A growing number of healthcare practitioners are recommending medicinal cannabis to their patients. This is especially true when treating conditions that lead to nausea. Research supports using THC-based medications, such as dronabinol and nabilone, in pill form to reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) and stimulate appetite in HIV/AIDS patients with cachexia or wasting syndrome.
However, there is more to medical marijuana than just treating gastrointestinal symptoms.
It Reduces Vomiting
Severe nausea can be caused by many things, including a serious illness or infection, certain medications and even pregnancy. While mild nausea can usually be counteracted with rest, hydration and over-the-counter medicines, severe nausea is more debilitating and requires more effective treatment. This includes antiemetic drugs, such as those prescribed by doctors, but medical marijuana has also emerged as an increasingly popular alternative and effective in helping to treat nausea. While cannabis contains chemicals like THC, which bind to specific receptors in the brain, it is also rich in another chemical called CBD. This chemical is very helpful for nausea symptoms and does not produce the high that comes with THC. For this reason, CBD-dominant strains of marijuana are often recommended for patients experiencing nausea.
These strains contain moderate to high terpenes like limonene and humulene, which help stimulate appetite and reduce nausea. Inhaling the vapor from a vape or smoking the flowers is an easy way to get these effects, but edibles can be just as effective for some patients. Doctors who prescribe medicinal marijuana for patients with qualifying conditions must follow guidelines for using this drug. Currently, five different working groups have been formed to develop guidance documents that address the evidence base for medicinal cannabis in specific settings, including for the management of pain, chronic nausea and vomiting, cancer-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV), spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) and palliative care.
It Increases Appetite
Severe nausea can cause patients to lose weight due to an inability to eat. This symptom is especially troublesome for cancer patients and people who have HIV or other illnesses that prevent the body from producing sufficient amounts of energy. Medical marijuana can increase appetite and improve the quality of life for patients suffering from chemotherapy-related nausea. This is because the cannabis plant contains chemicals that stimulate the endocannabinoid system, an area of the brain that regulates eating behavior and energy balance. THC, the main chemical in weed, stimulates this system by binding to specific receptors—many patients with CINV report that medicinal cannabis products increase their appetites and decrease vomiting. However, one high-quality study found that nabilone THC was more effective than placebo at controlling nausea in CINV in a comforting setting.
Long-term marijuana use can lead to a condition known as CHS (cannabis hyperemesis syndrome). This is a rare side effect in users who take large doses of marijuana. The exact causes of CHS are not fully understood, but it appears to be related to the body’s sensitivity to cannabinoids and their interactions with chemotherapy drugs. The treatment for CHS is to reduce the amount of marijuana used and avoid taking large doses.
It Helps You Sleep
Severe nausea can often lead to fatigue, causing many people to struggle with falling asleep and staying asleep. Medical marijuana can help with sleep issues because it has analgesic properties that can soothe pain and relieve stress, improving a patient’s sleep quality. When cannabis is consumed, it interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system to stimulate receptors and produce various effects. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most well-known cannabinoid responsible for that “high” feeling, but it can also cause relaxation and sleepiness. It has also been shown to increase appetite and reduce nausea. CBD is another cannabinoid with various health benefits, and it doesn’t make you high. It has been shown to improve sleep and reduce anxiety. It is a component of the FDA-approved seizure medication Epidiolex, used to treat Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome. A clinical trial found that medicinal cannabis daily for two weeks influenced sleep when measured by midnight melatonin levels and the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI). It is important to note that studies on marijuana and sleep are limited, and more research is needed. Still, anecdotal reports of improved sleep from patients using cannabis suggest it can be effective as a natural sleep aid.
It Helps You Relax
For those with anxiety disorders who often experience nausea, medical marijuana can be an effective symptom reliever. This is one of the main reasons doctors recommend it to patients with anxiety disorders – because of how much stress and anxiety can increase nausea symptoms, especially in those who tend to vomit or feel sick. Using weed to reduce your anxiety stimulates the CB1 receptors in your brain — which are found on GABAergic, glutamatergic, serotonergic, and noradrenergic axon terminals. These are the ends of nerve cells responsible for releasing neurotransmitters to make an impact across a synapse. Marijuana can also lower cortisol levels, a natural stress hormone and a common target of anti-anxiety drugs. Although nausea is not considered a condition on its own, it can be a symptom of cancer or a serious illness such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It can interfere with your quality of life. For many people dealing with this symptom, finding a treatment option that helps them cope with it is essential. Medical marijuana can help with this – and because it has no known side effects, it’s a safe option to consider. Those who want to try this should always talk to their doctor and get the go-ahead first.
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