If you’ve ever felt dizzy and nauseous after going on a ride at a fair, or even during a car ride over particularly rough terrain, you’ve likely suffered from motion sickness. Humanity has been aware of this condition for millennia; even the ancient Romans and Greeks were aware of it!
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, around 33% of people are ‘highly susceptible’ to motion sickness.
It is believed to be more common in specific ‘groups’ of people for reasons that researchers are unable to determine. For example, women are more likely to get motion sickness than men. Also, individuals who suffer from migraines, including vestibular migraine (a balance disorder), are at higher risk.
Incidentally, there is no difference between ‘sea sickness’ and motion sickness. There are remedies available, but prescription medication can have severe side effects. In recent times, research suggests that CBD could be a viable alternative for treating the condition. In this article, we investigate the science behind these claims.
What Causes Motion Sickness?
Have you ever felt unaccountably dizzy or nauseous while in a car, boat or after riding a swing at the fair? If so, you could be suffering from motion sickness. It is the uncomfortable nausea, dizziness, and vomiting people suffer after their sense of balance and equilibrium is disturbed by constant motion.
Everyday tasks such as riding in a car could stimulate the vestibular system and your vision; this is followed by a feeling of discomfort. Motion sickness can occur at any age but is more common in children aged two and over. While most people outgrow the issue, some don’t, and motion sickness is the outcome.
Your sensory organs control the body’s sense of balance as it tells your brain what direction you are facing and moving and whether you’re standing still or turning around. The messages are given by the skin pressure receptors, the eyes, the inner ear, muscle & joint sensory receptors, and the central nervous system (CNS).
When conflicting messages are sent to the CNS, symptoms of motion sickness occur. A prime example is if you feel dizzy trying to read a book while traveling in a car. Your skin receptors and inner ear sense the motion, but your eyes are only registering the book’s stationary pages. This conflicting information results in nausea, dizziness, and vomiting in some cases.
The above is a relatively ‘simple’ explanation, but according to a 2014 article by James R. Lackner, which was published in Experimental Brain Research, motion sickness is “more than nausea and vomiting.” He described the condition as a ‘complex syndrome’ that involves far more features than vomiting and nausea. According to Lackner, sleep deprivation could enhance your susceptibility to the condition.
In the paper, Lackner mentioned other symptoms of motion sickness, including:
- An increase in salivation
- Severe pain
- Changes in skin color
- Cold sweating
Interestingly, Lackner also wrote about how ‘sopite syndrome’ was a facet of motion sickness that is seldom recognized. This syndrome describes the persistent fatigue and drowsiness that follow brief exposures to low-intensity motion stimulation or ‘highly provocative’ stimulation. The syndrome may also include yawning and can last for hours or even days! Lackner also believes that most cases of motion sickness go unrecognized, which means 33% may be a conservative estimate.
In most cases, motion sickness is mild and self-treatable. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer from a severe case that threatens to get worse, you’ll need to see a specialist in the field of ear diseases, balance issues, and the nervous system. When trying to diagnose the condition, a physician will ask about your symptoms and find out when you experience the problem.
Conventional Motion Sickness Treatments & Their Side Effects (NOT CBD)
There is a significant variety of Over the Counter (OTC) medication options such as Marezine, Benadryl, Dramamine, and Bonine. You are supposed to take these drugs up to 60 minutes before traveling. Each of the medications listed above is an antihistamine, and the main side effect is drowsiness. As a result, you can’t take them if you’re driving or operating heavy machinery.
Scopolamine is one of the most regularly prescribed medications and needs to be used before the symptoms begin.
You can also purchase it in ‘patch’ form which needs to be placed behind your ear 6-8 hours before you are due to travel. Side effects include dizziness, agitation, sleepiness, dry mouth, sore throat, and dilated pupils!
Promethazine is usually taken two hours before travel, and its effects can last up to 8 hours. Cyclizine is for when you forget to take one of the other medications because it works best when used 30 minutes before travel. Its side effects are similar to those of scopolamine.
Living with Motion Sickness
At present, there is no known cure for motion sickness, although you can prevent and treat it. The best form of treatment is prevention, which means no reading while traveling, keeping your eyes focused ahead, and sitting in areas where there is the least amount of motion, such as a seat near the wings on an airplane.
Here are a few more tips:
- Look at the horizon in the direction of travel. This action can help reorient your inner sense of balance.
- Close your eyes while traveling, and have a nap if possible.
- It is said that chewing gum is an effective means of combating car sickness. It doesn’t necessarily have to be gum; chewing on candy can have the same effect.
- Ginger is also believed to help with motion sickness. If you don’t want to snack on a fresh stem of ginger, there are tablets available.
- Fresh air may also help; although it could be effective simply by helping you avoid nasty odors which exacerbate feelings of nausea.
Of course, you could always try CBD for your motion sickness!
How Does CBD Help with Motion Sickness?
As irritating as it may seem, the biological causes of nausea and vomiting help with the progression of various species. It is a defensive action designed to inhibit the digestion of chemicals toxic to the body. Since the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), researchers know this network of cannabinoid receptor sites plays a significant role in the regulation of nausea and vomiting.
According to several studies, CBD indirectly activates 5-hydroxytryptamine (also known as 5-HT1A), a unique compound that reduces the nausea sensation and the accompanying vomiting reflex.
Studies on chemotherapy patients have found that cannabis massively reduces nausea and vomiting. CBD supports high anandamide levels by inhibiting the fatty acid enzymes that degrade anandamide. The anti-nausea effects of CBD are due in part to the prolonged CB1 receptor activation in the brain.
CBD & Motion Sickness – The Research
Back in 2010, a German research team looked at the blood samples of volunteers before, during, and after parabolic flight maneuvers. For the record, ‘parabolic flight’ means simulating the weightlessness of space travel. You take a nosedive in an airplane for around 30 seconds and pull out sharply for another 30 seconds before rapidly going downwards again.
Typically, this type of training involves three ‘sets’ of 10 drops! Even trained astronauts find it to be a brutal exercise and apparently call it the ‘vomit comet’! In any case, the team found that the sickest volunteers were also the ones with the lowest level of cannabinoids in their system. Those who didn’t get sick had a far higher level of cannabinoids.
A 2014 study by Zheng et al., published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, looked at the effect of dexamethasone. It is a steroid that prevents the release of substances that cause inflammation in the body. The study found that motion sickness symptoms were reduced by enhancing the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in rats. Given the link between the ECS and the cannabinoids in hemp and marijuana, such as CBD and THC, it could be another sign of CBD’s effectiveness.
One interesting 2013 study by Bolognini et al., at the University of Aberdeen in the UK, suggests that CBDA is a promising treatment for nausea and vomiting. The study, which was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, involved giving CBDA to rats and shrews with nausea. The preclinical study found that CBDA helped reduce anticipatory nausea; a condition where no specific therapy is currently available.
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is a compound found in fresh hemp and marijuana. It is CBD’s acid precursor. You only ‘activate’ CBD through the process of decarboxylation, which involves heating the plant matter. Like CBD, CBDA doesn’t cause an intoxicating high, and it also activates the 5-HT1A serotonin receptors.
Why Choose CBD for Motion Sickness?
Dronabinol is a synthetic version of THC, but evidence shows that it is nowhere near as effective for preventing motion sickness symptoms as natural marijuana. Also, inhaled vapors from marijuana are far easier to consume when you have nausea, and it works much faster than a pill.
However, THC is psychoactive, so you can’t take it if you plan to drive. You also can’t take it in the 17 states where medical marijuana is illegal. There is now research which suggests that CBD is just as effective as THC on motion sickness and it is legal in almost every state.
The antiemetic properties of CBD make it ideal for use if you are fed up with the nausea, dizziness, and vomiting that comes with your bouts of motion sickness.
There are many great reasons to use CBD for motion sickness, but the fact that it works much faster than traditional medications is a bonus. With OTC and prescription medication, you have to take it at least 30 minutes before traveling, but 60 minutes is better. With CBD, you can vape or eat it a few minutes before leaving, and the effects will have taken hold by the time you travel. There are also lots of strains that energize you, so there are no drowsy side effects.
Final Thoughts on CBD & Motion Sickness
Medical marijuana is seen as an effective treatment for symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, however, the THC in cannabis causes an intoxicating high, which isn’t appreciated by everyone. Then there is the small matter of legality. The Farm Bill of 2018 has legalized the growth of industrial hemp in the United States. While it doesn’t necessarily make CBD ‘legal,’ it is easier to purchase with less risk of arrest. Only South Dakota and Nebraska have strict anti-CBD laws at the time of writing.
Another positive effect of the Farm Bill is that CBD may be studied in greater depth. At present, there are only a handful of studies that look at its effect on motion sickness. To date, the results are interesting, but we need more information before coming to a definitive conclusion. Nonetheless, if you are fed up with motion sickness, it is worth giving CBD a try.