Cannabis’ Contribution to Hearing and Balance

Cannabis has been a hot topic in the medical world for a little while. Though the recreational smoking of marijuana has been popular across the US since the early 1900s, it was not until the 1990s that the medicinal benefits of cannabis compounds became more widely recognized. In 1996, California passed the Compassionate Use Act regarding the application of such products for certain chronic illnesses. Currently, significant research is being undertaken in the role of cannabis-related products for balance and hearing problems, such as tinnitus.

 
How Cannabis Works on the Human Body (in a non-high way)
Cannabidiol, commonly abbreviated to CBD, is one of several active chemical compounds extracted from cannabis plants, a family to which both hemp and marijuana belong. These compounds are collectively known as cannabinoids. Another cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and this is the one that works on the human body in a high way (in medical terms it is known as having psychoactive properties). Both these compounds are considered to have medicinal benefits – CBD has been shown to be helpful at relieving pain from cancer therapy and at treating epilepsy; THC is used for pain relief, insomnia, anxiety, and appetite stimulation.

In 1964, researchers found that the human body contains a system of biochemical cell receptors which respond to cannabinoids, coining this the endocannabinoid system (ECS). In fact, inherent to the discovery of the ECS was the fact that the human body itself produces cannabinoids (specifically referred to as endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids). The human ECS is comprised of two main types of cell receptors that respond to endocannabinoids. CB1 receptors are found in the central nervous system (CNS), such as in the brain but also have been detected in the lungs, liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract. CB2 receptors are found mainly outside of the CNS, being noted on immune cells and across the peripheral nervous system; interestingly, CB2 receptors can be produced on-demand in the presence of tissue injury or inflammation.

CBD is approved by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for treating certain forms of epilepsy unresponsive to other treatment. The World Health Organization found that CBD did not show any significant potential for substance abuse (that would be THC) and that it is “generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”

Only two years ago in 2018 was hemp cultivation and CBD extraction made legal in the US under the Farm Bill. Recreational use of marijuana is legal in eleven US states for those over 21 years of age while medical cannabis is legal across 33 states.

 
I Live in a State Where Cannabis is Not Yet Legal But My Uncle’s Co-Worker’s Sister’s Boyfriend’s Best Friend Offered Me a Cannabis Plant as a Present and It’s Rude to Say No. Also, I Have Tinnitus.
Here’s where the distinction between hemp and marijuana becomes important. We’ll get to your tinnitus later.

The US government defines hemp as plants of the cannabis family containing less than 0.3% of that psychoactive THC; marijuana are those cannabis family members with over 0.3% THC. As you know, every family has at least one psychoactive relative. The Farm Bill mentioned above allows the cultivation of hemp, and CBD extracted from hemp is okay anywhere you are. CBD products produced from marijuana plants will contain higher levels of THC and so will only be okay in those states with legalized marijuana. However, it’s important to keep in mind that CBD products are not currently regulated by the FDA. You might think you’re taking high-quality CBD oil and the next minute you could be floating on clouds.

Now about your tinnitus and a little bit more neuroscience.  Those endocannabinoid receptors mentioned earlier, CB1 and CB2, are present in the cochlear of the inner ear. Conclusive studies about the role of CB1 and CB2 receptors in tinnitus are few but research indicates they may potentially have a part in balance and hearing disorders. Further research is needed – especially since one study conducted on the effect of CBD on tinnitus in rats found that CBD worsened tinnitus symptoms – but the use of targeted cannabinoids to the inner ear may carry some potential therapeutic benefit for tinnitus sufferers. Another aspect of tinnitus is the accompanying anxiety and deterioration of quality of life for many patients. In some cases, the phantom buzzing, rushing, or ringing in the ears are severe enough to cause significant distress, sleep disturbance, and even depression. Although THC is the psychoactive aunt, research suggests that CBD may be helpful in reducing anxiety, giving it potential as a useful part of holistic tinnitus management.

Scientists have also investigated the use of endocannabinoids to protect hearing loss as a result of anti-cancer medications, specifically a drug called cisplatin, a known ototoxic chemical (that is, damaging to the ear). In rats, endocannabinoids injected into the inner ear activated CB2 receptors, which in turn provided protection against cisplatin-induced hearing loss by regulating the immune response around the cochlea of the inner ear. Although the study was conducted specifically on cisplatin-induced hearing loss, chemotherapy drugs aren’t the only ototoxic medications out there – other hearing-damaging medicines include antibiotics, aspirin, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Further research is needed but this paves the way for the development of medicinal CBD products to protect from hearing damage as a result of ototoxic medications.

At this point in time it may be wiser to seek conventional, well-proven treatments for hearing problems, including tinnitus. While cannabis-related products demonstrate some good potential, our understanding of these in regards to the ear are still in their early days. For the time being it’s probably just best to keep the present from your uncle’s co-worker’s sister’s boyfriend’s best friend as a decorative house plant.