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Managing Nausea with Cannabis

Laura was a physician who spent much of her clinical time treating substance abuse disorders, and she had no recent experience with cannabis herself. Her aversion to using cannabis when she was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer did not surprise me. Nausea, and the anxiety that preceded its inevitable occurrence, were disabling. I trained with Laura in family medicine, and I had appreciated the beneficial effects of cannabis used by my cancer patients, but it was hard getting Laura to accept my advice.

Finally, I introduced her to a calibrated vaporizer – a method of administration that could provide quick relief, but was different than the ‘smoke a joint out behind the barn’ approach she had imagined. She started with a CBD -rich herb that had a ratio of 2:1 CBD : THC , hoping that the resulting intoxication would be mild enough to tolerate.

I received a call from Laura three days after her latest chemo, and quickly answered it to see if her trial of cannabis had been helpful to her. At first I was concerned because she was crying into the phone, but when I could understand her words I was thrilled. She reported, “It worked faster, better, and more completely than any of the prescriptions my oncologist gave me.”

If even reading about nausea and vomiting will make you queasy, you may want to jump to the end of this article and skip the potentially nauseating details. Nausea is like that – easy to feel if you are so inclined.

Nausea and vomiting are each distinctive, different problems – clearly related, but quite different when it comes to cause and treatment. Those who suffer know that nausea is worse to live with than vomiting because it is a continuous sensation, and is harder to control.

What is Nausea?

Nausea and vomiting are protective defense mechanisms in the human body, and short-term episodes can be therapeutic, though miserable. But what if nausea is not short-term? What if it is an unavoidable side effect, or chronic, with no relief in sight?

If there is no clear trigger for nausea, a patient should work with their doctor to discover the underlying problem. This is true especially if the nausea does not resolve within a day or two because that may be a sign of more serious problems.

Possible Causes of Nausea

  • Migraine
  • Head injury
  • Seizures
  • Ear disorders, including infections
  • Motion sickness
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Appendicitis
  • Hepatitis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Bacterial or viral infections
  • Medications–chemotherapy and others
  • Toxins–arsenic, pesticides, ricin9
  • Pregnancy
  • Heart attack
  • Pain
  • Psychiatric or emotional disorders

How Does Nausea Work?

What is happening in the body when we get nauseated? The brain, the GI system, and the nervous system all have a part in this. We know more about the physiology of vomiting than we do about nausea, so we have better available therapies for its relief.

One key to controlling symptoms seems to be receptors in parts of the brain and in the GI tract that produce and bind with serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Zofran, a well-known anti-emetic (anti-vomiting) medication, works by blocking the nauseating effects of serotonin release.

Cannabinoids to Manage Nausea

The non-intoxicating cannabinoid CBD interacts with serotonin releasing receptors, and when given in relatively small doses has been shown to help alleviate both nausea and vomiting. CBD can also be effective in easing anxiety, which can help patients manage the angst of chronic nausea. 1

THC also works well for many as an anti-nausea cannabinoid. When THC binds to the CB1 receptors in specific parts of the brain, it acts to reduce vomiting. 2 The potentially uplifting side effects of THC can also be therapeutic in this case if not too intense. Creating a more positive state of mind is helpful for anyone going through chemotherapy, or for anyone experiencing difficult-to-treat, chronic nausea.

CBDA , the acidic, raw form of CBD , is even more active at the serotonin receptors, and preclinical (animal) studies indicate that CBDA is a potent anti-emetic, stronger than either CBD or THC . 2, 3 CBDA is the form of CBD that exists in the growing CBD -rich plant, before the plant has been dried or heated. With heating, CBDA becomes CBD , just like THCA decarboxylates to become THC . Currently, the best source of CBDA would be juice from fresh, high- CBD plants, but in the future dispensaries may be able to offer CBDA products for patients with need.

Nausea Related to Cancer Treatment

State of mind during chemotherapy can include the “nocebo effect” – negative expectations of treatment – that leads to anticipatory nausea. Just the thought of inevitable side effects can be overwhelming. This is especially true if the first round of chemo is not treated effectively. Prescription antiemetics are not helpful for anticipatory nausea, but cannabis shows promise. Prof. Linda Parker, a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, has found that several phytocannabinoids including THC , CBD , and CBDA alleviate anticipatory nausea in conditioned lab animals. Clinical trials on humans are needed.

Where to Start

For patients who have nausea caused by chemotherapy, radiation, or other identifiable reasons, cannabis can provide relief. THC , CBD , and CBDA all show promise in research labs and have already proven themselves in the homes of patients who have experience. Whole plant medicine is more effective than any isolated cannabinoid, but which cannabinoid profile should you start with if this is your goal?

That depends somewhat on your experience with the medicine. If you have never tried this before, it might be best to start with a CBD -rich medicine that still has some THC in the mix, like Laura did. As you get used to the medicine, you can increase the amount of THC as needed. And if you have access to the non-intoxicating CBDA , that would be a very good one to include.

The use of cannabis for nausea, and for vomiting due to chemotherapy or radiation, is accepted by many physicians who do not otherwise recommend cannabis. It is effective, well-tolerated, and while we may not understand all the mechanisms of action we do know it works. Patients should know where their medicine is grown and prepared, and use only lab analyzed cannabis that is free of contaminants. With quality medicine, the chances of relieving nausea may be a single dose away, just like it was for Laura.

Stacey Kerr, M.D. is a teacher, physician, and author living and working in Northern California. Dr. Kerr was in private practice until she decided to write and educate full-time. After several years working with the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, and co-developing the first comprehensive online course in cannabinoid medicine, she is now serving as the Medical Director for Hawaiian Ethos. This article was originally published by Hawaiian Ethos.

  1. Alexandre Rafael de Mello Schier et al, Cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa constituent, as an anxiolytic drug, Rev Bras Psiquiatr. 2012;34(Supl1): S104 – S117
  2. Regulation of Nausea and Vomiting by Cannabinoids, Br J Pharmacol. 2011 Aug;163(7):1411-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.01176.x.
  3. Bolognini et al, Cannabidiolic acid prevents vomiting in Suncus murinus and nausea-induced behaviour in rats by enhancing 5- HT1A receptor activation. Br J Pharmacol. 2013 Mar;168(6):1456-70. doi:10.1111/bph.12043.
  4. Keith A. Sharkey et al, Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system Eur J Pharmacol. 2014 January 5; 722:

The non-intoxicating cannabinoid CBD interacts with serotonin releasing receptors, and when given in relatively small doses has been shown to help alleviate both nausea and vomiting.

Does CBD Help Nausea?

Can CBD Help Manage Nausea Symptoms?

Nausea is a very unpleasant and unnerving symptom to experience. The causes of nausea can be diverse; everything from stomach bugs to migraines to medication side effects can make you nauseous. Similarly, there are several different remedies for nausea – but finding the right one for you can be tricky.

There are dozens of anti-nausea medications on the market, both prescription and over-the-counter. However, finding the most effective can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Many medications are only intended to address certain types of nausea, while others cause side effects so frequently that they are often not worth taking. Could there be another way?

Many nausea sufferers are starting to look into alternative options, including cannabis products. CBD (cannabidiol) is particularly popular, as it is not intoxicating. Those seeking natural remedies for nausea may be interested in using CBD products, but there is much confusion surrounding the topic.

This guide will cover what you need to know about using CBD oil for nausea. It will cover the basics of what CBD is, how it works, and what effects it may have on nausea symptoms.

What Causes Nausea?

Nausea can be caused by a wide variety of underlying health problems, as well as temporary conditions such as food poisoning or motion sickness. Nausea can go hand in hand with vomiting, or it can display on its own without vomiting.

Identifying the root cause of nausea is often important to finding the most effective remedy. If you’re wondering how to reduce nausea, it starts with understanding what the condition is, and what causes it. Here are some of the most common causes of nausea:

  • Viral Infections: In many cases, nausea can be caused by viral infections such as the common flu. These conditions are temporary, and are often accompanied by vomiting and other symptoms.
  • Food Poisoning: Another common and temporary cause of nausea is food poisoning. Nausea caused by food poisoning is simply your body’s response to protect itself by attempting to eject the contaminated food. Again, this is commonly accompanied with vomiting, and often passes within a few days.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Various GI issues can cause nausea. These can be temporary issues, or chronic conditions like IBS, GERD, etc. These conditions place the gastrointestinal system under undue stress, which can lead to a variety of symptoms including nausea.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is one of the most common cancer treatments, but unfortunately it causes nausea and vomiting in a significant percentage of patients. Nausea is a significant side effect of both chemotherapy and many cancer medications, which makes it a very common symptom for cancer patients.
  • Migraines: Migraines are severe headaches that affect upwards of 14% of US adults. In addition to severe pain, migraines can also cause nausea, dizziness, light sensitivity and more. Migraines affect different people in different ways, and the underlying cause of migraine-induced nausea is not fully understood.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a common mental health concern that affects approximately 18% of US adults. Anxiety causes a fight-or-flight response, which induces stress on various biological systems, including the digestive system. For some people, this can cause nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. CBD is already a common alternative remedy for anxiety, and it may also be helpful for anxiety-induced nausea.
  • Medication Side Effects: Nausea is a common side effect of a wide range of medications. Many medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) can cause irritation to the gastrointestinal system, often leading to a nauseous feeling.
  • Motion Sickness: Motion sickness occurs in some people after traveling in a vehicle. It’s very common during boat travel, but some people also experience it after traveling in a car or plane. The temporary condition causes nausea, which may or may not lead to vomiting.

The causes of nausea are diverse, and even the list above is not comprehensive. In some cases, people will experience nausea without knowing the root cause.

What is CBD Oil?

For those wondering how to reduce nausea naturally, CBD is a potential option. But what is CBD?

CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s a cannabinoid found naturally in the Cannabis sativa plant. This means it’s found in marijuana, but also in industrial hemp. All CBD products available online are made from industrial hemp, and not marijuana.

CBD oil itself is extracted from industrial hemp plants, typically using either an alcohol or CO2 extraction process. It’s then refined, and sometimes mixed with a carrier oil (hemp oil, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.) for better absorption. From there is packaged and marketed as a dietary supplement, which you can purchase online or in health food stores throughout the country.

CBD is one of the 100+ cannabinoids active in the cannabis plant. It’s one of the most important, and researchers now believe that it may be responsible for many of the therapeutic effects of cannabis.

When ingested, cannabinoids such as CBD interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system is involved in a huge range of biological processes, including digestion. It’s thought that the ECS helps to calm the nerves and digestive system, and that CBD may help spur the ECS into action.

To be clear, the effects of CBD are not yet fully understood by the medical community. Research is ongoing, but at the moment it’s not clear how exactly CBD interacts with the root causes of nausea symptoms.

We do have some evidence on how CBD interacts with certain types of nausea. For instance, there is a good body of research relating to using CBD to manage nausea induced by cancer treatments. Likewise, there are some trials exploring the use of CBD to manage gastrointestinal disorders including Crohn’s disease and IBS. But overall, more research is necessary in order to fully understand CBD’s effects.

How Does CBD Manage Nausea?

The effects of CBD on nausea symptoms are not fully understood, as research is still ongoing. However, the medical community does understand that the effects are likely due to CBD’s interactions with the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological system in the human body. It’s involved in a variety of biological processes, and it interacts with the digestive system (as well as the nervous system and immune system).

The system is made up of endocannabinoids (or endogenous cannabinoids, which are produced naturally by the body), and cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are located throughout the body, and the ECS interacts with these receptors to spur various biological responses.

Normally, the ECS uses endogenous cannabinoids to send signals to various parts of the body in order to alter biological responses and maintain homeostasis. New research suggests that external cannabinoids consumed in the form of extracts (such as CBD oil) may interact in the same way that these endogenous cannabinoids do. In other words, consuming CBD oil may send signals to the body’s cannabinoid receptors, regardless of organic endocannabinoid activity.

The ECS has a number of cannabinoid receptors, which are located all throughout the body. Although others exist, to date researchers have focused mainly on two of the most important receptors:

  • CB1 receptors are located in the central nervous system, including the brain and nerves in the spinal cord
  • CB2 receptors are located in the peripheral nervous system, including the nerves located all throughout the body, and the digestive and immune systems.

Because cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body, the ECS is able to target certain problem areas whenever it identifies an imbalance. For example, when you are experiencing nausea, the ECS may signal the digestive system through interactions with the CB2 receptors located there. This is why CBD is commonly used to manage nausea, as well as a host of other unrelated conditions including anxiety, pain and more.

Initial research appears to support the idea that CBD interacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors. However, this theory is somewhat disputed. Many researchers believe that CBD may interact with other pharmacological targets other than CB1 or CB2 receptors, but these targets have not yet been identified. In short, the medical community does not yet fully understand CBD’s interactions with the ECS, and research is ongoing.

Additional Benefits

CBD appears to be beneficial for managing nausea symptoms – and it can also potentially help with other symptoms that are commonly associated with nausea. These include:

  • Appetite Stimulus: In some cases, CBD may help stimulate hunger in people experiencing decreased appetite. One review found that approximately 6% of CBD users showed increased appetite after using cannabidiol, while another found that up to 30% of epileptic children experienced increased appetite after using CBD to manage seizures. However, there is some conflicting evidence from other studies, so more research is needed.
  • Anxiety Relief: Nausea is often caused by, or worsened by, anxiety. CBD is thought to potentially alter serotonin signalling, which in some people helps reduce anxiety.
  • Gastrointestinal Health: CBD may help to ease gastrointestinal issues, which can contribute to nausea. CBD’s interactions with the human endocannabinoid system help to encourage homeostasis in the body, including the gastrointestinal system.
  • Pain: Pain can cause nausea, and in some cases, nausea can worsen existing pain symptoms. Additionally, many pain medications can cause nausea. Research suggests that CBD may be effective in managing chronic pain, while also having anti-nausea properties.
  • Inflammation: Inflammation can lead to nausea and vomiting. Fortunately, CBD appears to be beneficial in managing inflammation symptoms, due to its interactions with the endocannabinoid system.

Is It Safe to Use CBD as a Nausea Remedy?

Safety should be a primary concern of anyone looking into alternative remedies for nausea (or any other symptom, for that matter). Fortunately, CBD is generally considered safe when consumed as directed. While side effects are possible, they are generally mild.

Overall, CBD is considered to have a very mild side effect profile. Most people do not experience side effects at all, although everyone reacts differently. The most common CBD side effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Appetite Changes
  • Drug interactions

Of these, the most worrying potential side effect of CBD is its interactions with other drugs. This is an important consideration: Because CBD may interfere with other medications, it’s vital that anyone taking medications speak with a doctor before using CBD products.

Additionally, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use CBD, as there has not been enough research into its safety during pregnancy. Children should also not use CBD unless under the guidance of a medical professional. And again, those using prescription or over-the-counter medications should speak with their doctors before using CBD.

So, there are some risks associated with taking CBD oil for nausea, but for most people, side effects are mild. Plus, it’s important to consider the alternatives: Antiemetic medications used to manage nausea often come with a host of potential side effects. Many nausea medications can cause heartburn, headaches, constipation, fatigue and more.

With that in mind, it’s possible that CBD may in some cases have a lower potential for side effects than actual medications. There is some research to back up this theory: A clinical review of research noted that CBD often has far fewer side effects than prescription drugs used to address the same symptoms. If you’re looking for natural remedies for nausea without a long list of side effects, cannabidiol is a good option to consider.

How to Use CBD Oil for Nausea

To use CBD for nausea symptoms, take the appropriate amount as directed by your medical professional or the product packaging. You can also refer to our detailed CBD dosage guide for more information.

There are various ways to take CBD oil. Some may be more effective for addressing nausea, but ultimately the best way to use CBD depends on your preferences. Below are some of the most common ways to consume CBD:

  • CBD Oil (Sublingual Application):CBD oil or tincture is the most common way to use CBD. The oil is administered sublingually, by placing it under the tongue for 30-60 seconds, then swallowing. This allows the CBD to absorb into the bloodstream more rapidly than it would if just swallowed. Effects are felt within about 20 minutes, and can last up to 6 hours.
  • CBD Gummies & Capsules: CBD can be ingested orally, through the use of CBD oil (discussed above), CBD capsules, or CBD gummies and other edibles. This is perhaps the easiest method, but the CBD is slow to take effect as it must pass through the digestive system first.
  • CBD Vape Products: Vaping CBD is a popular option as well. CBD vape oils are used in handheld vaporizer devices, which heat the oil to the precise temperature needed for vaporization. The vapor is then inhaled, which allows the CBD to enter the bloodstream almost immediately. This is the method that produces the fastest effects; although the effects do not last as long as with other methods. There are also some safety concerns associated with vaping.

You can also use CBD by purchasing topical products that are applied directly to the skin. However, this is most effective for pain management, and not recommended for nausea symptoms.

How to Buy CBD Oil for Nausea

If you’ve decided that you would like to try using cannabidiol for nausea, it’s now time to make a purchase. But with so many options out there, how do you choose the best product for you?

First off, you’ll want to choose the type of product you’d like to use (see list above). For most people, we recommend CBD oil/tincture. Next, you’ll have to find a product from a trustworthy company. To do this, keep these tips in mind:

Buy from brands who use third-party labs to test their products and ingredients.

Reputable CBD oil manufacturers will typically engage third-party laboratories to test all their products. This helps them track the quality and purity of their products – and often, lab results are posted publicly for all to see. Because the CBD industry is largely unregulated, it’s important to buy from companies that take these kinds of steps to ensure a quality and safe product.

Purchase products that are extracted from hemp, not marijuana.

All CBD products available online will be made from industrial hemp, making them federally legal for purchase. Avoid products extracted from marijuana, as they contain higher quantities of THC and are federally illegal.

Avoid synthetic ingredients in products.

Be sure to check the product label carefully to avoid synthetic ingredients and other unnecessary additives.

Ask a trusted medical professional for recommendations.

When in doubt, it may be helpful to ask your doctor about recommendations.

Read reviews and fact-check the brand’s claims.

Reading CBD oil reviews from actual customers is a good way to get a gauge on people’s experiences with the products.

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be able to find a quality CBD product without issue. You can also check out our guide to the best CBD oils to find a quality product from a trustworthy brand.

Related Resources

At the CBD Awareness Project, we strive to provide trusted information to help people learn all about cannabidiol. Below, find a list of some of our most popular CBD resources:

There's increasing evidence to suggest that cannabidiol (CBD) can help relieve nausea symptoms. Learn how CBD oil works, how to safely use it, and more.