Marijuana has been used for years as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions, including pain and nausea resulting from cancer treatment and other illnesses. According to the American Lung Association, marijuana smoke contains a higher amount of carcinogens than tobacco smoke and over time its use can lead to cognitive impairment and organ damage 1. Finding safer alternatives to medical marijuana is vital to help treat symptoms without harming the body.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
One of the primary uses of medical marijuana is for pain control. However, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen and prescription medications such as codeine can serve as safe, effective alternatives to medical marijuana. A report published in the "British Medical Journal" that reviewed nine trials that compared marijuana with other pain medications found that marijuana was no more effective than codeine in controlling acute, chronic, or cancer pain. Some conditions may respond better to certain pain medications than others. Patients should always discuss use of pain medications with their doctor because some medications are contraindicated with certain health conditions.
- One of the primary uses of medical marijuana is for pain control.
- A report published in the "British Medical Journal" that reviewed nine trials that compared marijuana with other pain medications found that marijuana was no more effective than codeine in controlling acute, chronic, or cancer pain.
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Cancer patients in treatment with chemotherapy or radiation and other people suffering from nausea may reach for marijuana due to its anti-nausea properties. There are several other prescription options for nausea relief, such as Zofran, that do not carry the damaging risks of marijuana. However, because these medications can cause side effects such as anxiety and can interact with other medications, their use should be discussed with a doctor. Non-prescription remedies for nausea, which generally don't cause any side effects, are also available 2. Home remedies for nausea include:
- which can be eaten in slices
- made into a tea
- or drunk as ginger ale,
- which can be squeezed into any liquid or simply sniffed 2
- Cancer patients in treatment with chemotherapy or radiation and other people suffering from nausea may reach for marijuana due to its anti-nausea properties.
- There are several other prescription options for nausea relief, such as Zofran, that do not carry the damaging risks of marijuana.
Marijuana users experience the drug's effects when the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, binds to sites in the brain and peripheral nervous system. These sites are called cannabinoid, or CB1, receptors. Activated CB1 receptors release neurotransmitters that produce the euphoric effects of marijuana. THC is not the only substance that can activate the CB1 receptors, however. CB1 receptors are also activated by natural substances already in our brains called endogenous cannabinoids. Synthetic compounds may also be able to activate these receptors. A study published in the "British Journal of Pharmacology" revealed that several synthetic compounds activated the CB1 receptors in frog eggs. It is not yet known whether these compounds would safely produce the same effect in humans, but the results of this and other animal studies are encouraging.
- Marijuana users experience the drug's effects when the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, binds to sites in the brain and peripheral nervous system.
- THC is not the only substance that can activate the CB1 receptors, however.
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The neurotransmitters from activated CB1 receptors break down over time, wearing off the drug's "high." An agent that could block the natural decomposition of these neurotransmitters could provide another alternative to medical marijuana. Organophosphorous agents may fit this bill. A study published in the journal "Nature Chemical Biology" found that organophosphorus agents can inhibit the degradation of BC1 receptor neurotransmitters. By prolonging the effect of endogenous cannabinoids in the brain, organophosphorous agents may be able to offer some of the same benefits as marijuana without the negative effects. However, organophosphorous agents have only been studied in animals to this point and it is unknown whether they could safely be used by humans.
- The neurotransmitters from activated CB1 receptors break down over time, wearing off the drug's "high."
- A study published in the journal "Nature Chemical Biology" found that organophosphorus agents can inhibit the degradation of BC1 receptor neurotransmitters.
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- American Lung Association: Health Hazards of Smoking Marijuana
- Home Remedies: Nausea
- PubMed Central: Are Cannabinoids an Effective and Safe Treatment Option in the Management of Pain? A Qualitative Systematic Review
- PubMed Central: Identification of a Potent and Highly Efficacious, Yet Slowly Desensitizing CB1 Cannabinoid Receptor Agonist
- PubMed Central: Activation of the Endocannabinoid System By Organophosphorus Nerve Agents
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 2019.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is Marijuana? Updated April 2020.
- Meier MH, Caspi A, Ambler A, et al. Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2012;109(40):E2657-2664. doi:10.1073/pnas.1206820109
- Ribeiro L, Ind PW. Marijuana and the lung: hysteria or cause for concern? Breathe (Sheff). 2018;14(3):196-205. doi:10.1183/20734735.020418
- Huang YH, Zhang ZF, Tashkin DP, Feng B, Straif K, Hashibe M. An Epidemiologic Review of Marijuana and Cancer: An Update. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015;24(1):15-31. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-1026
- Patrick ME, Bray BC, Berglund PA. Reasons for Marijuana Use Among Young Adults and Long-Term Associations With Marijuana Use and Problems. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2016;77(6):881-888. doi:10.15288/jsad.2016.77.881
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: the Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington, DC: the National Academies Press; 2017.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Is marijuana a gateway drug? Updated July 2019.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Marijuana: How Can It Affect Your Health? Updated February 27, 2018.
- Colizzi M, Bhattacharyya S. Cannabis use and the development of tolerance: a systematic review of human evidence. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018;93:1-25. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.07.014
- Hasin DS, Saha TD, Kerridge BT, et al. Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States Between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(12):1235-1242. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.1858
- Winters KC, Lee CY. Likelihood of developing an alcohol and cannabis use disorder during youth: Association with recent use and age. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008;92(1-3):239-247. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2007.08.005
- Bonnet U, Preuss UW. The cannabis withdrawal syndrome: current insights. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2017;8:9-37. doi:10.2147/SAR.S109576
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Available Treatments for Marijuana Use Disorders. Updated April 2020.
Based in Los Angeles, Roxanne Maas holds a master's degree in genetic counseling with more than 12 years of experience communicating complex genetics and pregnancy information. She has published several abstracts in scientific journals, presented posters at national genetics meetings, and published health-related articles on LIVESTRONG.com.