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Keywords:

  • emesis;
  • vomiting;
  • nausea;
  • gaping;
  • conditioned disgust;
  • taste reactivity;
  • cannabinoid;
  • cannabidiol;
  • 5-hydroxytryptamine;
  • serotonin

Considerable evidence demonstrates that manipulation of the endocannabinoid system regulates nausea and vomiting in humans and other animals. The anti-emetic effect of cannabinoids has been shown across a wide variety of animals that are capable of vomiting in response to a toxic challenge. CB1 agonism suppresses vomiting, which is reversed by CB1 antagonism, and CB1 inverse agonism promotes vomiting. Recently, evidence from animal experiments suggests that cannabinoids may be especially useful in treating the more difficult to control symptoms of nausea and anticipatory nausea in chemotherapy patients, which are less well controlled by the currently available conventional pharmaceutical agents. Although rats and mice are incapable of vomiting, they display a distinctive conditioned gaping response when re-exposed to cues (flavours or contexts) paired with a nauseating treatment. Cannabinoid agonists (Δ9-THC, HU-210) and the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitor, URB-597, suppress conditioned gaping reactions (nausea) in rats as they suppress vomiting in emetic species. Inverse agonists, but not neutral antagonists, of the CB1 receptor promote nausea, and at subthreshold doses potentiate nausea produced by other toxins (LiCl). The primary non-psychoactive compound in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), also suppresses nausea and vomiting within a limited dose range. The anti-nausea/anti-emetic effects of CBD may be mediated by indirect activation of somatodendritic 5-HT1A receptors in the dorsal raphe nucleus; activation of these autoreceptors reduces the release of 5-HT in terminal forebrain regions. Preclinical research indicates that cannabinioids, including CBD, may be effective clinically for treating both nausea and vomiting produced by chemotherapy or other therapeutic treatments.

LINKED ARTICLES This article is part of a themed issue on Cannabinoids in Biology and Medicine. To view the other articles in this issue visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2011.163.issue-7