Pregnancy-related nausea is one of the most common experiences among expectant mothers.
Around half of expecting mothers experience it. The nausea can strike any time: day or night, and for some, it can last the whole day long. It varies in severity; some people only have mild nausea while for other women, it can be debilitating – so much so, that they can even lose their appetite.
In the medical world, this is known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum, and is usually treated with any of several conventional pharmaceutical drugs. However, many of these drugs don’t work for women. When pregnant women are unable to eat due to severe nausea, this can have serious and fatal implications: low birth weight in infants, miscarriage, dehydration, encelopathy, and depression are among the many risks.
New research has found that cannabis actually works better than prescription drugs when it comes to treating Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles together with researchers from Oregon’s Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation polled 550 people who experienced nausea while pregnant. The results showed that 96% of respondents said they used anti-emetic medications while 14% said they used marijuana. A majority of those who did use marijuana reported that they did so because the anti-emetics were not effective in treating this condition.
Additionally, 82% of those who used marijuana said they were able to find relief and it was effective in helping them gain weight. “This study adds to the growing literature supporting antiemetic properties of cannabis and cannabinoid compounds while also suggesting their potential to treat HG… A minority of respondents in this survey reported using cannabis for HG; however, those who used cannabis or CBPs [cannabis-based products] reported more frequent relief from HG symptoms compared to those who used prescription anti-emetics,” the authors concluded.
The authors added: “Cannabis products may be perceived as a more effective alternative, but more research is required to understand its mechanism and safety… In the meantime, providers must weigh unknown risks of recommending cannabis.. with the well-established risk of adverse and fetal outcomes for refractory HG.”
There have been similar studies and reports yielding positive outcomes among pregnant women who use cannabis for HG.
In 2021, a study out of Israel analyzing four reports revealed that inhaling cannabis has had beneficial outcomes and improved quality of life for subjects with HG. Researchers at the Shamir Hospital and Ariel University analyzed four women in particular, who were tasked to undergo evaluation prior to and after cannabis use.
All four women reported “highly significant improvements” in vomiting, nausea, and weight gain. Marijuana use also increased scores measuring quality of life. It was also good to note that the expectant mothers who used marijuana didn’t have an impact on babies prenatal or post-natal development. “While more research is needed before cannabis can be considered for use in HG, this report suggests that cannabis should be tested in appropriately-powered control trials for this severe and protracted maternal condition, addressing both maternal effect and potential adverse fetal effects,” the authors concluded.
In another study from 2021, University of New Mexico (UNM) researchers analyzed symptoms among 2,200 participants from 5 minutes to an hour after consuming cannabis. They found that a whopping 96% of patients experienced relief in as little as under an hour.
“Despite increasing clinical concerns regarding cyclical vomiting or hyperemesis syndrome in cannabis users, almost all users experienced relief,” explains UNM assistant professor and study author, Sarah Stith.
“The mechanisms behind cannabis’ ability to rapidly reduce feelings of nausea are not fully clear, but like involve the plant’s ability to activate CB1 receptor responses to other stimuli in the central nervous system, such as the insular cortex, which is involved in interoception, conscious awareness of internal bodily states, and an example of a brain region that is naturally modulated in part by endocannabinoids that naturally develop in the human body. Therefore, it is unsurprising that phytocannabinoids that develop in the Cannabis plant are also effective at stimulating similar brain regions,” explains co-author Jacob Vigil, an associate professor at UNM.
Why Cannabis Works
It’s no surprise that more women are turning to marijuana to treat Hyperemesis Gravidarum. A 2018 study out of California found that more women were using cannabis, and those who were in their first trimester suffering from extreme nausea and vomiting were more likely to do so. Researchers analyzed 220,000 pregnancies in the state from 2009 through 2016 and found that the average use was at 5.3% though this jumped to 11.3% for pregnant women with severe nausea.
“Our findings add important evidence to a small but growing body of research suggesting that some pregnant women may use marijuana to self-medicate morning sickness,” explains Kelly Young-Wolff, PhD, lead author of the study, as reported by Webmd.
The endocannabinoid system helps to regulate numerous bodily functions including maintaining homeostasis and healthy central nervous system function. They also act on the gastrointestinal system, helping to regulate food intake, lipid synthesis, and many more.
Cannabinoids act on the CB1 receptors to reduce emesis and intestinal motility; studies have also found that the antiemetic capabilities of marijuana happens because of the CB1 receptors found in the dorsal vagal complex – also known as the DVC. The DVC houses 3 nuclei that helps process information from the nerve to the gut as well as other structures in the body.
Other research suggests that the way cannabinoids interact with serotonin receptors helps it curb nausea effectively.
For pregnant women suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, speak to your physician about the options available for safely integrating cannabis or CBD products into your lifestyle. With more expectant mothers medicating with cannabis for uncontrollable nausea, there are now more safer options than ever to do so. You are no longer confined to pharmaceutical drugs for treating this condition while pregnant.