Breathe Easy: Marijuana Can Cure Medically Intractable Hiccups

For many people, chronic hiccuping is no laughing matter.

hiccups
Photo by Phoebe Dill via Unsplash

Believe it or not, that’s the finding of a case study that was published in the Lancet back in 1998, practically the dark ages of medical marijuana research.

This might seem like a joke, because you figure that in the time it takes to roll a joint and light it, your hiccups will probably already have stopped on their own. But that’s regular hiccups. An intractable case lasts for days, or longer. And its nothing to laugh about.

Longterm hiccups is usually a sign of an underlying problem, like encephalitis, meningitis, stroke, brain injury, even AIDS. Treating that underlying cause will usually cure the hiccups. If it doesn’t, the only FDA-approved hiccup drug is chlorpromazine—more recognized under its brand name Thorazine—which is a powerful antipsychotic.

The subject of the one and only scientific paper on hiccups and cannabis was an AIDS patient who developed intractable hiccups following minor surgery. Chlorpromazine worked only during sleep, so on ensuing days doctors tried a virtual adecedarium of off-label drugs, to no avail. On day six, they tried acupuncture. On day eight, they started to get silly: They removed a hair from the patient’s ear canal, then they poured the anesthetic marcaine into it. Later that day, they tried marijuana, and it worked. The next days, the hiccups returned, but the patient toked out again, and they went away for good.

The authors conclude their paper with a bittersweet acknowledgement that their breakthrough discovery might be more a medical white elephant than the source of a Nobel prize: “Because intractable hiccups is an uncommon condition, it is unlikely that the use of marijuana will ever be tested in a controlled clinical trial.” So far their prediction has proven sound.

Although the team ventured no hypothesis for the efficacy of cannabis in this instance, we’ll take a stab, because we have absolutely nothing at stake: Recent research into sleep apnea has found that cannabis effects the vagus nerve, one of the neves in the back of the throat that causes snoring—so why not hiccups as well?

By the way, you now owe us $500 for the medical consultation.

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