Multiple clinical trials and systematic study reviews have arrived at the same conclusions over the years, but even if they hadn’t, it’s one of those things that’s just known: Cannabis is great at alleviating most forms of nausea. In turn, it can stimulate appetite in even the sickest of patients, an effect that can be life-saving.
It’s why the medical marijuana movement is deeply rooted in the LGBTQ+ community, whose pioneering patients discovered early during the HIV/AIDS epidemic that patients could find great relief with cannabis.
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The same thinking applied to cancer patients, who for years have been using medical marijuana to help with treatment side effects so strong that they have their own acronym: Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting, or CINV. Even the American Cancer Society acknowledges the use of cannabis as a relief therapy for patients who choose it in consultation with their doctor.
But like with all things cannabis, what works best for your symptoms and situation depends mostly on you. There is almost no one-size-fits all marijuana remedy. The good news is that when it comes to nausea, whether caused by chemo treatments, motion sickness or just a garden-variety hangover, cannabis is almost certain to make you feel noticeably better.
What causes nausea in the first place?
Illness, abdominal obstructions, poisoning, prescription drugs, homeostatic imbalance … far too many things to cover here. There are hundreds of ways you can wind up feeling queasy, some harmless and merely unpleasant, some deadly serious.
It’s important to keep in mind that nausea is a symptom, and one of the body’s important defense mechanisms against toxins and other potentially dangerous invaders and conditions. If you are experiencing chronic nausea or vomiting and you’re not sure why it’s happening–and especially if you think you may be pregnant–talk to your doctor immediately.
But if you know why you’re feeling this way and you want it to stop, immediate relief is at hand.
How does cannabis work to alleviate it?
The good news is that unlike pain, which is localized and isolated, nausea is an overall sensation essentially created and regulated by the central nervous system–and the powerful endocannabinoid system. Your body makes these neurotransmitters to regulate everything from sleep and mood to fertility, memory and pain sensation.
In short, cannabis is great for nausea because it treats the symptom at the source, interacting with our pre-existing cannabinoid receptors and disrupting the signals telling our brain that we may need to lie down for a minute. It won’t necessarily work on what’s causing your nausea in the first place, but it is highly effective at blocking the sensation that comes from it.
Do I need to get high?
A 2012 study showed promise for the anti-emetic (nausea- and vomiting-fighting) properties of CBD, the second-most common cannabinoid–and one that doesn’t get you high. In it, Canadian and Israeli researchers found that CBD produced strong anti-emetic/anti-nausea effects in rats by interacting with the body’s abundant 5-HT1A autoreceptors.
More research is needed to determine whether CBD alone is an effective anti-emetic in humans. And conventional wisdom has it that THC and CBD are both better when working as a team; that thinking drives the popularity of tinctures and vaporizers with CBD-to-THC ratios like 3:1 and vice versa.
But when taken by itself, CBD does not cause toxicity or intoxication, even at high dosages. That makes it relatively low-risk to experiment with–and if it works for you, you’ll know. Within 30 minutes of dosing with CBD-only, you should be able to tell whether it’s doing anything for your nausea.
If so, congratulations! You’ve just discovered a non-psychoactive, pharmaceuticals-free solution to your discomfort.
And if not?
Try dialing up the THC.
Anyone who’s had too much to drink the night before and puffs a little cannabis knows how effective it can be at getting you up and feeling human again. The change is instantaneous, and it can be profound.
And since CBD is not always abundantly present in cannabis flower, it’s pretty clear that THC is a great nausea-attacker in its own right–and may even be the key to full efficacy. In this case, the sensation of feeling high may just be a bonus–if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not, and you’ve had experiences where cannabis actually makes you feel nauseous, you may be thinking … what the heck?
The truth is, those experiences usually come from ingesting too much (usually from edibles or other high-potency dosages) or combining with alcohol. If you’re an inexperienced user, or are hesitant to try cannabis for nausea because you’ve had just such an experience, it may still help you with nausea. The key is to take far less than you normally would.
It takes a relatively tiny amount of cannabis to knock out nausea and other symptoms–micro-dosers know this–and if you’re more interested in feeling better than feeling high, just a little bit (like one or two hits, or 5 mg of edible THC or less) can do the trick.
So if you’re new to this, try CBD first, then go low and slow with THC until your’e feeling yourself again. And if you’re an experienced user who likes feeling high, well … do you even do nauseous, bro?
What products should I try?
Edibles will work, but they aren’t ideal because they take up to an hour to take effect–who wants to wait that long–and eating something may not be all that appealing while you’re having symptoms. Vaporizers are great for convenience and dose-control, especially if you’re prioritizing relief over a buzz.
And if you’re someone who prefers smoking flower, you’re probably already experiencing the anti-emetic benefits of cannabis on a regular basis.
The truth is, it probably doesn’t much matter. This is one case where whatever you prefer is probably going to help.