Nausea and vomiting come with the territory when a woman is pregnant. Healthcare providers have an array of prescription medications they can offer to help minimize nausea and vomiting. But there may be a nonprescription drug that does a better job: medical cannabis. A study recently presented during an online pregnancy conference for clinicians seems to indicate the pregnant women are voluntarily using cannabis to self-treat nausea.

The study’s authors acknowledge they were prompted to do their research based on a plethora of anecdotal claims of women using cannabis during pregnancy. Other studies seem to back up such claims, but the researchers were concerned that previous methodologies produced undependable results. They developed more rigid parameters based on data actually collected from women during doctor visits.

  • Reporting Nausea and Vomiting

Without getting into the details, a team of researchers based at University of Utah Health looked at Pregnancy-Unique Quantification of Emesis (PUQE) data and the results of urine tests pertaining to pregnant women visiting eight medical clinics between 2010 and 2013.

Researchers carefully compared data from the urine samples against patient reports of nausea and vomiting. They were particularly curious about the severity of nausea in relation to women who used cannabis. Among other things, they discovered that those patients reporting the most severe nausea within the previous 12 hours were also most likely to use cannabis.

Unfortunately, those patients were not asked why they were using the drug. It could be they used it to relieve their nausea. However, they could have used it for some other reason entirely. To assume cannabis was chosen as a nausea treatment is an educated guess based on standard epidemiology principles.

  • How Cannabis Might Help

Assuming pregnant women may be turning to cannabis as a nausea treatment is not a shot in the dark. The FDA has already approved two cannabinoid based anti-nausea drugs for cancer patients. The cannabinoids are synthetic, but they still do the job of relieving nausea. It stands to reason that natural cannabinoids could have a similar effect.

As for how cannabis might help alleviate nausea, the website discusses the topic in detail. The site explains that certain cannabinoid receptors in the human dorsal-vagal complex are responsible for producing chemicals that regulate the digestive tract.

Cannabinoids, particularly THC, affect human systems by binding to cannabinoid receptors. It is believed that THC binding to the receptors in the dorsal-vagal complex can stimulate production of serotonin and dopamine, both of which serve to relax the digestive system and quell nausea.

  • Anecdotal Evidence Abounds

Clinical evidence showing that synthetic cannabinoids can relieve nausea was enough to convince the FDA to approve two medications that seem to help. Above and beyond that evidence is a mountain of anecdotal evidence from medical cannabis users themselves.

Across the country, medical cannabis patients testify of the drug’s ability to help relieve nausea and vomiting. They also attest to its ability to relieve chronic pain, reduce anxiety, and on and on. Does the anecdotal evidence amount to clinical proof? No. Still, it should not be ignored in the pursuit of understanding as much as possible about cannabis as a medical therapy.

We can debate whether it is wise for pregnant women to utilize cannabis as an anti-nausea treatment. Indeed, the debate is well worth having in light of the fact that any drug a woman takes during pregnancy could affect her baby. But at the same time, let us take a more scientific approach to cannabis in general. Let’s get serious about the research so that our questions can actually be answered.