect may be due to its ability to block receptors in the 5-HT or serotonin family. While these receptors are also targeted by traditional anti-emetics, the effects of cannabis on the endocannabinoid and central nervous systems may make it more effective than standard medication.
Although there are various anti-nausea drugs currently in use, most have potential side effects ranging from the small nuisances to the life-threatening complications. Medical marijuana treats nausea without the risk of major side effects. While conventional drugs may cause side effects ranging from constipation and headaches to fainting and chest pain, cannabis generally has no side effects beyond improved appetite. The most serious side effect recorded is cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, or cannabis-induced vomiting, which occurs extremely rarely and only in very long-term heavy users. For those using cannabis medicinally, this is not a serious concern.
FDA-Approved Cannabis Derivatives
There are currently two cannabis-derived drugs FDA-approved for the treatment of nausea and vomiting. Dronabinol (under the brand name Marinol) and Nabilone. Both are synthetic versions of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Inhaled or Ingested Cannabis for Nausea?
While these medications have proven to be effective, inhaled marijuana may be a better option for some patients. A comprehensive 1999 report by the Institutes of Medicine found that patients suffering nausea and vomiting had a difficult time swallowing or keeping pills down and recommended an inhalation delivery system for chemotherapy-based nausea.
Medical marijuana is well-documented as an effective treatment for nausea, particularly in conjunction with chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS treatment. While synthetic cannabis derivatives may be a viable option for those in areas without approved medical marijuana, the inhaled product is preferable where available.