Ever felt carsick? Most of us have at some point—but drivers don’t. They might feel sick next time they're in the back seat, but not when behind the wheel. When we speak about sensorial perceptions, or misperceptions, we enter a very subjective and slightly mysterious area of research. What about sea sickness? That’s potentially even worse because it can last for many hours, or even days, and most of the time you can’t ask the captain to stop. Some people feel sick just looking at a boat, while others enjoy surfing the storm. Anecdotal evidence from the author of this blog, a long-term cannabis smoker, warns that when you sail under heavy seas and feel sick, just the idea of smoking a joint is enough to make you puke. That said, cannabis might actually help fight the symptoms of motion sickness. Just roll your joints before leaving the mooring if you like them properly made.

CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS OF MOTION SICKNESS

Although the neurological mechanisms behind motion sickness are not clear, we do know that it results from the body’s response to a discordant perception of motion. The sensory conflict theory states that motion sickness occurs when we experience an incongruity between visually perceived movement and our inner sense of bodily movement. When we don’t receive a synchronised representation of our body and surroundings, like in the cabin of a boat when we feel motion but don’t see it, our brain thinks we’re hallucinating and sends a warning signal—a very intense one. The most common types of this condition are carsickness, airsickness, and seasickness. We can also experience motion sickness caused by zero gravity, rotating devices, visual stimulation like video games or virtual reality, or simply by having spun around on our feet.

Symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, vertigo, cold sweating, pallour, lack of appetite and gastrointestinal discomfort, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Several factors influence sensitivity to motion sickness, and around 30% of the population is highly sensitive to its triggers. On the other hand, most everyone gets motion sickness under extreme conditions.

INVOLVEMENT OF THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM (ECS)

In stressful situations, all of our bodily systems modify their normal equilibrium, increasing or decreasing production of neurotransmitters and other biochemical compounds in order to reduce any damages. That’s why, up to a certain point, the body is able to recover from stress by itself. The role of the endocannabinoid system in restoring the body’s balance, even under motion sickness, is today backed by science, and recent evidence regarding the ECS regulating nausea and vomiting opens up a potential new avenue in motion sickness management. Vomiting in response to a toxic agent is combated by the antiemetic effect of cannabinoids, which are able to reduce the release of biochemicals that trigger nausea and vomiting. So what about motion sickness?

In a study on the relationship between motion sickness and the endocannabinoid system, some tests involving parabolic flight demonstrated that stress and motion sickness are associated with lower endocannabinoid activity. The study found that volunteers without motion sickness had higher anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol levels during and after the flight experiment than those with impaired endocannabinoid function. These results confirm that the endocannabinoid system is an important neuromodulator under conditions of stress, nausea, and motion sickness, and enhancing its signalling may represent a future development in motion sickness treatment.

A POSSIBLE THERAPY?

Further indication that the ECS is a valid therapeutic target for motion sickness comes from a study that showed how dexamethasone was capable of boosting a motion sickness-impaired ECS. Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid medication used in the treatment of conditions such as rheumatism, skin diseases, allergies, and asthma. Low doses of dexamethasone are used against nausea for chemotherapy and other treatments, including motion sickness.

Without causing severe adverse effects, dexamethasone lowered the motion sickness index in rats and restored the levels of endocannabinoids, which were severely reduced by the induced motion sickness. A better comprehension of the relationship between endocannabinoid levels and motion sickness might lead to therapies effectively targeting cannabinoid receptors with CBD and THC.

A POSSIBLE THERAPY?

EXPERIMENTING WITH CANNABIS

There are no drugs for the treatment of motion sickness without adverse side effects, and treatments for nausea and vomiting may not be effective for the condition. Sedatives do work well for motion sickness, but their primary effects are not always what we’re looking for. Motion sickness can be hard to stop; thus, preventing its triggers is the smartest thing to do. Prevention may depend on the means of transport, and other environmental and personal factors as well.

Unfortunately, it might not always be easy to forecast and prevent the causes of motion sickness. That’s when it can be a good idea to have something at hand. Herbs like peppermint, ginger, and tea can help with motion sickness, as well as acupuncture, special wristbands, and other traditional techniques. And then there’s cannabis.

We already discussed how cannabis can help treat nausea and vomiting, with a wide array of scientific literature to back these claims. Even if most of the world’s health departments have yet to accept cannabis as a qualifying treatment for motion sickness, many of them have approved its use for conditions marked by nausea and vomiting.

Cannabis strains high in CBD and low in THC are possibly the most effective in stimulating the endocannabinoid system without the eventual drowsiness caused by THC. Painkiller XL has a 75% sativa, 25% indica genetic profile with a perfectly balanced 9% THC and 9% CBD content. Euphoria sits at the opposite end of the genetic spectrum, containing 80% indica and 20% sativa, but it too contains a good ratio of CBD:THC. Whether it’s better to consume cannabis before or during motion sickness is up to the user, but when experimenting with cannabis for this condition, just remember to go low and slow with the doses to avoid the possibility of worsening symptoms.

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