Cannabis has been used to help combat vomiting in medical spaces since the 1980s, but plant lovers have known about the seemingly magical effects of weed for decades longer. If your stomach feels off, simply take a toke and wait – what could be better?
But why exactly does cannabis help with nausea – and how can you optimize your experience to get the most benefits out of a sesh, rather than getting high with a belly ache? It comes down, as many things in weed do, to the endocannabinoid system.
The best type of cannabis to treat nausea is a Type I or Type II strain with a terpene profile that includes limonene or humulene. But in this case, how you consume cannabis is also important. Inhaled cannabis delivers rapid anti-nausea effects. Edibles won’t deliver the same experience, so this is an instance when smoking or vaping is needed.
Strain names are an unreliable indicator of experience, so the ones included in this article should serve as a starting point to finding flower with a similar chemical makeup.
A note about language: the scientific terms for nausea and anti-nausea are emesis and antiemetic, respectively, which you’ll see used throughout this article.
How cannabis can help with nausea
Nausea and vomiting are general symptoms, not diseases in themselves, and can be caused by a number of triggers. You can get nauseous during an illness or from eating something that disagrees with your stomach. Nausea can also be caused by motion sickness or chronic gastrointestinal diseases like IBS and Crohn’s. Additionally, nausea is a common side effect of cancer treatments, migraines, pregnancy, and more.
(Whether or not you consume cannabis during pregnancy to reduce nausea is a personal decision that is up to the judgment of every woman and her medical providers. This article neither condones nor condemns the use of cannabis during pregnancy.)
So how can cannabis help with nausea?
THC has well-documented antiemetic properties with studies that date back to the 1980s. Some of the earliest studies examine the effects of THC on cancer patients and reducing chemo-related nausea, although the scientists noted the effectiveness of THC can be dependent on tolerance, dose, and administration.
Why THC can reduce nausea still isn’t fully understood. THC binds with the CB1 receptor in the endocannabinoid system and this receptor is an important mediator in dealing with nausea. CB1 receptors are heavily concentrated in the brain, including areas of the brain that regulate the dorsal vagal complex, an area of the brain which is the center of the autonomic nervous system and responsible for controlling vomiting.
One theory from researchers at the University of New Mexico on why THC can reduce nausea is due to activation of the CB1 receptor stimulating the central nervous system “such as the insular cortex, which is involved in interoception, conscious awareness of internal bodily states.”
The science behind THC and nausea
- A 2022 self-reported study of 2,220 cannabis users from the University of New Mexico found that 96% of people experienced nausea relief within one hour of cannabis consumption, finding “statistically significant” relief within five minutes. Researchers noted that flower and concentrates delivered the strongest results, joints provided “greater symptom relief” than pipes or vapes, and high THC and low CBD were associated with the greatest relief.
- A 2011 article in the British Journal of Pharmacology identified the importance of the CB1 receptor in reducing or increasing nausea levels, finding that stimulating the CB1 receptor could suppress vomiting. The authors noted that THC administration could suppress vomiting while CBD only worked in a “limited dose range.”
- Two studies from 2001 showed that THC acts via peripheral CB1 receptors to “decrease intestinal motility” but also acts centrally to “attenuate emesis” which, in simple terms, means reducing the speed at which food moves through your digestive tract and reducing nausea, respectively.
CBD and nausea
The ability of THC to reduce nausea is well-documented and not disputed, though not fully understood. But what about CBD, which is usually considered the “more medical” cannabinoid?
- A 2021 study identified the antiemetic properties of CBD but adding CBD to the mix doesn’t seem to provide a clear improvement.
- In a 2020 study on cannabinoids and vomiting, researchers split the group into two: a group that took antiemetic pharmaceuticals and a group that took a CBD/ THC blend. They found that while there was an overwhelming preference for cannabinoid treatment and a “statistically significant difference” in nausea and vomiting, it was only a 10% improvement, and 31% of patients who took both cannabinoids and antiemetic medication vomited anyway.
CBDA and nausea
CBDA, or cannabidiolic acid, is the acidic precursor to CBD. CBDA must undergo decarboxylation to become CBD, so CBDA is found in hemp plants, fresh hemp flowers, and in tinctures, edibles, and pills that have not been decarboxylated.
CBDA is far less studied than CBD, but several studies have found that it has potential to be a powerful anti-emetic.
- A 2021 review of scientific studies found that while CBD was effective in reducing anticipatory nausea and vomiting, CBDA was “more potent,” producing similar results at a much smaller dose.
- A 2016 preclinical rodent trial found that CBDA was “1000 times more potent than CBD in reducing acute nausea” and “may be a highly effective treatment for acute nausea.” Researchers noted that CBDA works to reduce nausea via a different receptor pathway than THC, acting on serotonin (5-HT1A) receptors instead of cannabinoid receptors. The study also concluded that combining THC and CBDA could “effectively reduce acute nausea and anticipatory nausea.”
- An earlier rodent study from 2013 found that CBDA had “significantly greater potency” in stopping vomiting than CBD and concluded that CBDA showed “promise as a treatment for nausea and vomiting.”
Because CBDA only exists in the form of hemp or cannabis that have not been decarboxylated, to take advantage of these effects you need specific products. Smoking or vaping hemp flower won’t deliver these results. Instead, look for products that have not been heated and have high quantities of CBDA in the COA.
You can find CBDA in:
- Tinctures and oils
- Pills/ capsules
- Cannabis tea
How to choose cannabis for nausea
When it comes to finding a strain to quell a queasy stomach, don’t get hung up on indica/sativa labeling. These commonly misused terms are morphology terms; telling you only whether your products came from a cannabis indica or cannabis sativa plant. They have nothing to do with the chemical makeup of your products, which is really what you need to know.
Strain names are, unfortunately, an unreliable indicator of the chemical makeup of your products as well. There are no regulations for what qualifies a strain to wear a name, so growers can call strains whatever they want, regardless of the cannabinoid and terpene content.
What really matters then, is the chemotype of your weed. Chemovars are a classification of cannabis based on the dominant cannabinoid, which is the most direct indicator of experience. There are three main chemotypes on the market right now:
- Type I: high THC, low CBD
- Type II: balance of THC and CBD
- Type III: high CBD, low THC
The best chemotype for dealing with nausea is a Type I or Type II strain, and the deciding factor should be your tolerance for THC.
THC is the cannabinoid with the most research behind it for reducing nausea, while CBD doesn’t have quite the same effect. But if you don’t enjoy high THC strains, the presence of CBD can mitigate the side effects of the THC, while still reducing your nausea.
When dealing with nausea, how you consume cannabis is also important. Using topicals and edibles won’t deliver the same results as smoking or using concentrates. In fact, edibles may actually make your nausea worse while topicals activate the ECS receptors in your skin and can’t deliver the cannabinoids where they’re needed internally.
Inhaled cannabis, from smoking, vaping, or concentrates, delivers the best results as fast as possible. (It’s important to note that at least one study out of New Mexico showed vaping wasn’t as effective in reducing nausea as smoking or consuming concentrates.)
Best terpenes for nausea
Cannabinoids aren’t the only factor in how a strain of cannabis affects you; terpenes also matter. While the research on cannabis terpenes is still limited, there is ample research on terpenes in essential oils which can help guide the terpene profile you look for.
- A 2013 study examined the effects of spearmint and peppermint essential oils on nausea. They found a “significant reduction in the intensity and number of emetic events (vomiting)” in both oils. Limonene is the dominant terpene in both kinds of mint.
- A 2014 study examined the effects of inhaled lemon oil on 100 pregnant women dealing with nausea and vomiting. Researchers found a “statistically significant difference” between the control and treatment groups. Limonene is the dominant terpene in lemon oil.
- A 2013 study found that ginger extract could inhibit the activation of 5-HT3 receptors, a target receptor to control nausea and vomiting. The main terpene in ginger is humulene.
If you can’t get the terpene profile of your weed, as is still challenging in many parts of the world, you can always take advantage of the anti-nausea properties of these terpenes by using essential oils. Finding an essential oil with limonene or humulene can supplement your cannabis routine and ensure you get the anti-nausea effects of both THC and these terpenes.
Best strains for nausea
Best Type I strains for nausea
If you enjoy the effects of a high-THC strain of cannabis, look for the presence of limonene or humulene to deliver the most potent anti-nausea effects. Strains with this chemical profile include Acapulco Gold, Amnesia, and Bubba Kush.
Best Type II strains for nausea
If you prefer the presence of CBD to mitigate the effects of THC, reach for a strain that matches the makeup of Canna-Tsu, or blend in hemp flower to your Type I strains.
Best Type III strains for nausea
Looking for the best CBD-dominant strain for nausea shouldn’t be hard, especially if it’s the CBDA that you’re after. Just make sure the product you’re purchasing – be it flower, oil, or concentrate – wasn’t exposed to high heats during extraction.
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