The US National Library of Medicine reported that motion sickness might affect a third of people. That rises to two thirds under severe conditions. Those susceptible will experience nausea and dizziness if undertaking a long car ride or riding an intense rollercoaster. They might feel out of breath or have clammy skin, particularly sweaty palms. Vomiting can result. The condition also goes by the names of motion, travel, air, sea- and car sickness. It causes no long-term problems but can make your life miserable if you travel muchly.

Fairground rides can induce motion sickness. Photo: Jellaluna

Fairground rides can induce motion sickness. Photo: Jellaluna

Who gets it and how

Children between the ages of five and 12, wimmen, people who get migraines and older adults are more prone to motion sickness. It tends not to occur in children less than two years old.

Motion sickness is believed to arise when what your eyes see conflicts with what your inner ears, which sense balance, feel. You might feel motion but not see it if you were in a ship with no windows. Your brain will decide that you’re hallucinating and that this was due to ingesting poison. Vomiting will get rid of the supposed toxin. You could even get it if sitting quite still but watching movement on a screen, such as a video game. In this case, motion gets seen but not felt. The film The Blair Witch Project caused motion sickness in many people. This was because it featured great use of a handheld camcorder. Warnings were given to cinemagoers.

Forget regular drugs

Many prescription drugs used to treat nausea and vomiting are ineffective against motion sickness. Examples are metoclopramide and prochlorperazine, which are widely used to treat nausea. Anti-histamine medications like promethazine are good for motion sickness but knock you out significantly. This makes them unsuitable if you have to drive or operate heavy machinery.

The US National Cancer Institute states that cannabinoid medications are FDA-approved for the treatment of nausea and vomiting. Both cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) do some good. CBD, however, might be preferable because it’s less likely to be illegal, not being psychoactive, and you might have to drive. Dronabinol is synthetic THC but nowhere near as effective as cannabis.

Cue the studies

There has been little research into cannabis and motion sickness, but here’s some. A study by Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich in Germany in 2010 looked at blood samples taken from people before, during and after parabolic flight manoeuvres. This is where weightlessness is simulated by putting an aeroplane into a nose dive for around 30 seconds then sharply pulling up for a further half minute. This produces almost 2G of stress and is followed by weightlessness. It’s so arduous that the first astronauts named it “the vomit comet”. The people who were the most sick had lower levels of endocannabinoids – molecules produced by your body that are similar to the cannabinoids we know and love. The people who were least sick had more endocannabinoids.

Another study, this time in 2014 by Zheng et al at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine and published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, supported this: motion sickness symptoms were reduced by enhancing the endocannabinoid systems of rats. Or there was the one by Bolognini et al at the University of Aberdeen in 2013 that found CBD to reduce nausea in rats.

Motion sickness in history

Ancient Indian and Chinese records speak of using ginger to prevent motion sickness. Greek and Roman texts mention it often. Seasickness was a widespread problem in the Middle Ages and even affected Christopher Columbus’s crew.

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