Nausea. That uneasy discomfort in the stomach often accompanied by an urge to vomit is familiar to us all. It can occur as a result of a hectic night out or simply from sitting in the back of the car on a long journey; but for many, it is an unwanted side effect from traditional cancer treatments.
Each year in the UK alone, nearly 400,000 people are diagnosed with cancer, and according to Cancer Research UK, more than half of those will have either chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment.
These incredibly harsh, intrusive treatments more often result in nausea and vomiting either before, during or after treatment. Doctors may prescribe anti-emetic drugs to help reduce these symptoms but for some, they simply don't work, and for others, they come with terrible side effects of their own.
This has led patients to seek out safer, more natural alternatives, and one particular herb is showing up in more Google searches than any other.
Medicinal cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2018 for epilepsy sufferers and cancer patients suffering from nausea and vomiting who are unresponsive to ‘traditional’ drugs. This change in legislation has sparked a wave of interest in cannabis and in particular the much more accessible CBD oil.
CBD – What is it?
Cannabidiol, or CBD as it is more commonly known, is a powerful, potent, non-intoxicating phytocannabinoid (compound) from the cannabis plant that many people are looking towards for help combating nausea resulting from cancer treatments.
Cannabidiol comes from cannabis plants which contain no more than a negligible (<0.3%) amount of the ‘high’ inducing compound ‘THC’.
As a result, regardless of the quantity of CBD oil consumed, it is impossible to induce the euphoric ‘high’ feeling typically associated with cannabis products.
CBD Side Effects
The favourable and safe profile of this unique compound was confirmed and extended by a 2017 study of clinical data and animal studies. Researchers concluded that “CBD oil has a better side effect profile in comparison to ‘traditional’ drugs.”
The majority of studies looked at epilepsy and psychotic disorders with the most commonly reported side effects being:
- Changes in appetite/weight.
Remember, these are only the most common side effects and not true of all cases.
CBD Oil and Nausea – How Does It Work?
xThe chemical serotonin is released by cells of the small intestine in response to chemotherapeutic agents. Research has shown that CBD oil inhibits serotonin binding to the serotonin receptors, reducing these nausea-induced behaviours without affecting any measures of motor activity.
Further research also suggests that this non-intoxicating compound from the cannabis plant reduces the release of serotonin in forebrain regions suppressing toxin-induced nausea.
Furthermore, the human body produces an endogenous compound known as anandamide which has also been shown to have anti-nausea properties but it degrades quickly in the body due to the presence of ‘fatty acid amide hydrolase’ or FAAH. CBD oil inhibits FAAH thereby slowing down anandamide decomposition as well as increasing anandamide concentrations, further relieving the nauseating side effects of cancer treatments.
THC vs CBD Treatment for Nausea
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychotropic compound from the cannabis plant has been known to reduce nausea and vomiting since 1985 when 2 synthetic versions (nabilone and dronabinol) were created.
THC, whether natural or synthetic, blocks the binding of serotonin at receptor sites and interacts with receptors located at reflex pathways and the dorsal vagal complex in the brainstem, which exhibit anti-nausea responses.
Researchers have also shown that a low dosage of THC interferes with induced gaping that can be a result of certain chemotherapy medicine.
Both compounds have been shown to effectively prevent conditioned retching and conditioned gaping in multiple animal studies.
Research suggests both CBD and THC may be of help to cancer patients looking to relieve nausea and vomiting but CBD oil may be more tolerated by those who do not want the ‘high’ effect.
The key similarities and differences between CBD and THC are;
- Both block serotonin binding to receptors and in turn relieve nausea
- Both have been shown to prevent gaping
- Both have been shown to prevent retching
- THC causes a euphoric high
- CBD will never cause a high feeling
- CBD is more available in the UK
- THC is difficult to be prescribed
So whilst there are commonalities, there are also key differences between CBD and THC.
Will CBD Help With Cancer-Related Nausea?
Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) affects 70-80% of patients and is one of chemotherapy's most debilitating side effects, often attributed as a leading cause of premature discontinuation of cancer treatment.
Synthetic THC (nabilone) is regularly prescribed in the UK to combat nausea but the intoxicating feeling that comes with THC is not for everyone.
CBD oil on the other hand, regardless of the quantity taken, will never produce the ‘high’ effect but can still offer anti-nausea effects by inhibiting serotonin from binding with serotonin receptors which are known to cause nausea and motion sickness.
Cannabidiol can be taken in a number of ways by cancer patients such as under the tongue in tincture form, capsules, vaping, edibles and more.
CBD Oil Dosage Guide for Nausea
There is no official dosage recommendation for CBD but there are ways to find out what dosage is best for you. Cannabidiol has been shown to exhibit a bell-shaped dose-response curve, meaning cannabidiol effects and benefits work at different dosage strengths for different people.
This medicinal compound is non-toxic with no known lethal dose and in clinical studies, it has been shown to be well tolerated up to 900 mg or even 1200 mg in some cases.
Studies into its effects on anxiety showed 300 mg being an optimum dosage but for most people, this is not feasible nor practical and anecdotal evidence suggests effects can actually be found at much lower doses.
The best advice is always to start small and slow. Every person has their own unique endocannabinoid system and the right dosage amount will often vary based on :
- Height & Weight
- Your body's tolerance to CBD
- Condition being treated
- Concentration/strength of the product
The below diagram will give you a really good “slow and steady” base to work from until you find the dosage right for you.
Most people tend to take the oil first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. It is also recommended that you consume cannabidiol with high-fat foods as this is believed to increase absorption.
Can CBD Oil Make You Feel Sick?
No. Rather cannabidiol has been shown to relieve nausea, reduce gastric acid secretion, and has even been shown to heal the digestive tract and the lining of the stomach.
Although rare, anecdotal reports of mild illnesses are believed to be attributed to either inferior, untested products and/or a sensitivity to the carrier oil.
This is why it is crucially important, first and foremost, to only purchase CBD oil from a manufacturer who can supply 3rd party independent lab results which will prove beyond doubt as to the quality of your purchase.
Secondly, as there are a number of carrier oils such as coconut oil, MCT oil, olive oil, etc it is important to choose a carrier oil that suits your digestive system and one that you are not sensitive too.
It is important for people fighting cancer to manage nausea associated with chemo and radiotherapy. Nausea can result in loss of appetite and in turn weight loss and loss of nutrients in the body.
For this reason, CBD should be seen as a potential natural alternative to synthetic antiemetic drugs which can be very harsh. This compound from the cannabis plant will not induce a high feeling rather more a comforting feeling.
CBD is well known for its anti-anxiety effects and this is another great reason why people fighting cancer who are looking to relieve nausea should consider this potent safe compound to help relieve some of the stress also.