Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system

Eur J Pharmacol. 2014 Jan 5;722:134-46. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2013.09.068. Epub 2013 Nov 1.


Nausea and vomiting (emesis) are important elements in defensive or protective responses that animals use to avoid ingestion or digestion of potentially harmful substances. However, these neurally-mediated responses are at times manifested as symptoms of disease and they are frequently observed as side-effects of a variety of medications, notably those used to treat cancer. Cannabis has long been known to limit or prevent nausea and vomiting from a variety of causes. This has led to extensive investigations that have revealed an important role for cannabinoids and their receptors in the regulation of nausea and emesis. With the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, novel ways to regulate both nausea and vomiting have been discovered that involve the production of endogenous cannabinoids acting centrally. Here we review recent progress in understanding the regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, and we discuss the potential to utilize the endocannabinoid system in the treatment of these frequently debilitating conditions.

Keywords: Brainstem; CB(1) receptor; CB(2) receptor; Cannabis; Emesis; Insular cortex; Serotonin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiemetics / pharmacology
  • Cannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Conditioning, Psychological / drug effects
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Nausea / metabolism*
  • Nausea / prevention & control
  • Nausea / psychology
  • Vomiting / metabolism*
  • Vomiting / physiopathology
  • Vomiting / prevention & control


  • Antiemetics
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids