Is Marijuana Effective As An Anti Nausea Medication?
When a patient is being treated with chemotherapy for cancer, nausea is a horrific side effect. Potent, toxic chemicals are being used to attack malignant cells, and the nausea and vomiting can last for days. Since the problem is repetitive, patients may start to get nauseous as a conditioned reaction just going to the infusion center. Vomiting may persist, and weight loss may become a significant problem with the patient becoming malnourished.
HIV medications can cause the same problem, and tremendous weight loss can ensue. If a patient gets nauseous every time he or she eats, then why torture yourself?
Marijuana can be extremely beneficial for both controlling nausea and improving appetite. It is actually the longest standing use for marijuana’s medicinal usage. The active ingredient responsible for the anti-nausea effect is THC, which is short for Tetra-hydro-cannabinol. Since 1985, a synthetic THC medication named Marinol (dronabinol) has been available as a Schedule II medication. It can be prescribed and obtained from a pharmacy.
Marinol is an oral medication, and some physicians and patients feel that the dosage and duration are more difficult to control than smoked THC. There are some anti-anxiety effects in natural marijuana that are not present in the synthetic Marinol as well. This is thought to be from cannabidiol, which is a component of natural marijuana and not seen in Marinol.
Marinol seems to have mixed results. It may be due to the fact that it is ONE compound of THC, whereas marijuana itself has quite a few. Smoked marijuana has a more rapid onset effect and a consistent duration of two to four hours. It is easy to inhale only enough to achieve the desired relief for therapeutic effect. Ingesting cannabis may take up to two hours for onset and the effects may last for 4 to 8 hours or longer.
In 1975, an initial study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. Twenty cancer patients found that standard anti-nausea medications were not helping and were randomized into placebo or THC. The THC caused significant relief with only mild side effects. Are there other anti-nausea medications that work? Yes there are. Haldol may help, and metaclopamide as well as prochlorperazine may be efficacious.
By the 1980’s numerous states began sponsoring research studies on marijuana’s effects with nausea. All six states found promising results for reducing nausea, and in 1986 the FDA approved Marinol for cancer chemotherapy patients.