Tinnitus is a common form of hearing disorder that seems more a form of auditory overactivity than hearing loss. The street definition is “persistent ringing in the ears.” But the phantom sound can be a buzzing, hissing, whistling, whooshing, or even clicking.
The word itself is pronounced in several ways, but the American Tinnitus Association wants you to know that smart people call it TINN-a-tus.
Ringing in the ears can accompany normal age-related hearing loss or be caused by loud noises or the lodging in the ear of various cruds or stuffs, including dirt, hair, and wax (ick!); it can also be a symptom of any number of medical conditions, including high blood pressure, neck or jaw injury, a blow to the brain, or even medication.
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One alternative, and controversial, theory is that tinnitus is a form of hyperactivity in the auditory parts of the brain, which is struggling to compensate for hearing loss. Accordingly, anti-epileptic medication has been tried as a tinnitus treatment, to mixed results.
Because cannabis can quell seizures and both CB1 and CB2 receptors have been found in the parts of the brainstem that process sound, it seems quite reasonable that cannabis might have some effect on tinnitus. The question is, however, whether that effect is helpful or harmful.
So far there has been very little research on cannabis and tinnitus. In fact, everything I’ve managed to find ties back to Dr. Yiwen Zheng of University of Otago, New Zealand. (She’s even the one who discovered CB2 receptors in the brainstem vestibular and cochlear nuclei.) Zheng’s focus is on the role of the central nervous system in tinnitus, and cannabinoid studies constitute only a fraction of her work, but what she has found is not especially hopeful.
In a 2010 study, Zheng found that two synthetic cannabinoids (used only in lab research) did not help mice with tinnitus. In deed, in the right (the wrong?) dose, “they could actually exacerbate” it. In 2015, she ran a similar experiment using THC and CBD and concluded: “cannabinoids may promote the development of tinnitus, especially when there is pre-existing hearing damage.”
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Obviously, these studies are far from conclusive. Perhaps one day the endocannabinoid system will provide the key to treating tinnitus. But the evidence so far strongly implies that smoking bud will not be part of that regimen.