Motion sickness is an incredibly common condition affecting mainly women and younger children. Although it’s not necessarily a big issue in everyday life, it can make your life hard whenever you have to take a car, bus, train, plane, or boat. Fortunately, researchers are now finding that CBD, a natural hemp product, could reduce motion sickness. Safe, effective, and causing a lot less drowsiness than conventional medicines, it could be a valuable alternative for those who tend to get nauseous with unusual motion.
What is motion sickness and why do we get it?
Motion sickness is an intense feeling of dizziness and nausea that can happen when your internal signals are thrown out of balance. Although we often call motion sickness “being car-sick,” there’s a lot more to the condition than vomiting. Those who suffer from it will experience wooziness, dizziness, excess salivation, cold sweats, and headaches, on top of nausea and vomiting.
Motion sickness is usually triggered by car, bus, plane, or train travel—situations in which your body moves in a way that it’s not used to. We don’t know exactly why some people are more prone to experience that feeling than others, but it does seem to be more prevalent in young children, pregnant women, and women in general.
So what is it about being in a moving vehicle that can make you sick? To understand how motion sickness works, you have to understand a bit more about how our body maintains balance. You have many sensory organs at work in your body, sending constant messages to your brain. They tell it where you are, how fast you are moving, what position your limbs are in, and which way gravity is moving your body.
The problem is that all of these sensory organs don’t always agree. For example, when you’re in a car reading a book, your eyes are telling your brain that your body is stationary. But your inner ears are telling it you are in motion. When the brain gets conflicting messages thrown at it, motion sickness occurs—at least in people who are prone to this condition.
What can you do to treat motion sickness?
When a child experiences motion sickness, it’s normal and almost expected. After all, their sensory organs have to get used to a variety of disorientating experiences. But in adults, motion sickness can be more problematic. For example, it can stop some from driving a car, taking a bus or train, or even traveling by plane.
There are a couple of easy tricks that can alleviate motion sickness. For example, try to look at the horizon line when traveling by car, so that your eyes and inner ear both register the same sense of motion. Closing your eyes completely may also help.
Some natural remedies can also be very effective. For example, chewing on some ginger candy or ginger stem can make you less nauseous. Peppermint is also great, so chewing a mint-flavored gum or sniffing some peppermint essential oil drops can make a big difference.
Finally, there are a few off-the-counter or prescription medicines you can get against motion sickness. Most of these belong to a category called antihistamines, a class of drugs that can relieve allergic reactions. Taken just an hour before traveling in any moving vehicle, they can take a lot of the motion sickness away. However, you have to be very careful with them; they often cause drowsiness and could stop you from driving your car or doing your job correctly.
Another possible method of treatment is with cannabinoids. For hundreds of years, the cannabis plant and its derivatives have been used to treat nausea. Today, scientists are looking at one particular molecule, CBD, for its benefits against motion sickness.
What is CBD?
CBD is a molecule found in the cannabis plant, also known as cannabidiol. When this molecule is activated, through a process known as decarboxylation, it acquires a lot of benefits for the body and mind. For example, CBD can:
- Prevent seizures
- Lower inflammation
- Alleviate pain
- Treat Chron’s disease and IBD
- Help people with autism
- Help people with depression, anxiety, or PTSD
- Relieve stress and panic attacks
It works by activating a biological system called the endocannabinoid system, which regulates functions like pain management, sleep, appetite, and inflammation. When we take CBD, it binds to receptors known as CB1 and CB2, which send signals boosting the action of that system.
We now know that the endocannabinoid system, also called ECS, plays a big role in the management of nausea and vomiting. So molecules like CBD that can boost it’s working show a lot of potential in relieving symptoms of motion sickness.
Is CBD effective against motion sickness? Here’s what the research says
Research has shown that ECS plays an important role in regulating nausea and vomiting. In a 2014 study, scientists examined the effects of a drug called dexamethasone on motion sickness. They already knew that the drug worked, but they wanted to find out how. They found that motion sickness suppresses the endocannabinoid system. On the other hand, drugs like dexamethasone made it work better. Their conclusion was that people suffering from motion sickness needed something to stimulate the ECS, which would downplay the symptoms.
And what better way to activate the endocannabinoid system than with phytocannabinoids, plant-derived molecules that bind to the CB1 receptors controlling nausea and vomiting?
A 2011 review of studies on the effects of cannabinoids on nausea and vomiting found that both THC (the psychoactive molecule in cannabis) and CBD showed a lot of potential in relieving various forms of nausea.
So far, we don’t have any clinical trials testing out the effectiveness of CBD for humans with motion sickness. But the research that has been conducted on other animals shows us that CBD does have the ability to stop nausea by stimulating the ECS, which can be inhibited by motion sickness.
CBD for pain
Nausea and vomiting are not the only symptoms of motion sickness. Pain, and particularly headaches, is another important one. So the fact that CBD is also useful in alleviating all sorts of pain makes it useful for treating that facet of the condition.
How to take CBD for motion sickness
Most motion-sickness drugs have to be taken at least an hour before the sickness-inducing activity, whether it be a car ride or a flight. With CBD, things are a little different. Some forms of CBD provide their effects instantly. For example, smoking or vaping CBD or applying a CBD transdermal patch can provide almost immediate relief from nausea.
Other forms of CBD are slower to reach your system. So if you’re ingesting CBD capsules or edibles, or placing CBD drops under your tongue, you should also be doing this about 30 minutes to an hour before you’re at risk of getting motion-sick.
Because motion sickness is an occasional condition, you don’t have to take CBD daily to get relief. It also means you could use a slightly larger dose. That being said, it’s always recommended to start slow when taking CBD for the first time. Five or 10 mg is usually enough to see how well your body reacts to it. If you’re not getting any adverse reactions (such as increased appetite or diarrhea), you can increase the dose progressively until you find proper relief. Of course, you’ll have to consult a health specialist who’s knowledgeable about CBD to get a dosage recommendation that’s appropriate to your size, age, and condition.
Will CBD also make me drowsy?
CBD is a safe substance with only a few side-effects. However, tiredness and lethargy do appear to be possible consequences of taking CBD. It’s good to note that these are just side effects. So while some people will experience them, the vast majority of those taking CBD never have to worry about is making them tired.
Compare that to the antihistamines usually prescribed against motion sickness, and you’ll find that CBD will make you a lot less drowsy. With antihistamines, drowsiness is something to be expected.
Can CBD make you drowsy? It can, but it’s very unlikely—and certainly a lot more avoidable than when taking antihistamines.
Thanks to its effects on a biological system that regulates nausea, CBD could be an effective remedy against motion sickness. So far, we’re still lacking studies that really confirm its practical role in dealing with that condition. But with few side effects and good potential for effectiveness, people who get travel-sick can certainly give it a try and see how it works for them.
The role of the endocannabinoid system in nausea and vomiting regulation
2010 study on motion sickness and the role that the ECS plays
2014 study showing how motion sickness inhibits the ECS
Cannabinoids and their effects on nausea and vomiting
2011 study on the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids for nausea
CBD and pain management
2018 review of research on cannabinoids and pain
The safety profile of CBD
2017 study on the safety and side effects of CBD