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Cancer has made the list of qualifying conditions in most medical cannabis states. Yet, cancer patients use the herb to manage the condition in different ways. For some, cannabis is a great pain medication. Others use it in high concentrations as an anti-tumoral agent. More still find that it helps ease the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy. Here is evidence suggesting that cannabis is good for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting

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While the herb’s impact on tumor cells have yet to be fully explored in humans, cannabis is often recommended to patients to manage cancer symptoms. The three primary symptoms cannabis can quell include pain, appetite loss, and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Cannabis-based drugs for cancer pain are still in development. However, both medical cannabis and cannabis-based prescription medicines are available to patients in many countries. Cannabis is well-known for its antiemetic (anti-nausea) properties.

In fact, there is ample research that points to the herb’s effectiveness in managing cancer-related vomiting. A 2016 review of the available scientific literature found that cannabis compounds (real, not synthetic) effectively reduce these unpleasant and debilitating side effects of chemotherapy.

The authors write,

Animal models suggest that, in general, Δ9-THC, THCA, CBD, and CBDA, and manipulations of the endogenous cannabinoid system, have anti-emetic and anti-nausea properties.

Some of the most promising human research on cannabis plant extracts stems from the 1970s and 80s. In 1981, a human study of 55 patients found that oral THC, the primary psychoactive in cannabis, controlled chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting better than the placebo or leading antiemetic drugs, Compazine and Compro, which are used as antipsychotics and anti-vomiting agents.

How does cannabis affect nausea and vomiting?

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Every year, researchers learn more about how cannabis interacts with the body. While there is much more to be understood, it is known that the active compounds in cannabis, called cannabinoids, engage the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The endocannabinoid system is a large cell receptor network responsible for a range of bodily functions. These include:

  • Mood
  • Memory
  • Sleep
  • Pain perception
  • Immune function
  • Appetite and metabolism
  • Mobility

Recent research has found that the endocannabinoid system controls visceral sensitivity in the gut. A visceral sensation is the ability to feel bodily organs,  a “gut feeling”. Visceral sensation contributes to the ability to feel nauseous.

Cannabis compounds engage the endocannabinoid system, which means that they also have an impact on feelings of stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.

For more information on how cannabis affects the gut, please take read these articles:

Two pharmaceutical options

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Those who are a little apprehensive about cannabis can rest assured. Cancer patients interested in cannabinoid medicines have two pharmaceutical options to choose from.

These two drugs are prescribed to cancer patients, and are based on compounds found in the cannabis plant:

1. Nabilone

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Sold under the brand name Cesamet, nabilone is a synthetic cannabinoid used to treat nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy. Nabilone is a last-resort medication, often only prescribed after other drugs have failed to ease symptoms.

Just like the compounds in cannabis, the active components in nabilone are cannabinoids that engage the endocannabinoid system.

2. Dronabinol

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Dronabinol is sold under the brand name Marinol. Dronabinol is synthetic THC that is used to treat nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss in cancer and HIV/AIDS patients.  Similar to nabilone, dronabinol is often prescribed after other medications have failed.

Successful human trials are required for approval from drug safety authorities, providing ample evidence that cannabinoid therapies are highly effective in treating the side effects of chemotherapy. Both nabilone and dronabinol have had successful human trials.

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Delilah Butterfield

Delilah Butterfield is a Pacific Northwest native with a passion for cannabis and natural health. Contact her on Twitter @delilahbfield.
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