Since 2018, RYAH Data has recorded more than 14,500 sessions from patients treating nausea with medical cannabis. Yet, as far back as 1975, researchers have known about the effects cannabis has had on reducing the symptoms of nausea and vomiting, especially as related to chemotherapy treatment.
Based on its ability to control certain aspects of the endocannabinoid system, cannabis seems poised to become a common therapeutic option for nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss. Out of all the conditions patients rely on cannabis for, nausea and vomiting are two of the most socially and legally accepted.
Cancer Patient Surveys Indicate Cannabis for Nausea and Appetite is Common
Beyond the 14,500 session reports on the use of cannabis for nausea in RYAH Data, more than 1,300 patients also report using the plant to treat cachexia. Cachexia, also called wasting disorder, causes extreme weight loss and is usually paired with similar conditions, which cause nausea and vomiting. Cachexia is an associated symptom, and one that is also treated with medical cannabis.
But RYAH isn’t the first to document the thousands of patients seeking relief from these symptoms with cannabis. Patients have known about the ability of cannabis to calm nausea and vomiting long before it became medically acceptable. After all, the plant has always had a reputation for triggering a case of the “munchies.”
Among recreational consumers, the urge to eat has been a mildly annoying side effect of use. But for patients fighting symptoms of appetite loss, nausea, and vomiting, the munchies have become a certified medical benefit.
The American Journal of Clinical Oncology reported in their September 2020 issue the results from a survey of patients with blood cancers. Based on the responses of 188 participants, more than 24 percent indicated treating symptoms with medical cannabis.
The researchers discovered that patients felt the most relief for pain, appetite, and anxiety, but many experienced cloudy thinking as a side effect. They also reported that patients were more likely to use medical cannabis if they had more severe symptoms.
In 2019, Current Oncology published the results from a Canadian patient survey. This time, researchers focused on a broader range of patients, all of whom were seeking treatment through the BC Cancer organization. Of more than 800 completed surveys, 23 percent of patients reported using cannabis during their treatment. The most common reasons were pain (62%), cancer treatment (52%), insomnia (41%), nausea (39%), and anxiety (36%).
Strong Support for Cannabis’ Anti-nausea Benefits
Patient surveys help capture the reasons behind medical cannabis use, but there is also a need for strong scientific evidence to support these reasons. Is there real medical value for a case of the munchies?
A few very promising studies have been completed in recent years, evidencing that even under controlled conditions, cannabis effectively reduced nausea and vomiting.
One of the most exciting was a multicentre, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, phase II/III trial published in Annals of Oncology in 2020. This well-controlled study looked at the preparation of small doses of cannabis extract, taken three times daily during treatment.
Each dose contained a relatively small amount of cannabinoids, only 2.5 mg of THC and 2.5 mg of CBD, and was taken in conjunction with conventional antiemetics. Seventy-two patients completed two treatment cycles, taking one round of placebo and one round of cannabinoid therapy.
The study authors discovered that 25 percent of patients reported what is known as a “complete response” to cannabinoid therapy. This means they effectively reduced all nausea and vomiting associated with their chemotherapy treatment. The vast majority, 83 percent, also indicated a preference for the THC:CBD treatment over the placebo. A majority also reported that cannabinoid therapy reduced chemotherapy’s overall impact on their quality of life.
Cannabis Sliding into the Future of Cancer Care
There is a growing scientific consensus. Patients see results from using medical cannabis for nausea, and more importantly, for future practices in oncology, scientists can measure these results.
Patients overwhelmingly prefer cannabis for reducing nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Beyond just preference, in clinical trials, cannabis does effectively reduce these symptoms and, in some cases, completely resolves them (in conjunction with conventional antiemetics).
With such strong evidence, medical cannabis will likely become a standard option for soothing nausea and vomiting related to medical conditions and challenging treatments. It won’t just be a patient-driven choice, it may become a doctor-recommended prescription.