Hiccups are something that most people experience from time to time. They are usually a minor irritation that only lasts a few minutes. However, sometimes hiccups can persevere for days, months, or even years. Could cannabis help?
This article explains what causes hiccups, how to treat them, and whether cannabis is a realistic cure.
What Causes Hiccups?
Hiccups involve a large, dome-shaped muscle called the diaphragm. It sits at the base of the ribs and is essential in the act of breathing.
When the diaphragm contracts, it flattens, allowing the lungs to expand and draw in oxygen. When it relaxes, it pushes up, forcing carbon dioxide back out.
In hiccups, the diaphragm spasms involuntarily, causing a sharp intake of air. This causes the vocal cords to close rapidly, making a ‘hic’ sound.
Hiccups can occur for many different reasons. They include strong emotions like excitement and eating or drinking too fast. Hiccups can also be a symptom of several different medical conditions, for example:
- Nervous system disorders
- Metabolic or endocrine disorders
- Digestive disorders
Hiccups could also be the side effect of certain medications, including chemotherapy and some anesthetics.
Persistent or Intractable Hiccups
In most cases, hiccups are a minor and short-lived problem. However, for some people, they can continue for much longer than the usual few minutes.
Hiccups that last between 48 hours and one month are known as persistent hiccups. Meanwhile, those that continue for over 48 hours are known as intractable hiccups. The longest-lasting case of hiccups on record is an incredible 68 years.
People suffering from persistent or intractable hiccups may find that it severely interferes with their lives. The condition can cause:
- Weight loss
- Gastroesophageal reflux
Anyone with hiccups that lasts more than 48 hours should see a physician to determine the cause.
How Do You Stop the Hiccups?
There are plenty of theories surrounding how to stop hiccups. However, most of them have very little evidence to support their use.
Nonetheless, most of these techniques are harmless and may be worth a try. Some traditional methods for getting rid of hiccups include:
- Breathing into a paper bag
- Sipping or gargling water
- Holding the breath
- Biting a slice of lemon
- Tasting vinegar or pickle juice
- Swallowing sugar
- Receiving a fright or shock
For people with persistent or intractable hiccups, medication may be necessary. The options include:
- Muscle relaxants
- Proton pump inhibitors (to reduce stomach acid)
- Prokinetics (drugs that help the stomach empty)
- Nifedipine (a blood pressure medication)
People seeking a more natural alternative may find herbal remedies such as peppermint helpful. But how about cannabis? Could this plant-based medicine relieve hiccups too?
Can Cannabis Cure Hiccups?
In 1998, The Lancet published a case study featuring a patient who developed persistent hiccups following surgery. Over the next few days, he tried various medications but obtained no relief. One drug, chlorpromazine, controlled the hiccups, but only during sleep.
On days six and nine, he tried acupuncture, which relieved the hiccups for less than an hour. On day eight, doctors removed a hair from the patient’s eardrum and irrigated the ear with Marcaine (an anesthetic). These treatments provided temporary relief.
Also, on day eight, the patient tried smoking marijuana for the first time. His hiccups stopped until the following day. On day ten, he smoked marijuana again. The hiccups immediately ceased and did not return. On day 14, doctors diagnosed a throat infection and treated it with anti-fungal medication.
It seems that, in this instance, cannabis could have at least contributed to stopping hiccups. However, it is impossible to definitively say that cannabis cures hiccups based on a single report.
That said, there is some scientific evidence that explains why this treatment could help.
How Cannabis Might Work for Hiccups
Hiccups involve spasms of the diaphragm, and doctors often treat persistent cases with a drug called baclofen. It is a muscle relaxant that people with conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS) use to relieve spasticity and muscle stiffness.
Research from 2008 has shown that the cannabinoid compounds in cannabis could have similar effects. In fact, MS is one of the most common conditions that states list as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. THC and CBD are also the ingredients of the FDA-approved MS drug Sativex.
As well as relaxing the muscles, cannabis could have further benefits for patients with intractable hiccups.
The condition often occurs in association with gastroesophageal reflux, meaning that stomach acid flows upward into the esophagus. It causes several uncomfortable symptoms, including heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and sour regurgitation. A 2016 review found that cannabinoids can help to reduce gastric acid production.
Finally, many people use cannabis to relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, much of the evidence here is anecdotal, and the results of clinical research are inconsistent. There are concerns that high-THC strains could harm mental health by increasing anxiety and inducing paranoia.
However, the emerging evidence surrounding the antidepressant properties of CBD is largely positive. This cannabinoid lacks the intoxicating effects of THC but is well-known for its calming effects.
Therefore, anyone suffering from emotional distress due to persistent or intractable hiccups might experience some benefit. Even if cannabis or CBD do not cure the hiccups themselves, they could make them easier to bear.
Can Cannabis Cure Hiccups? Final Thoughts
Anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis might help to relieve hiccups in some cases, although large-scale clinical trials are lacking. There is some scientific reasoning behind treating hiccups with cannabis, but far more research is necessary to confirm its effectiveness.
Adults with legal access to cannabis could give it a try next time they have the hiccups. However, it is essential to consult a physician if symptoms last for longer than 48 hours as they could indicate a serious underlying disease. Furthermore, anyone already receiving treatment for intractable hiccups should seek additional medical advice.
Have you ever tried cannabis for hiccups? Let our community know whether it worked by posting in the comments below.