Twisting, turning, gurgling, and bubbling that leaves you light headed — a.k.a. nausea — is uncomfortable and unnerving. Digestive distress, medication side effects, viruses, bacteria, migraines, motion sickness, and chronic health conditions are a few of the many reasons someone may feel nauseous.
While it doesn’t always lead to vomiting, chronic nausea can still lead to unintended weight loss since it hinders your appetite. Not only is it hard to eat when you’re nauseous, it’s hard to get anything done when your stomach’s in a knot.
When over the counter antacids and antiemetics fail to come to the rescue, what other options do you have?
Well, for thousands of years, humans have used cannabis to alleviate nausea, pain, and other ailments. In fact, the FDA approved the first cannabinoid based pharmaceutical drugs in the 1980s specifically for developing anti-nausea medications, such as Nabilone and Dronabinol.
Cannabis’ Antiemetic Properties
Antiemetics are a class of drugs used to reduce nausea and vomiting. They are further classified based on their chemical structure or how they work in the body.
For example, antihistamines, which are typically used to treat allergies, also have mild antiemetic properties. Cannabinoid-based medications and serotonin receptor agonists are more potent antiemetics but are more restricted.
Although cannabis contains over 400 different compounds, THC is currently the only cannabinoid approved by the FDA for use as an antiemetic.
Other cannabinoids, terpenes, or flavonoids in cannabis may have antiemetic properties. But thus far, most published studies have focused on THC’s ability to reduce nausea, vomiting, and increase appetite. Many of these studies have focused on the efficacy of using THC-based medications for reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
Read more: Can Cannabis Reduce Chemotherapy Side Effects
The clinical efficacy of THC for reducing nausea was first observed in 1975 when oral THC was administered to patients receiving chemotherapy. Since then, these results have been repeatedly studied using different (synthetic) THC-based pharmaceutical drugs and (natural) cannabis-derived THC.
How Does THC Reduce Nausea?
Despite decades of research on how THC reduces nausea, its exact mechanisms are still being investigated. So far, it’s believed that THC’s interactions with CB1 and 5-HT3 serotonin receptors in the dorsal vagal complex prevent vomiting and nausea.
The dorsal vagal complex is a cluster of brain cells in your brainstem that communicate information with your gut, heart, and lungs. When the 5-HT3 receptors in the dorsal vagal complex are activated, it can trigger vomiting.
When THC binds to and activates CB1 receptors in the dorsal vagal complex, it appears to decrease the amount of serotonin released in the synapse of 5-HT3 receptors, thus preventing vomiting.
It’s also been suggested that CBD may exert antiemetic properties through different mechanisms. CBD activates 5-HT1A receptors, which decrease the amount of serotonin released, thus lowering the chances of vomiting due to 5-HT3 activation.
Simply put, THC in the dorsal vagal complex acts as if it’s flipping an “off” switch, preventing vomiting and nausea. CBD may also have the potential to flip this “off” switch, as well.
How Much THC to Use For Nausea Relief?
As always, go low and start slow. Many synthetic-THC medications are available in 2.5mg, 5mg, and 10mg doses.
If you’re taking a cannabis tincture or gummy, follow the instructions recommended on the packaging. The dose of cannabis gummies can range from 5mg to over 20mg. You can also cut the gummy in half if you don’t want to take the full dose.
If you’re smoking or vaping cannabis, start by inhaling for 1-3 seconds and wait 15 minutes before using more to see how you feel.
THC is psychoactive and may induce feelings of euphoria, paranoia, dizziness, or drowsiness. It may feel uncomfortable or too intense, especially if you take a very strong dose. The feeling will pass, though. Make sure you drink plenty of water and give yourself time to rest and relax.
Key Takeaways: THC May Inhibit Nausea and Vomiting
Cannabis has been used for thousands of years to help alleviate nausea and vomiting. In modern western medicine, the antiemetic effects of THC have been acknowledged in clinical studies since 1975.
Since then, various studies have repeatedly shown that THC can effectively reduce nausea and vomiting, whether in a synthetic/pharmaceutical grade or natural form.
The exact mechanisms behind THC’s ability to reduce nausea and vomiting are still being researched. However, THC’s antiemetic properties are believed to result from its interactions with CB1 and 5-HT3 receptors in the dorsal vagal complex. This is an area of your brain that communicates information with your gut, heart, and lungs.
If you’re looking to use cannabis as an antiemetic, go low and start slow before taking a higher dose of THC.
- Crocq, M. A. (2020). History of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 22(3), 223–228. https://doi.org/10.31887/dcns.2020.22.3/mcrocq
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2018, January 15). Antiemetic Agents. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548071/
- Fraguas-Sánchez, A. I., & Torres-Suárez, A. I. (2018). Medical Use of Cannabinoids. Drugs, 78(16), 1665–1703. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40265-018-0996-1
- Tyler, B. N., Mueller, M., & Sauls, R. S. (2021, August 25). Cannaboinoid Antiemetic Therapy. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535430/
- Binder, M. D., Hirokawa, N., & Windhorst, U. (2008). Dorsal Vagal Complex (DVC). Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, 998–999. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-540-29678-2_1597