Most states with legal medical cannabis programs do not include nausea on their list of qualifying conditions. That makes sense, given the fact that nausea is a symptom of something else rather than its own problem. Still, that doesn’t mean marijuana does not help. Quite to the contrary, research suggests it does.
In fairness, the research is limited. Most studies involve cancer patients experiencing nausea as a result of their treatments. Nonetheless, the evidence still points to nausea being relieved by THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why cancer is on the qualifying conditions list of most states with legal medical cannabis.
Marijuana and FDA-Approved Drugs
In its discussion on marijuana as a medicine, the Mayo Clinic website mentions research that shows THC “effectively reduces nausea and vomiting in people undergoing chemotherapy.” So if you were a medical cannabis patient using marijuana to relieve cancer-related pain, you might also experience the added benefit of reduced nausea. Not a bad deal.
In addition, the Mayo Clinic cites two synthetic cannabinoid drugs that are also prescribed to address cancer-related nausea. Those two drugs are dronabinol and nabilone. Both drugs are derived from synthetic cannabinoids produced in a lab.
What is interesting is that the human body naturally produces its own cannabinoids. Those cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system to influence a lengthy list of bodily functions, including appetite and pain perception. The two synthetic cannabinoid drugs are meant to mimic what natural cannabinoids should be doing by themselves.
Natural THC vs. Synthetic Drugs
It makes sense that natural THC could do much the same thing as the synthetic cannabinoids from which dronabinol and nabilone are derived. And that being the case, it also seems reasonable that a non-FDA approved medical cannabis product could be just as effective at relieving cancer-related nausea as a prescription drug.
So where does all this lead? It leads to the understanding that we have a reasonably high level of confidence that medical cannabis can relieve nausea. Cancer patients should be able to use the drug to control their nausea, whether it helps with their pain or not.
Knowing this may cause you to wonder why no pharmaceutical company has tried to present straight THC to the FDA for approval. No one can say for sure, but the most likely scenario is that the FDA wouldn’t give a pharmaceutical company exclusive control over THC – because it is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. Seeking approval would not be worth a pharmaceutical company’s trouble.
Pharmaceutical Resistance to Medical Cannabis
Could this explain the pharmaceutical industry’s resistance to medical cannabis? Absolutely. Right now, any cancer patient in Utah can walk into the Beehive Farmacy near Logan, UT, with a valid medical cannabis card of course, and purchase anything from vape cartridges to gummies. The patient could then go home and self-medicate to find relief from both nausea and cancer pain.
Meanwhile, a pharmaceutical company would spend millions of dollars over the course of a decade to get a THC-derived drug to market. By the time that drug was ready, the company would be way behind the eight ball. Not only that, but a pharmaceutical company would also have a challenging time convincing people to take a pill prescribed by a doctor when they are already buying vape cartridges at the local dispensary.
The bottom line is that marijuana does appear to relieve nausea. THC is likely the substance that’s doing the trick. Although researchers are just figuring all this out, cancer patients have known it for a long time.