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What is Chronic Pain & How Can Medical Cannabis Potentially Help?

1 in 2 medicinal cannabis patients in Australia are prescribed cannabis to treat chronic pain. Learn about the signs and symptoms of chronic pain and how cannabis may help.

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Published

August 16, 2022

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Chronic pain syndrome is a condition affecting millions of Australians daily. About half of all medicinal cannabis patients in Australia are prescribed cannabis treatments to help relieve the symptoms of chronic pain. 1

In this blog post we’ll explore what chronic pain is and how medicinal cannabis (also known as ‘medical marijuana’) can help relieve pain and discomfort in some patients.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for at least three months. It may be a consistent or intermittent pain that comes and goes without apparent cause, and it can occur in nearly any part of your body. Chronic pain is distinct from acute pain – such as pain from an injury that develops quickly and then subsides – in that it persists beyond the normal healing time of an injury or illness. 

What are the types of chronic pain?

There are several different types of chronic pain, including bone, muscle or joint pain, nerve pain and pain due to cancer. Some of the most common types of chronic pain include:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Fibromyalgia pain
  • Arthritic or joint pain
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Neurogenic pain
  • Cancer pain

Chronic pain can be caused by an illness such as migraine, arthritis or a musculoskeletal condition, or may be a lingering result of an injury or surgery. However, sometimes there is no apparent cause of chronic pain, making treatment extremely difficult.

What are the signs and symptoms of chronic pain?

The signs and symptoms associated with chronic pain will depend on the type of chronic pain you are experiencing. For example, if you have chronic pain in your lower back, you may experience pain that runs from the lower back and down your legs, while an injury or issue in the neck may cause pain in various other parts of the body. Other symptoms associated with chronic pain may include:

  • Pains, aches and burning sensations
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood problems
  • Loss of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased activity
  • Pins and needles
  • + more

Acute pain, such as pain from an injury, surgery or illness, can develop into chronic pain syndrome if left untreated or not treated correctly. The longer acute pain remains untreated, the greater the risk of the pain becoming chronic and more difficult to treat. 

When should I seek treatment for pain?

If you are experiencing pain that persists beyond the normal healing time of an injury or illness, or that has no apparent cause, is worsening or is not responding to simple treatment, then it may be time to see a doctor. 

While there are no definitive guidelines for when to seek help for pain or chronic pain, if the pain is persistent and is impacting things like your mood, quality of life and sleep, then a visit to the doctor might be needed to help determine the cause and appropriate treatment for your pain. 

How is chronic pain traditionally treated?

The main goal in chronic pain treatment is to treat the underlying cause of the pain, rather than just the pain symptoms. This means there are a range of surgical and non-surgical treatment methods employed to treat chronic pain, depending on the cause of the pain itself. Non-surgical treatments like physiotherapy and both over-the-counter and prescription medications are some of the most common treatments for chronic pain.

All medications can cause adverse side effects, from over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen to stronger prescription pain medications like opioids. When it comes to pain relief medication, opioids in particular are associated with a range of mild to severe adverse effects – from dizziness and nausea to dependence and fatal overdose. In fact, in 2018, opioids accounted for just over 3 deaths per day in Australia, with the majority of these opioid-induced fatalities being unintentional overdoses involving the use of pharmaceutical opioids, often in the presence of other substances.2 It is for these reasons that opiate medications are not always seen as a suitable or preferable treatment option for many patients suffering from chronic pain, leading some patients to seek alternative therapeutic options.

Is cannabis prescribed for chronic pain in Australia?

About half of all medical cannabis patients in Australia are prescribed medical cannabis to treat chronic pain symptoms, making chronic non-cancer pain the number one category for medicinal cannabis approvals in Australia. The treatment of chronic pain with medicinal cannabis has been shown to result in improved pain and functional outcomes. With one 2016 study of 274 participants3 finding that medical cannabis reduced pain symptoms, pain severity, and pain interference with daily tasks in most patients, and even resulted in a significant reduction in opioid use.

In 20174 the Australian Government Department of Health commissioned a team from the University of New South Wales, University of Sydney and University of Queensland under the coordination of the National Drug and Alcohol Council (NDARC) to review the available evidence for the use of medicinal cannabis in patients with chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP).

A meta-analysis of all randomised studies in CNCP averaging across all medicinal cannabis treatments indicated that “medicinal cannabis was more likely than placebo to produce 30% and 50% reductions in pain scores and more likely than placebo to produce a significantly greater reduction in pain intensity ratings.”

The TGA has approved medicinal cannabis as a treatment for over 130 conditions, including chronic pain. The types of chronic pain cannabis may treat are nerve pain, arthritic pain, cancer pain and musculoskeletal pain. However, there is no specific list of conditions or types of chronic pain that the TGA has approved for medical cannabis treatment. This means that a prescribing doctor will need to assess you on an individual basis to determine whether medicinal cannabis treatment may be right for you and your chronic pain symptoms.

Cannabinoids for pain relief

The two main cannabinoids found in cannabis – cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – can help with relieving pain both on their own and when taken in conjunction. Depending on the individual patient and their symptoms, condition and type of chronic pain, a doctor may prescribe CBD, THC or a treatment containing both cannabinoids to help relieve pain symptoms. 

Here are some of the varying ways THC and CBD interact with the body to relieve pain in some patients:

CBD

  • Has an analgesic or pain relieving effect
  • May interact with cannabinoid receptors indirectly to regulate pain
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Non-psychotropic (won’t get you high)

THC

  • Has an analgesic or pain relieving effect
  • Works directly with cannabinoid receptors to help with communication between nerve cells to relieve the perception of pain
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Psychoactive (produces a ‘high’ feeling)

Like any medication, cannabinoid treatments may not work for everyone and are not guaranteed to relieve chronic pain symptoms.

In some patients, using a combination of CBD and THC may lead to a better result and greater relief from their symptoms – this is known as the ‘entourage effect’ where different components of the cannabis plant work synergistically to enhance their overall therapeutic benefits.

Exploring medical cannabis treatment options for chronic pain

To be eligible for medicinal cannabis access as a patient in Australia, the TGA states that you must have a chronic medical condition (lasting 3 months or more) that conventional treatments have failed to treat and/or caused you unwanted side effects. Therefore if you have had chronic pain symptoms for 3 months or more and you are not satisfied with your current or past treatments, you may be eligible for medicinal cannabis access.

If you are interested in exploring medical cannabis treatment options for chronic pain, the first thing you’ll need to do is talk to a doctor. We recommend speaking to an expert in medicinal cannabis who can help determine whether cannabis is a suitable treatment option for you, and which type of cannabis treatment might be right for the type of chronic pain you're experiencing.

While cannabis is not a first line treatment in Australia, it is also not a last resort. Meaning you do not need to have exhausted all of your treatment options to be eligible for medicinal cannabis access. If you’re not sure whether you might be eligible, we recommend reaching out to your doctor to discuss your options.

The information on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Polln is not promoting the use of medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis in Australia is scheduled medication and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Details about medicinal cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website. If you would like to explore medicinal cannabis for your chronic condition, please consult with a doctor.

References
  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Canberra: AIHW; 2020.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Opioid-induced deaths in Australia. 2019
  3. Haroutounian S, Ratz Y, Ginosar Y, Furmanov K, Saifi F, Meidan R, Davidson E. The Effect of Medicinal Cannabis on Pain and Quality-of-Life Outcomes in Chronic Pain: A Prospective Open-label Study. Clin J Pain. 2016 Dec;32(12):1036-1043. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000364. PMID: 26889611.
  4. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Guidance for the use of medicinal cannabis in the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain in Australia. Version 1, December 2017.

The information on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Polln is not promoting the use of medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis in Australia is scheduled medication and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Details about medicinal cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website. If you would like to explore medicinal cannabis for your chronic condition, please consult with a doctor.

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Related articles
Medical Conditions

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Epilepsy

5
min read
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Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a complex neurological condition that affects millions of people worldwide. This disorder disrupts the normal electrical activity in the brain, causing recurrent seizures of differing intensities and frequencies. The impact of epilepsy goes beyond just physical symptoms and can affect cognitive abilities and emotional well-being too.

The seizures and their aftermath can be both physically debilitating and emotionally distressing, which is why it’s so important for doctors to tailor treatment plans to meet the physical and emotional needs of epilepsy patients.

While conventional antiepileptic medications have been a major advancement in epilepsy management, they are not always entirely effective and can be associated with undesirable side effects. This has prompted both patients and the medical community to explore alternative approaches, such as medicinal cannabis, which can be used as a complementary therapy or a stand-alone treatment.

Medicinal cannabis, commonly referred to as medical marijuana, has gained recognition for its potential to alleviate epilepsy symptoms for some patients naturally. The compounds found in medical cannabis, particularly cannabidiol (CBD), have shown promise in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures in certain individuals with epilepsy. These positive findings have encouraged further research into how cannabinoids interact with the nervous system to help reduce the intensity or frequency of seizures.

Read on to find out how medical cannabis may help some patients manage epilepsy.

What is epilepsy? 

Epilepsy is a spectrum of neurological disorders characterised by abnormal brain activity, resulting in recurrent seizures. These seizures can vary widely in their manifestations and severity, and can impact people differently. Because of epilepsy's diverse nature can diagnosis and treatment can be complicated 

Seizures associated with epilepsy can range from subtle moments of altered consciousness or brief staring spells to more intense convulsions. The type of seizure someone experiences depends on the part of the brain affected and the pattern of abnormal activity it generates.

There are different types of epilepsy, and each has its distinct set of challenges. Some people may experience focal onset seizures, which originate in a specific area of the brain, while others may have generalised onset seizures that involve widespread brain networks. Additionally, there are epilepsy syndromes that tend to manifest in specific age groups and are characterised by specific seizure types and patterns.

Managing epilepsy effectively requires accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plans. Antiepileptic medications are commonly prescribed to control seizure activity, but their effectiveness can vary depending on the type of epilepsy and individual response. In some cases, surgery may be considered to remove or isolate the epileptic focus (the part of the brain where the seizure originates).

If you or a loved one are living with epilepsy and want to explore natural treatment support, medical professionals can help you make an informed decision about your treatment options.

Challenges of Traditional Epilepsy Treatments

Managing epilepsy involves a multifaceted approach that often relies on antiepileptic medications (also known as “anti-seizure medications”). These medications have greatly improved the lives of many people by helping them control seizures and achieve a better quality of life. However, while traditional epilepsy medications are effective for many, they are not without potential challenges.

One of the notable benefits of modern epilepsy medications is their ability to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of seizures for many people with epilepsy. These medical advancements have revolutionised epilepsy management, allowing people to regain a sense of control and stability in their lives.

However, there has been growing interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis as an adjunct therapy for epilepsy. While not always a suitable replacement for modern epilepsy medications, some individuals find that incorporating medicinal cannabis into their treatment plan may provide additional relief or help them avoid common side effects like dizziness, fatigue, weight gain, and mood changes.

Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound found in medical cannabis, has shown promise in reducing certain types of seizures, particularly in cases where traditional medications may not be fully effective. However, it's important to note that medicinal cannabis is not suitable for everyone, and its use should be discussed with healthcare providers, like an authorised prescriber or doctor. Remember: When making decisions about epilepsy treatment options (whether that involves traditional medications, adjunct therapies like medicinal cannabis, or a combination of both) it’s important to make these decisions with the help of a trusted doctor.

How Medical Cannabis May Impact Patients with Epilepsy

The potential therapeutic role of medical cannabis in managing epilepsy has garnered increasing interest, shedding light on its possible therapeutic benefits for some individuals living with seizure disorders. Exploring the interaction between medical cannabis and the neurological system can provide insights into its potential efficacy in mitigating the challenges posed by epilepsy.

  • Neurological Regulation: Medical cannabis compounds, including CBD and THC, interact with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of receptors and signalling molecules involved in maintaining neurological balance.

CBD, for instance, has shown promise in influencing GABA receptors, which play a critical role in inhibiting excessive neuronal activity. By modulating these receptors, CBD may help regulate abnormal brain activity associated with seizures in some patients.

  • Seizure Threshold Modulation: Both CBD and THC have been studied for their effects on altering the seizure threshold, which is the point at which an individual is more susceptible to experiencing a seizure.

CBD's anticonvulsant properties show potential in raising the seizure threshold, thereby reducing the frequency and intensity of seizures. However, the influence of THC on seizures requires careful consideration due to its potential to lower the seizure threshold in some cases.

  • Neuroprotective Effects: CBD's neuroprotective properties have gained attention for their potential in safeguarding brain cells from damage caused by seizures. Research suggests that CBD's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions may help mitigate the neurodegenerative effects associated with epilepsy, providing a multifaceted approach to managing the condition for some patients.

  • Dosage and Personalized Treatment: It's important to note that the effects of medical cannabis on epilepsy can vary widely based on factors such as dosage, cannabinoid ratios, and an individual's specific response. Working closely with medical professionals to establish appropriate dosing and monitoring is crucial to achieving optimal outcomes.

  • Improved Quality of Life: Patients who experience fewer seizures often report an improved quality of life. Reduced seizure frequency can lead to better cognitive function, improved mood, and enhanced social interactions.

  • Reduced Medication Dependency: Some individuals with epilepsy may be able to reduce their reliance on traditional antiepileptic medications when using medicinal cannabis, which can be beneficial, especially if they experience adverse side effects from these medications.


While further research is needed to fully understand its mechanisms and effects, medical cannabis offers hope for some people wanting additional options for epilepsy care to address the challenges posed by this complex neurological condition.

Possible Risks of Medicinal Cannabis for Epilepsy

Before starting on a course of medicinal cannabis treatment for epilepsy, it is important to carefully evaluate any potential risks to make informed decisions about your medical treatment.

  • Side Effects: While CBD is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, THC and other prominent compounds in cannabis can cause side effects such as dizziness, increased heart rate, and cognitive impairment. These side effects may be particularly concerning for vulnerable populations, such as children or the elderly.

  • Drug Interactions: Medicinal cannabis can interact with other medications, potentially affecting their effectiveness or causing adverse reactions. It is crucial for patients to inform their healthcare providers about their cannabis use to manage potential drug interactions properly.

  • Long-Term Safety: The long-term safety of medicinal cannabis for epilepsy requires further clinical trials. Concerns about potential adverse effects on brain development in children and adolescents and the risk of addiction need to be carefully considered.

  • Individual Variation: Responses to medicinal cannabis can vary significantly among individuals. What works for one person may not work for another, making it challenging to predict outcomes and customise treatment effectively.

Ongoing research and increased understanding of medicinal cannabis treatments  are critical for maximising the therapeutic benefits and minimising the risks associated with its use in epilepsy management.

The Wrap Up

Epilepsy is a complex disorder that disrupts the normal electrical activity in the brain and causes recurrent seizures. While traditional medications have played an important role in managing this condition, medicinal cannabis, particularly CBD-rich formulations, shows promise as an alternative or complementary therapy, especially for some medication-resistant epilepsy.

Medical Cannabis and Epilepsy FAQs

Is cannabinoid oil for epilepsy?

Yes, cannabinoid oil, also known as CBD oil, has been studied and used as a potential treatment for epilepsy, particularly in cases where other treatments have not been effective. The TGA has approved a CBD-based medication called Epidiolex for specific forms of severe epilepsy. This medication was also the first and only medicinal cannabis medication to be listed on Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before using CBD oil for epilepsy, as its effectiveness can vary from person to person, and other treatment options should also be considered.

How can I prevent seizures? 

To prevent seizures, especially while considering the use of medicinal cannabis, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a neurologist, epilepsy specialist, or an expert doctor, for personalised guidance. For many people, prescription medications are the primary means of seizure control, and adherence to the prescribed regimen is important. Lifestyle adjustments, like maintaining a regular sleep schedule, managing stress, and avoiding personal seizure triggers, can also be helpful. If appropriate, medicinal cannabis containing CBD or low levels of THC may be considered as part of the treatment plan, but it should be closely monitored by a qualified healthcare provider. Additionally, other options like Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), Responsive Neurostimulation (RNS), or surgery may be explored in cases where seizures are not responsive to medications or other treatments.

Medical Conditions

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Neurological Conditions

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min read
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Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Neurological Conditions

Neurological conditions can pose significant challenges to individuals and their loved ones, affecting not only physical health but also mental and emotional well-being. These conditions often require long-term management and personalised treatments.

Neurological conditions include a wide range of disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and neuropathic pain. These conditions can have a wide range of symptoms, from seizures and muscle spasms to cognitive impairment or chronic pain.

Traditional drugs for neurological conditions can be an important part of neurological condition management, but they can come with limitations, such as unwanted side effects, varying efficacy, and the potential for dependence. This has led many patients and healthcare professionals to explore alternative treatments for adjunct therapies like medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis, sometimes referred to as medical marijuana or medicinal weed, is gaining recognition for its potential to relieve symptoms associated with various neurological disorders in some patients. Cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, may help modulate pain perception in the brain, reduce inflammation, and potentially improve overall neurological function.

Read on to find out how medical cannabis may help some patients with symptoms associated with neurological conditions and how to safely explore options for medicinal cannabis treatments. 

What are neurological conditions?

Neurological conditions, also referred to as neurological disorders or diseases, encompass a broad spectrum of medical conditions that affect the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. 

These conditions disrupt the normal functioning of the nervous system, leading to a wide range of symptoms and health challenges. Neurological conditions can be caused by factors, such as genetic factors, infections, injuries, autoimmune responses, and degenerative processes (ageing-related changes).

Diagnosis, treatment, and management of neurological disorders typically involve a multidisciplinary approach, with neurologists and other healthcare professionals working together to provide comprehensive care.

Neurologists specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological conditions, employing a combination of clinical assessments, imaging studies, and laboratory tests to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. Once diagnosed, patients often receive tailored treatment plans that may include medications to manage symptoms, physical therapy to improve function, surgical interventions to address specific issues, and, in some cases, lifestyle modifications.

Lifestyle modifications can be particularly important in the management of certain neurological conditions. These modifications may involve dietary changes, exercise regimens, and adaptations to daily routines to optimise the patient's quality of life and overall well-being. The goal is to empower individuals affected by neurological conditions to lead as fulfilling and comfortable lives as possible, despite the challenges posed by their condition.

Types of Neurological Conditions

While neurological conditions share a common thread of affecting the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves), neurological conditions cover many different kinds of disorders. Each neurological condition, like Parkinson’s or Epilepsy, has its own specific causes and symptoms, which makes the field of neurology quite complex.

Some common neurological conditions include:

  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Chronic Pain
  • Migraines
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Neuropathy (damage or dysfunction of the peripheral nerves)


Each neurological condition presents its unique challenges in terms of diagnosis and management. Treatment approaches vary, and they often involve a combination of medications, therapies, and lifestyle modifications tailored to the specific condition and individual needs.

Medicinal Cannabis and Neurological Conditions

Medicinal cannabis is gaining recognition as a potential treatment option to help manage the symptoms of various neurological conditions due to its ability to potentially alleviate symptoms such as pain, muscle spasticity, and seizures in some patients.

Medicinal cannabis may help some patients manage the symptoms of the following neurological conditions:

The first ever medicinal cannabis product on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)  was listed in 2021. Epidyolex® a prescription cannabidiol (CBD) oil that is used to treat seizures associated with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in patients 2 years of age and older.

  • Parkinson's Disease: Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that leads to motor impairments, including tremors and rigidity. Medicinal cannabis may help reduce these symptoms and improve the overall quality of life for some individuals with Parkinson's.
  • Neuropathic Pain: Neuropathic pain conditions, such as diabetic neuropathy and trigeminal neuralgia, involve chronic pain resulting from nerve dysfunction. Medical cannabis treatments, with their analgesic properties, have been shown to help some people manage neuropathic pain.
  • Migraines: Migraines are characterised by severe headaches and associated symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and in some cases, visual disturbances or auras. Research shows that medicinal cannabis may help  reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines in some patients. Additionally, medicinal cannabis may help some patients manage associated symptoms of migraine, such as nausea and vomiting.

Remember: the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in managing neurological conditions can vary from person to person. Additionally, the use of medicinal cannabis should be approached cautiously, and consultation with an experienced healthcare professional.

How Medicinal Cannabis May Affect  Neurological Conditions

Medicinal cannabis, and medicinal cannabis products, containing cannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), may help some people manage some of the complex symptoms of neurological disorders.

While ongoing research is still uncovering exactly how medicinal cannabis interacts with neurological conditions, here are a few ways it might affect some patients: :

  • Managing Neuroinflammation: THC and CBD, the main compounds in medical cannabis, have anti-inflammatory effects. They interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, which regulates immune responses and inflammation.

It has been suggested that Medicinal cannabis may help slow down the progression of conditions like multiple sclerosis in some patients by reducing neuroinflammation, as inflammation is a key factor in nerve damage.

  • Immune System Modulation: Medicinal cannabis compounds may affect how the immune system responds in some patients, especially in neuroinflammatory autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's. 

Medicinal cannabis may control the release of cytokines and other immune signalling molecules, which helps in calming down an overactive immune response. This is significant for conditions like Guillain-Barré syndrome and lupus, where an overly active immune system is a characteristic feature.

  • Pain Alleviation: Neurological conditions often bring persistent pain that can seriously affect a person's life. Medical cannabis may help manage pain symptoms in some patients due to its pain-relieving properties. This can be especially helpful for people with conditions like diabetic neuropathy, which causes nerve pain due to diabetes, or trigeminal neuralgia, a condition causing severe facial pain.
  • Seizure Control: Medicinal cannabis, particularly the cannabinoid CBD, may aid in the management of seizure disorders such as epilepsy. Although we don't fully understand exactly how it helps, it seems that CBD's capacity to regulate nerve cell activity and the release of signalling chemicals in the brain plays a crucial role in decreasing the frequency and intensity of seizures.

Remember: The efficacy of medicinal cannabis can vary from person to person and can depend on many factors, including your condition, the specific medical cannabis treatment  used, and the dosing regimen.

As with any medical treatment, medicinal cannabis carries potential side effects and interactions with other medications. If you’re interested in learning more about medicinal cannabis treatments,to weigh the risks and benefits. 

Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis for Neurological Conditions

While not everyone will experience adverse effects, it's important to be aware of potential risks associated with medical cannabis for inflammatory conditions:

  • Cognitive Effects: Depending on the compounds present and their concentrations, medical cannabis might lead to cognitive effects, including impaired memory and concentration.
  • Interactions and Side Effects: Just like any medication, medical cannabis could interact with other medications you're taking. Side effects, though potentially fewer than with traditional medications, still warrant careful consideration.
  • Psychoactive Effects of THC: The psychoactive nature of THC may not be appropriate for people with certain mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. 

A comprehensive discussion with a caring medical professional can help you navigate possible risks and make an informed decision about whether medical cannabis could be right for you. 

The Wrap Up

Living with a neurological condition can be a significant and long-lasting challenge. It requires a constant effort to manage symptoms, adapt to their limitations, and seek comfort and function despite ongoing neurological issues. Medical cannabis may provide hope for those dealing with conditions like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and neuropathic pain when other treatments have failed to provide relief.

Medicinal cannabis, under the guidance of experienced healthcare professionals, can offer people new possibilities for people with neurological conditions to improve their quality of life and manage symptoms.

Remember: to qualify for access to medicinal cannabis in Australia, you must have experienced a chronic condition for over three months and have tried other treatments that were either ineffective or resulted in unwanted side effect

Neurological Conditions: FAQ

Can multiple sclerosis be cured?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune neurological condition with no known cure at present. While there is no cure for MS, various treatments aim to manage its symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve patients' quality of life. Medicinal cannabis, particularly formulations containing both THC and CBD, has shown promise in alleviating some MS symptoms, such as pain, muscle spasms, and spasticity in some patients.

However, it should be viewed as a complementary therapy rather than a cure. Research on the long-term effects and optimal use of medicinal cannabis for MS is ongoing, and its effectiveness can vary from person to person. Individuals with MS should work closely with healthcare professionals to develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to their specific needs and conditions.

Do Parkinson's symptoms come and go? 

Parkinson's disease is characterised by both motor and non-motor symptoms, and their presentation can indeed fluctuate, with periods of symptom exacerbation (known as "on" periods) followed by relative relief (known as "off" periods). These fluctuations are often a result of the interplay between the disease progression and the effectiveness of Parkinson's medications, particularly levodopa.

Some people may experience the "wearing-off" phenomenon, where the medication's effects diminish before the next dose, leading to a return of symptoms. Medicinal cannabis, particularly formulations containing both THC and CBD, has been explored as a potential adjunct therapy to help manage Parkinson's symptoms during "off" periods, offering relief from issues like tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia in some patients. 


Medical Conditions

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Sleep Disorders

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min read
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Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Sleep Disorders

Living with a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or restless legs syndrome, can be an exhausting and frustrating experience. These conditions disrupt our natural sleep rhythms, meaning we not only don’t get enough sleep — but the sleep we do get tends to be poor quality too. The effects of bad sleep go beyond just feeling tired. Sleep disorders can cause difficulties concentrating, mood swings, lowered immune function, and a higher risk of illnesses.

Insomnia treatment can be challenging too due to the many reasons why sleep problems happen. Stress, poor sleep hygiene habits, and medical and psychological conditions can all cause sleep issues. The duration and severity of your sleep disorders also play a role in how to manage them, with chronic cases often requiring more comprehensive or holistic treatment options.

Medicinal cannabis has shown promise as a potential natural and lower-risk option for some people with insomnia. The natural compounds found in cannabis plants, cannabinoids THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) plus terpenes, interact with the body's endocannabinoid system to help regulate sleep and other bodily functions.

Learn more about how medical cannabis may help with sleep disorders in some patients and discover options for accessing medicinal cannabis in Australia.

Understanding Sleep Disorders

Insomnia and other sleep disorders are conditions that disrupt normal sleep patterns, making it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or achieve good quality sleep. Many factors, including stress, medical conditions, lifestyle habits, or even genetic factors can cause sleep disorders.

Some common sleep disorders include insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.

People with insomnia face ongoing challenges in falling asleep or maintaining sleep, and are often accompanied by stress or anxiety.

Restless legs syndrome also causes disrupted sleep, however sleep difficulties are caused by uncomfortable leg sensations and uncontrollable urges to move the legs.

Instead of trouble sleeping at night, narcolepsy causes sudden, uncontrollable episodes of daytime sleepiness. Narcolepsy can also cause sudden muscle weakness or paralysis triggered by emotions, like laughter or surprise. Additionally, narcoleptics can experience vivid hallucinations  (also known as hypnopompic hallucinations) upon falling.

Effective management and treatment of sleep disorders requires accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plans. Want to know more about sleep disorders? Talk to a doctor to receive a comprehensive assessment and achieve better sleep.

Why is Poor Sleep Such a Problem?

With how busy our daily lives can be, it’s easy to underestimate how important sleep is for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

During sleep, our bodies undergo essential processes that help repair tissue, strengthen our immune system, and regulate hormones. Additionally, sleep is vital for memory consolidation, learning, and problem-solving, allowing us to process and make sense of the information we encounter throughout the day.

Getting enough sleep also stabilises mood and emotional resilience. Ongoing sleep deprivation (like what you would experience with chronic insomnia) has been associated with heightened stress levels and an increased susceptibility to mental health disorders.

Poor sleep can even affect our physical health and increase our risk of chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Polln Doctor, Dr Melissa Catanzarite, MBBS believes that sleep is the single most significant component of our self care. “Sleep is the real miracle drug; it promotes healing, emotional stability and even weight loss. Without sleep we struggle to have meaningful interactions with those we love, our creativity is dampened or ceases altogether and we are at more risk for significant health disorders.

A person can take all of the medications, supplements and yoga classes in the world and their health will not improve until they prioritise sleep.”

Challenges of Traditional Sleep Disorder Treatments

Conventional treatments for sleep disorders that rely on pharmaceutical interventions (sometimes called “sleeping pills”) or behavioural therapies can be challenging for patients due to their possible side effects, dependency concerns, and varying levels of effectiveness.

While behavioural therapies, like cognitive behavioural therapy, can be effective drug-free insomnia treatment options, they require commitment and patience as they often involve making long-term changes to sleep habits and routines.

Prescription sleep aids, like benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, on the other hand, help insomnia by boosting the calming effects of various brain chemicals. However, these medications are typically recommended for short-term use. 

Prolonged or excessive use of prescription sleep aids can lead to tolerance, where the effectiveness of the drug diminishes over time, or drug dependence. Additionally, when individuals stop using these medications after extended use, they may experience rebound insomnia, where their sleep problems worsen again.

Benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics can also lead to issues such as daytime drowsiness, cognitive impairment, and an increased likelihood of accidents or falls, particularly among older adults.

There is a significant need for natural sleep aids. Some alternatives include medical cannabis, relaxation exercises, and improved sleeping habits, such as taking daily exercises, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, and making changes to your sleeping environment to promote better sleep hygiene.

Medicinal Cannabis and Insomnia, Restless Leg Syndrome, and Narcolepsy

Research has demonstrated the efficacy of medical cannabis in treating certain sleep disorders, including insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy in some patients. Studies have shown that the natural compounds found in cannabis, such as CBD and THC, can influence our sleep patterns to potentially provide us with a better night’s sleep.

CBD, or CBD oil, for instance, may act as a natural sleep medicine due to it’s calming properties and may help people with anxiety-related insomnia or restless leg syndrome.

Medicinal cannabis has been shown to help manage the following sleep disorders:

  • Insomnia: Insomnia is a common sleep disorder characterised by difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restful sleep.While treating insomnia can be complicated in some cases, research suggests that medical cannabis can help people with insomnia fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. 

In one study, 71% of patients using cannabis products for sleep reported improved sleep, with 39% reducing and/or discontinuing their prescription sleep medication.

  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS): Medical cannabis may help to reduce the symptoms of RLS, such as the urge to move the legs and relieve associated discomfort or pain.

A small 2017 study showed that medical cannabis was able to reduce symptoms of RLS. All participants noted an improvement in their sleep after treatment was completed. What’s more, the patients described medicinal cannabis products as the most effective sleep aid and the best-tolerated treatment.

  • Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy is characterised by sudden episodes of daytime sleepiness and can lead to sudden loss of muscle control (cataplexy), hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.

Medical cannabis may help to reduce the symptoms of narcolepsy, such as excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

How Medical Cannabis May Support as a Natural Sleep Aid

Medical cannabis may help treat sleep disorders due to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS plays an important role in regulating various bodily functions, including sleep.

The ECS has been found to influence sleep-wake cycles, sleep duration, and sleep quality through its modulation of neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. Cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, may influence the quality and duration of sleep in some patients by:

  • Reducing Anxiety: CBD as a sleep aid may provide insomnia relief for some patients. CBD has anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) properties that may help alleviate anxiety and stress, common contributors to sleep disorders like insomnia.
  • Promoting Relaxation: Both THC and CBD have muscle relaxant and sedative properties, potentially aiding in relaxation and promoting sleep onset.
  • Regulating REM Sleep: THC has been shown to suppress REM sleep, which could be beneficial for those with conditions like nightmares or REM sleep behaviour disorder. Interestingly, reduced REM sleep has been linked to early onset dementia and cognitive decline; however, CBD and THC together may allow for more REM, potentially protecting brain health for some people.

  • Pain Relief: Medical cannabis may alleviate pain in some patients, which is often a contributing factor to sleep disorders. By reducing pain, it may facilitate better sleep.

Therapeutic Effects of Medical Cannabis for Sleep

When considering medical cannabis for sleep, it's essential to consult a doctor before starting a treatment course. Your practitioner can help you assess the potential risks and benefits, and decide if medical cannabis aligns with your sleep disorder and overall health needs.

Medical cannabis offers several therapeutic effects that may set it apart from other sleep medications:

  • Natural: Unlike many traditional sleep medications, medical cannabis is derived from the cannabis plant, making it a natural alternative that may appeal to those seeking a plant-based remedy without the side effects associated with some synthetic drugs.
  • Less Side Effects: Compared to some pharmaceutical interventions, medical cannabis may have fewer side effects for some patients, particularly when used responsibly and under medical supervision. This can be appealing for those concerned about adverse reactions and dependency associated with traditional sleep medications.

Risks of Medical Cannabis for Sleep

When deciding on any kind of  medication, it's important to acknowledge any possible risks alongside potential benefits.

Some risks of medicinal cannabis for sleep include potential side effects such as dizziness, dry mouth, and cognitive impairment, as well as the risk of developing tolerance, and dependence. Additionally, the psychoactive nature of THC, may not be suitable for people with mood disorders, like bipolar or schizophrenia.

A comprehensive discussion with a caring medical professional can help you navigate these risks and benefits to help you make an informed decision about whether medical cannabis is a safe and effective option for you.

The Wrap Up

Sleep disorders can have a profound impact on both our physical and mental well-being, disrupting our natural sleep patterns and significantly influencing our overall health and quality of life. Traditional treatments, though effective for some, can come with some challenging side effects like dependence or rebound insomnia, and might not but suitable for everything.

Medical cannabis provides a safer, natural, sleep aid option. By interacting with the endocannabinoid system, it can help improve sleep, reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and even regulate REM sleep. Even though medicinal cannabis has fewer side effects than other sleep medications, it’s still important to consult with a healthcare professional to weigh the risks and benefits and decide if natural therapies are right for you.

Medicinal Cannabis and Sleep FAQ

What is the most effective natural sleep aid?

One natural sleep aid is medicinal cannabis. While the effectiveness and safety of medicinal cannabis as a sleep aid can vary from person to person, there is a growing body of research suggesting medical cannabis may improve sleep quality, reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, and increase the duration of deep and restorative sleep.

Medicinal cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids, such as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system. This system plays a role in regulating various physiological processes, including sleep. CBD, in particular, has been studied for its potential to promote relaxation and alleviate anxiety in some patients, both of which can contribute to better sleep.

Several studies have indicated that CBD may help some individuals with insomnia or other sleep disorders. It's believed to have a calming effect on the mind, helping to ease racing thoughts and create a more conducive environment for falling asleep. Additionally, some individuals have reported experiencing longer periods of deep sleep and improved sleep continuity when using CBD as a sleep aid.

It's worth noting that other natural sleep aids, such as meditation, hypnotherapy, and melatonin, are also recognised for their potential in promoting restful sleep. Different individuals may find varying degrees of effectiveness with these options, and it's advisable to explore what works best for your individual needs and preferences.

Can you become dependent on sleep aids?

Yes, it is possible to become dependent on sleep aids, including medicinal cannabis. Both over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids, as well as natural remedies like medicinal cannabis, can lead to physical and psychological dependence if used improperly or for an extended period.

  • Prescription Sleep Aids: Prescription medications like benzodiazepines and certain non-benzodiazepine drugs can effectively treat sleep disorders, but they carry the risk of dependence. Tolerance can develop over time, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect. This can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the medication.

  • Over-the-Counter and Natural Sleep Aids: Even over-the-counter sleep aids, including herbal supplements, and natural options like medicinal cannabis can also lead to dependence. Using these aids regularly can create a psychological reliance on them to induce sleep.

  • Medicinal Cannabis: While medicinal cannabis  has shown potential for improving sleep, prolonged and indiscriminate use can also lead to dependence. Regular use might lead to the body adapting to its effects, potentially requiring higher doses to achieve the desired sleep benefits. Learn more
Medical Conditions

Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Chemotherapy Side Effects

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Natural Therapies: Medicinal Cannabis and Chemotherapy Side Effects

Dealing with cancer is an incredibly challenging journey, not only for patients but for their loved ones too. Chemotherapy, while effective in targeting cancer cells, often brings along a slew of daunting side effects that can make treatment even more difficult. Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and rashes, or diarrhoea are just a few of the additional issues that chemotherapy patients face.

Chemotherapy-induced side effects are notoriously challenging to manage. Standard medications used to reduce them don’t always provide effective relief, and can even create additional complications. In recent years, studies have shown that medicinal cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here), has emerged as a promising alternative that holds potential in mitigating some of the adverse effects of chemotherapy.

This natural approach to symptom management has been gaining recognition within both the patient community and the medical field. Under the supervision of a medical professional, the therapeutic cannabinoids in medicinal cannabis may offer relief from nausea, vomiting, pain, and other debilitating symptoms associated with chemotherapy for some patients.

If you or a loved one are undergoing chemotherapy and have not found effective relief through conventional therapies, doctors who are experienced in the prescription of medicinal cannabis are here to guide you through this therapeutic option, ensuring that you receive the care and support you need throughout your journey towards better health and quality of life.

What are chemotherapy side effects?

Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are effective in targeting cancerous cells in many types of cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, leukaemia, and many others. However, chemotherapy can also cause a range of short term and long term side effects due to its impact on healthy cells and tissues in the body.

These side effects can vary in severity from person to person and depend on the specific chemotherapy drugs used. Some common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • Nausea and Vomiting: Chemotherapy is often designed to be toxic to cancer cells, this can trigger nausea  nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can be acute (occurring shortly after treatment) or delayed (occurring days after treatment). Anti-nausea medications are often prescribed to manage these symptoms.

  • Fatigue: Chemotherapy-induced fatigue is a common side effect that can have a debilitating effect on a patient’s quality of life. It’s more than just “feeling tired”, Chemotherapy-induced fatigue  can feel mentally and physically exhausted. This fatigue can persist for weeks or even months after treatment.

  • Hair Loss: Many chemotherapy drugs can cause hair loss, including hair on the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Hair usually grows back after treatment ends.

  • Loss of Appetite and Weight Changes: Chemotherapy can affect the sense of taste and appetite, leading to weight loss or gain.

  • Mouth Sores: Chemotherapy can cause mouth sores and mucositis, making it painful to eat or drink.

  • Digestive Issues: Patients may experience diarrhoea, constipation, or other gastrointestinal problems during chemotherapy.

  • Skin Changes: Skin may become dry, itchy, or sensitive to sunlight. Some chemotherapy drugs can cause rashes or skin discolouration.

  • Cognitive Changes: Some people undergoing chemotherapy report cognitive changes often referred to as "chemo brain." This can involve memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and mental fogginess./

  • Peripheral Neuropathy: Some chemotherapy drugs can damage peripheral nerves, causing symptoms like tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet.

  • Emotional and Psychological Effects: Coping with cancer and its treatment can lead to emotional distress, stress and anxiety, depression, and changes in mood.

How Can Medical cannabis Potentially Help Manage Chemotherapy Side Effects?

Medical cannabis has shown promise in alleviating several chemotherapy-induced side effects. The potential benefits of medical cannabis in managing these side effects are mostly attributed to its active compounds called cannabinoids, primarily delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system. 

Here's how medical cannabis may help some patients with chemotherapy side effects:

  • Pain Management: Medical cannabis has analgesic (pain-relieving) properties and may be effective in managing chemotherapy-related pain for some patients, including nerve pain (neuropathy) and bone pain.

  • Anxiety and Stress: Chemotherapy can cause anxiety and emotional distress. CBD, a non-psychoactive component of medicinal cannabis, has anxiolytic properties and may help reduce anxiety and improve mood for some patients.

  • Sleep Improvement: Medical cannabis may aid in improving sleep quality for some patients experiencing insomnia or sleep disturbances due to chemotherapy.

  • Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Medical cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties that may potentially reduce inflammation for some patients and alleviate symptoms related to chemotherapy-induced mucositis and skin issues.

  • Neuropathy Relief: Some patients develop peripheral neuropathy as a side effect of chemotherapy. Medicinal cannabis may help manage neuropathic pain and discomfort.

  • Anti-Spasticity: In cases where chemotherapy-related muscle spasms or spasticity occur, medical cannabis may provide relief. By relaxing muscle contractions and reducing the intensity and frequency of spasms, medical cannabis may improve comfort and mobility for some individuals undergoing cancer treatment.

  • Combination Therapy: Medical cannabis may be used in conjunction with other medications to manage side effects. This can lead to a more well-rounded and personalised treatment approach.

Remember: the use of medical cannabis in cancer care is a topic of ongoing research, and its effectiveness and potential risks and side effects can vary from person to person. Medicinal cannabis is not a primary treatment for cancer and cannot cure cancer.

Additionally, the choice of cannabis products, dosages, and administration methods should be carefully considered and discussed with a healthcare provider experienced in medical cannabis use to ensure safety and optimal results.

Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis for Chemotherapy Side- Effects

While medical cannabis shows promise in managing some chemotherapy side effects, it is important to understand potential risks and side effects associated with its use.

The impact of medical cannabis can vary depending on individual factors, the specific cannabis products employed, and the method of consumption. Here are some possible risks to consider when using medical cannabis for chemotherapy side effects:

  • Psychological Effects: Medicinal cannabis products with high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the intoxicating compound in cannabis, can induce psychological side effects. These may include anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and impaired cognitive function. Individuals with a history of mental health conditions, such as anxiety or schizophrenia, may be at greater risk of experiencing these side effects.

  • Dependency and Withdrawal: Long-term, consistent use of medical cannabis, particularly those with high THC content, can lead to dependence. Attempting to reduce or cease medical cannabis use may result in withdrawal symptoms, including irritability, mood swings, insomnia, and loss of appetite.

  • Impaired Cognitive Function: Medical cannabis can impair cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and decision-making. This may raise concerns, particularly for individuals needing mental sharpness for tasks like driving or operating heavy machinery.

  • Interaction with Medications: Medical cannabis has the potential to interact with certain medications, either by enhancing or diminishing their efficacy. Individuals using medications should consult healthcare professionals to assess potential interactions before incorporating medical cannabis into their regimen.

  • Potential Adverse Effects on Chemotherapy Side Effects: While medical cannabis may offer relief to some chemotherapy patients, it may not be suitable for everyone. In some cases, it might exacerbate side effects such as nausea, vomiting, or underlying digestive issues.

When considering medical cannabis as a complementary therapy for chemotherapy side effects, remember to talk to a about the risks and benefits before starting a course of treatment.

A specialty practitioner can provide guidance on whether medical cannabis is an appropriate option, assist in selecting the right dosage and strain, and closely monitor for potential side effects or interactions with existing medications.

The Wrap Up

Cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy, can be incredibly challenging and is often accompanied by many distressing side effects that can affect patients and their loved ones. Nausea, vomiting, pain, and the many other issues that come with chemotherapy can be overwhelming. Conventional treatments may not always provide sufficient relief and can even introduce new complications.

While there is still much more research to be done, medicinal cannabis may provide some people with a natural alternative for chemotherapy side-effect management. By harnessing cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, medicinal cannabis may offer relief from a wide range of symptoms, helping make cancer treatment more bearable for some patients.

If you or a loved one is navigating chemotherapy, expert doctors are available to help you, discussing the potential benefits of this therapeutic option.

Chemotherapy Side Effects FAQ

How to minimise chemotherapy side effects? 

There are many ways to minimise chemotherapy side effects. Firstly, open communication with your treatment team and oncologist is essential, as they can tailor your treatment plan and prescribe different natural and conventional medications to manage symptoms effectively.

In recent years, medicinal cannabis has emerged as a promising addition to potentially help alleviate various chemotherapy side effects, including nausea, vomiting, pain, and loss of appetite. Consulting with a healthcare provider experienced in medical cannabis can help you explore its potential benefits while ensuring safe and effective use alongside traditional treatments.

Maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, managing pain, and incorporating supportive therapies like exercise, psychological support, and complementary therapies can further enhance your ability to cope with chemotherapy side effects. 

How to help chemo nausea?

Managing chemotherapy-induced nausea can be a challenging aspect of cancer treatment, but there are several strategies to help alleviate this discomfort. Your treatment team and oncologist can prescribe anti-nausea medications (antiemetics) tailored to your specific needs.

Additionally, you may want to consider discussing the use of medicinal cannabis with a healthcare provider experienced in its administration. Some patients find that cannabis, particularly formulations with THC, can be helpful in reducing nausea. However, it's essential to ensure legal and safe access and consult a healthcare professional for guidance.

Incorporating complementary approaches like acupressure wristbands, ginger, dietary adjustments, and mind-body techniques can also provide relief. These methods, combined with staying hydrated, avoiding triggers, and staying informed about your treatment plan, can help you cope with nausea and improve your overall quality of life.