This week, Alabama’s Governor signed SB46 into law, finally creating a medical marijuana program in that state. The new law will allow patients to use cannabis legally for roughly 15 illnesses and diseases. But as medical marijuana becomes legalized in more states, scientists are scrutinizing its effects – and weighing the benefits of THC against those of CBD.
A recent study coming out of the University of New Mexico is a great example. The study, which took place between June 2016 and July 2019, investigates the effectiveness of cannabis for nausea symptoms.
For the study, which is the largest of its kind to date, 886 people completed 2220 cannabis self-administration sessions intended to treat nausea. Using the Releaf App, they recorded the characteristics of self-administered cannabis products and baseline symptom intensity levels before tracking real-time changes in the intensity of their nausea. The results, which were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, showed that the vast majority of patients using cannabis to treat nausea experience (fairly dramatic) relief. Researchers further reported that more than 96% of the study sample reporting nausea relief within one hour.
Perhaps our most surprising result was that THC, typically associated with recreational use, seemed to improve treatment among consumers of Cannabis flower, while our CBD, more commonly associated with medical use, actually seemed to be associated with less symptom relief.
The results were so impressive that researchers were compelled to point out that, notwithstanding the “increasing clinical concerns regarding cyclical vomiting or hyperemesis syndrome in cannabis users,” this was not an issue amongst the almost 900 volunteers that took part in the study.
In fact, “almost all users experienced relief,” said author Sarah Stith, an assistant professor in the UNM economics department.
Those overwhelmingly positive results were probably surprising enough, but that wasn’t the only thing that had researchers scratching their heads. Coauthor, Jacob Vigil, associate professor, UNM psychology department explains:
“Perhaps our most surprising result was that THC, typically associated with recreational use, seemed to improve treatment among consumers of Cannabis flower, while our CBD, more commonly associated with medical use, actually seemed to be associated with less symptom relief.”
So while the results are exciting for those who suffer from nausea (whatever the source), the impact of this study also lies in the fact that it strongly counters the narrative that THC is the “fun” cannabinoid, while CBD is its “medicinal” cousin. Clearly, both cannabinoids have benefits and can be classified as medicinal.
The purpose of the study was not to map out the mechanisms by which cannabis provides relief, but the authors have some ideas. According to Vigil, nausea relief is likely due to the activation of the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptor (which is also the receptor responsible for the high associated with cannabis consumption).
Other interesting results?
- Flower and concentrates yielded the strongest, yet similar results.
- Products labeled as Cannabis Indica underperformed those labeled as Cannabis Sativa or hybrid.
- Joints were associated with greater symptom relief than pipes or vaporizers.
Researchers aren’t ready to wholeheartedly endorse it for everyone who might want to use it though. And what are they worried about? For now, their primary concern is for pregnant women and children:
“Our results show that cannabis is used to treat nausea with a high rate of effectiveness, but concerns exist that its effectiveness relative to conventional options may induce high-risk populations, such as pregnant women and children, to consume cannabis,” cautioned Stith.
And there is the issue of the lack of research on the effects of cannabis over time:
“The long-term effects of cannabis and its effects on development are a significant gap in the existing literature on the medical use of cannabis in general, “ added Dr. Xiaoxue Li, UNM economics department.
Those caveats aside, it’s clear that for people dealing with chronic nausea, the short-term benefits often outweigh the long-term risk.
F0r these people, the results of this study probably won’t be surprising (though they are vindicating). But studies like these do expand our understanding of the benefits of cannabinoids – and continue to build the case for cannabis legalization.