Multiple medical studies show that cannabis is an effective antiemetic treatment (to relieve nausea and vomiting) – more effective, in fact, than many pharmaceuticals, and with fewer side effects. Along with inflammation and pain, nausea is one of the Big Three symptoms effectively treated by marijuana.
The power of cannabis
As a patient who myself battles nausea (liver and intestinal issues), I personally know of the power of cannabis to quell nausea. It’s a qualify life issue, primarily, and it makes a huge difference.
Cancer patients going through chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment were one of the first groups to discover this wonderful property of cannabis.
Ingesting weed enables them to eat, and to keep the food down, which helps combat weight loss and muscle wasting. Patients battling HIV soon found cannabis very useful for the same reasons.
Most patients require just a few tokes of cannabis to quell their nausea. Those who are trying marijuana for the first time within a medical context are often amazed at its effectiveness and the rapidity with which it works.
Dr. Grinspoon’s awakening
Harvard researcher Dr. Lester Grinspoon, although he had already authored the 1971 landmark book Marihuana Reconsidered, was ignorant of the antiemetic properties of cannabis.
During a dinner party, an oncologist colleague of Grinspoon’s who had read his book told him of a 17-year-old leukemia patient who had used marijuana to effectively treat that nausea that had resulted from his chemotherapy.
One day when returning from a chemotherapy session with their son, Danny, 15, who was battling childhood leukemia, Betty Grinspoon suggested that the couple get some marijuana to deal with his post-treatment nausea.
Dr. Grinspoon initially dismissed the idea, based on the illegality of cannabis. Despite her husband’s opposition, Mrs. Grinspoon got marijuana for their son at his high school parking lot, from one of his friends.
After Betty shared cannabis with their son after the next chemotherapy treatment, Dr. Grinspoon noted Danny was unusually relaxed, happy, and not in the least nauseous.
“Before, with this particular chemo, he became nauseous and felt awful right away,” Dr. Grinspoon said. He would normally have been “in bed, with a bucket at his side, until it was just dry heaves,” sometimes for eight hours running.
But on that day, instead of being wracked with nausea, Danny – who would normally have been curled up in a ball in the back seat after chemotherapy – asked if they could stop for a sandwich on the way home.
He never had any difficulty with nausea and vomiting with further treatments for as long as he lived. He was free of that anxiety. It was a godsend. – Dr. Grinspoon
The medical evidence
More than 40 years ago, back in 1975, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a double-blind study on the effects of THC on nausea and vomiting,
No patient vomited while experiencing a subjective ‘high.’ Oral tetrahydrocannabinol has antiemetic properties and is significantly better than a placebo in reducing vomiting caused by chemotherapeutic agents.
“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,” a 1999 report from the Institutes of Medicine concluded. “Thus an inhalation (preferably not smoking) cannabinoid drug delivery system would be advantageous for treating chemotherapy-based nausea.”
“A day doesn’t go by where I don’t see a cancer patient who has nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, pain, depression and insomnia,” said Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology and oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and professor of clinical medicine at University of California, San Francisco, Newsweek reported in 2015.
According to Dr. Abrams, marijuana “is the only anti-nausea medicine that increases appetite.”
I could write six different prescriptions, all of which may interact with each other or the chemotherapy that the patient has been prescribed. Or I could just recommend trying one medicine. – Dr. Abrams
Oncologists have gotten the message. A full 82 percent of them agreed that cannabis should be offered as a treatment option to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
It’s all about the cannabinoids
Since pharmaceutical treatments are typically much more expensive than marijuana – and are ineffective for many patients, besides having many side effects – cannabis becomes the treatment of choice for many nausea patients.
After all, the only side effects most experience are the high, the munchies, and possible sleepiness (if you’re using an indica), and any or all of those are much preferable to feeling sick to your stomach.
In 1982, the Michigan Department of health conducted a study involving cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The study involved 165 participants seeking to alleviate nausea and vomiting.
Patients were placed into one of two control groups, those using marijuana and those taking a pharmaceutical drug, Torecan. Patients could elect to switch to the alternate therapy if the first one failed.
An amazing 90 percent of patients receiving cannabis to alleviate nausea and vomiting wanted to continue using it. Just eight of 83 patients who received marijuana chose to discontinue it and try Torecan. Of the Torecan group, 22 of the 23 patients decided to discontinue it and switch to cannabis.
According to that study, 71 percent of the patients receiving marijuana reporting no vomiting, and only moderate nausea following chemotherapy treatments.
The principal side effected noted in the Michigan study was increased appetite, with 32 percent of patients reporting the munchies.
Two important cannabinoids found in marijuana, THCV, and CBDV, “may have therapeutic potential in reducing nausea,” according to a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology. The cannabinoids were given to laboratory rats in order to gauge their effects on toxin-induced nausea.
Best ways to consume cannabis for nausea
Since rapidity of relief is important to nausea patients, many prefer smoking or vaping as opposed to ingesting edibles or capsules. Edibles take 45 minutes to a couple of hours to take effect, and that’s just too long to wait while feeling sick.
Vape pens are increasingly popular with nausea patients who want to avoid smoke, but still want rapid onset of relief.
If vaping isn’t a good option either, due to workplace concerns or respiratory sensitivity, tinctures and pills are viable fallback positions, with tinctures usually taking effect more rapidly.
Best strains for nausea
Certain strains of cannabis have proven more effective at combating nausea than others. The South African landrace sativa strain Durban Poison, for example, is especially good at reducing or eliminating nausea, according to anecdotal reports.
Indica nausea-killers include:
Hybrids effective against nausea include:
Of course, the final arbiter of effectiveness is the effect a particular strain of cannabis has on you. If it works, that’s the important part!
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