Fifty million people in America have tinnitus. They experience a constant ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping, or whistling sound in one or both ears. This phantom sound is a symptom of an underlying cause that often remains undiscovered. Though there have been some scientific developments that fill patients with hope, a real cure hasn’t been found. For now, the only thing people with tinnitus can do is learn to live with it.
What Is Tinnitus?
Ringing in the ears is a common symptom that has been recorded for millennia. The term comes from the Latin word tinnire, which means ringing. The first written account of treating tinnitus occurred in Ancient Egypt. Infused oil, frankincense, tree sap, herbs and soil were administered to a patient with a reed stalk in the outer ear.
Most treatments through the ages involved inserting herbs, oils and even hot bread directly into the ear. During the middle ages, hot candles were placed in the ears to draw out wax and other debris. Candling is an alternative medicine still used today to treat tinnitus and other ear maladies.
Tinnitus is not a disease. It is a symptom of an underlying condition. Although it can be intermittent and the sound can vary in volume, it persists and does not go away. It’s most evident when background noise is low, like when patients attempt to go to sleep.
In most cases, only the patient can hear the noise, also known as subjective tinnitus. Some tinnitus is audible to the physician if they use a stethoscope, and it’s called objective tinnitus. Rare cases of this disorder synch up with the patient’s heartbeat. This is known as pulsatile tinnitus.
Most people with the condition view it as just a slight annoyance, but it can severely impact a person’s quality of life, changing the way they perceive the world.
Conditions that have been shown to cause tinnitus include:
- Ear or sinus Infection
- Damage to the sound-sensitive cells of the cochlea
- Damage to tiny hairs in the inner ear
- Benign tumor on the auditory nerve
- The aging process
- Meniere’s disease
- Bone stiffening in the middle ear — otosclerosis
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Problems with circulation
- Underactive thyroid
- Autoimmune disease
- Injuries to the jaw, head or neck
In some cases, the ringing stops once the underlying condition is treated. Frequently, even after treatment, the unwanted sounds continue. At this point, physicians look beyond the ear to the brain.
The auditory circuits in the brains of those with tinnitus are more excitable. This could be due to either hyperactivity in neural pathways, reduced activity or a combination of both.
Current Treatments Available
Since tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying condition, it’s not simple to diagnose or treat. It’s important to go to your doctor or audiologist to determine what is causing it. If it’s an infection or blockage, it can be easily treated by a medical professional.
If the condition persists after treatment, then other therapies must be attempted, both conventional and unconventional. These treatments are used to either decrease or cover up the aggravating sounds.
Any treatment attempted needs to address the underlying conditions of the disorder. These conditions may not have been caused by an auditory problem or ear malady — it may be a neurological disorder.
Some common treatments recommended by physicians and audiologists include the following:
- Hearing Aids or Cochlear Implants. If your tinnitus is caused by hearing loss, these devices take away the strain of listening and bring the noises around you into focus.
- Therapeutic Noise Generator. Although this device looks like a hearing aid, it produces sounds that stimulate the auditory nerve and pulls attention from the tinnitus.
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy. This may combine a hearing aid or therapeutic noise generator with counseling. The aim is to eliminate a patient’s perception of the tinnitus.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Teaches patients how to control stress and draw attention away from the unwanted noise.
- Surgical Options. Most tinnitus cannot be treated with surgery. However, if the condition is caused by a tumor, otosclerosis, Meniere’s disease, a middle ear infection or if the patient has objective tinnitus, surgery may work.
- Dental Treatments. Five percent of tinnitus is caused by jaw joint problems. In these instances, you will need to make an appointment with a dentist or orthodontist.
- Medication. Depending on what is causing the tinnitus, this may be a viable option. Medications might include anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, steroids and the hormone misoprostol. Lidocaine has also proven effective, but the risks of this treatment outweigh the benefits.
- Herbal Remedies. B12 vitamins, ginkgo biloba or minerals like zinc or magnesium have had some success, but results vary.
- Stress-Reducing Activities. Reducing stress is an important aspect of treating tinnitus. Patients should participate in sports, hobbies, yoga or other activities that bring relaxation. Reflexology and massage therapy are also excellent options.
- Alternative Therapies. Even though Western medicine doesn’t always recognize its usefulness, acupuncture, magnets and hypnosis have brought relief to some patients.
Certain things have been shown to make tinnitus worse. It’s recommended that patients try to avoid the following:
- Loud noise
- Medications that list tinnitus as a side effect
- Caffeine, alcohol and tonic water
How Is Medical Marijuana an Effective Treatment?
Medical marijuana is a multifaceted drug. Research supports the use of this all-natural medication for many symptoms and conditions.
Tinnitus co-occurs with different disorders, and medical marijuana has the potential to help some of them — this means relief from both tinnitus and the condition that causes it.
Medical marijuana has the potential to help some underlying conditions that cause tinnitus, providing relief from both the audio symptoms and the condition causing it. In some cases, tinnitus symptoms stop once the underlying condition is treated but more frequently, even after treatment, some ringing continues.
Although there are currently no effective drug treatment for tinnitus, anti-epileptic drugs are used in some cases as a potential treatment option. Cannabinoids have been found to be effective for epilepsy, so medical professionals theorize that it could also help tinnitus. This, however, has yet to be proven.
That said, a new article, published in the August 2019 issue of The Hearing Journal, explores the issue. Author Dr. Dennis Colucci, a clinical and forensic audiologist in California, compiles and analyzes the existing research in the treatment of hearing loss with medical cannabis.
The article cites a 2016 study in which researchers attempted to find out whether or not cannabinoid therapy is helpful for hearing issues in humans. In the research, researchers investigated if cannabinoid receptor activation could create a pro- or anti-epileptic action in the cochlear nucleus, where tinnitus occurs, to determine if cannabis could make tinnitus better or worse. The results were inconclusive.
A 2015 study on rats seems to be the only proven data relating to cannabis and tinnitus. This study investigated if THC and CBD delivered to rats could provide relief from tinnitus. The findings suggest cannabinoids may actually increase the occurrence of tinnitus in noise-exposed rats, especially when prior hearing damage exists.
Overall, studies testing the connection between cannabis and tinnitus have been deemed inconclusive. Cannabis has not been proven as an effective treatment of tinnitus.
What Symptoms of Tinnitus Can Marijuana Treat?
Researchers are still developing medical marijuana treatments for tinnitus. However, the complications that often accompany it can be helped with cannabis. These symptoms include:
Because of the recurring and aggravating sounds produced by tinnitus, many people who have this condition complain of problems sleeping and insomnia.
Cannabis has long been used as a sleep aid. Only recently, though, has the scientific world discovered how marijuana helps people sleep. Indica strains of cannabis have a higher concentration of cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is a compound found in marijuana that increases sleepiness and relaxation.
Anxiety and Stress
Irritability and stress are the most common side effects of tinnitus. If tinnitus remains untreated, anxiety can easily develop, which only makes the tinnitus worse. It’s important to de-stress and get yourself into a good frame of mind.
CBD is the compound in marijuana that best treats anxiety. Be sure to avoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as it may add to anxiousness.
When the cause of your tinnitus remains unknown, and the condition persists, a sense of hopelessness can develop. But it’s important to maintain a positive outlook, as this will aid the healing process.
Four hundred years ago, cannabis was used as a treatment for depression in India. Today there is a debate as to whether medical marijuana can lessen feelings of depression.
More research still needs to happen. However, initial studies show that the chemical makeup that determines cognition, emotions and behavior are similar to the chemical makeup of cannabis. Using medical marijuana can restore chemical balance to the body and ease feelings of depression. The terpene limonene has been shown to elevate a user’s mood.