Tinnitus

Can medical cannabis help with ringing in the ears? Read below to learn more about Tinnitus and its treatment options. 

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is typically described as a ringing in the ears that can also sound like buzzing, clicking, hissing, or roaring. It can be soft or loud, high-pitched or low-pitched, and in one or both ears. Approximately ten percent, or 25 million adults in the United States, have experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year. 

What are the Symptoms?

Tinnitus is associated with a ringing in the ears; however, tinnitus can cause other types of phantom noises, including:

  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Humming
  • Roaring

Causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus isn’t a disease; instead, it’s a symptom that something is wrong with the auditory system, which includes the ear, the auditory nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain, and parts of the brain responsible for processing sound.

It can be the result of a blockage or could be an indicator of several health conditions, such as:

  • Hearing Loss
  • Ear infections
  • Heart disease
  • blood vessel disease
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Brain tumors
  • Hormonal changes
  • Sinus infections
  • Thyroid abnormalities

Over 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus when you start or stop taking them. People who work in noisy environments can develop tinnitus over time with ongoing exposure to noise. Service members exposed to bombs can develop tinnitus if the explosion’s shock wave damages brain tissue that helps process sound. 

Pulsatile tinnitus is a rare tinnitus that sounds like a rhythmic pulsing in the ear, usually in time with your heartbeat. Issues with blood flow or brain structure in the head and neck typically cause this tinnitus. 

Some people develop tinnitus for no apparent reason, and it typically isn’t a sign of a severe health issue. However, it can be mentally taxing and cause fatigue, depression, anxiety, and problems with memory and concentration.

Epilepsy and Tinnitus

Some studies suggest tinnitus is a form of sensory epilepsy because it occurs from neural hyperexcitability in the DCN and VCN. Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder that causes recurring seizures. You may be diagnosed with epilepsy if you have two unprovoked attacks or one unprovoked seizure, but not all episodes result from epilepsy

Seizures may relate to a brain injury or genetic trait, but the cause is often unknown. Characteristics of seizures vary and depend on where it starts and how far it spreads within the brain. During the episode, temporary symptoms include loss of awareness or consciousness and disorders of movement, senses, mood, or other cognitive functions.

The risk of premature death in people with epilepsy is three times higher than in the general population, and those living with it tend to develop anxiety and depression. A significant proportion of the causes of death related to epilepsy are preventable, such as falls, drowning, burns, and prolonged seizures.

Diagnosis for Tinnitus

A doctor will typically diagnose tinnitus based on the symptoms and will also try to identify any underlying causes of tinnitus. 

To identify the cause, a doctor will ask about medical history and examine the ears, head, and neck. Common tests include:

  • Hearing exam. Patients sit in a soundproof room wearing earphones that transmit specific sounds into one ear at a time. Then, they ate prompted to indicate when they can hear the sound, and doctors will compare the results with average results for the patient’s age range. 
  • Movement. The doctor may ask you to move your eyes, clench your jaw, or rotate your neck, arms, and legs. 
  • Imaging tests. Depending on the symptoms, a patient may need imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans to determine to cause. 
  • Lab tests. The doctor may draw blood to check for anemia, thyroid issues, heart disease, or vitamin deficiencies.

Treatment Options

Treatment for tinnitus depends on the underlying health condition that causes tinnitus. Examples of treatment options other than medications include:

  • Earwax removal. Removing earwax blockage can lessen tinnitus symptoms.
  • Treating a blood vessel condition. Underlying blood vessel issues may require medication or surgery.
  • Hearing aids. If the tinnitus is caused by noise-induced or age-related hearing loss, using hearing aids may help improve symptoms.
  • Changing your medication. If a medication is causing tinnitus, the doctor may recommend stopping, reducing, or switching to a different medication.

Can Medical Marijuana Help?

A small case study published in the Journal of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics tested dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC, against idiopathic intracranial hypertension, which can cause objective tinnitus. The patient studied saw improvement in debilitating symptoms caused by skull pressure, including tinnitus. The dronabinol relieved all of her symptoms without producing any psychoactive effects. 

Medical marijuana has been shown to help patients with epilepsy relieve and control the symptoms accompanying this brain condition. Cannabidiol CBD is commonly used for various therapeutic benefits, from digestive aids to helping calm mental disorder symptoms. CBD’s benefits have been shown to have positive effects in regulating seizures. The FDA has approved CBD as a prescription-strength (Epidiolex) medication used for certain forms of epilepsy. 

The FDA approved a prescription-strength dose of CBD for severe epilepsy, Epidiolex oral solution, from G.W. Pharmaceuticals. Preclinical evidence proves that CBD oil can treat symptoms and reduce seizures by activating the CB1 receptors. More research is currently being done on CBD oil for conditions like dravet syndrome and Lennox gastaut syndrome.

Cannabis and hemp have been used historically for pain management for long-term pain sufferers and those with diseases such as cancer to manage the symptoms after chemotherapy. CBD is non-intoxicating and has been shown in some cases to counteract the impact THC, and other stimulants like alcohol may have on the body. 

Last Updated: July 25, 2023

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