Cancer is a Word, Not a Sentence: Utilizing Cannabis to Treat Symptoms of Cancer
Cannabis is illegal in the United States on a federal level, by way of being classified as a schedule 1 controlled substance. Thirty-three states, including Pennsylvania, have enacted laws that make the medicinal use of marijuana legal with a physician’s recommendation. Cancer, either active or in remission, is one of the 23 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in PA. As the stigma associated with cannabis is slowly fading, and more clinical research studies are being conducted, the benefits of medical marijuana in treating cancer symptoms is becoming apparent in the medical community.
Since cannabis’ legal status has prevented researchers in many countries from conducting studies to provide medical benefit through evidence, scientists are limited in the research they can conduct. Thankfully, cannabis research in Israel has been taking off, where medical marijuana is legal nationwide. A study in 2013 involving 200 cancer patients found medical marijuana use led to “significant improvements” across all cancer and cancer treatment-related symptoms.
Cannabis has been used for decades to treat the symptoms of various types of cancer. The following are common symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatments:
Nausea and Vomiting – Marijuana may be best known for its ability to reduce nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment. It’s so effective that the FDA approved a synthetic THC pill called Marinol® (Dronabinol) in 1985.
Weight Loss – Patients undergoing chemotherapy often find it hard to maintain normal weight. Marijuana has also been shown to stimulate appetite by improving food intake.
Depression and Anxiety – Cancer patients often suffers from depression and anxiety. While it’s no secret that marijuana can make you feel good, research has shown that specific cannabinoids and terpenes have both anti-depressants and anti-anxiety effects.
Pain – Certain types of cancer are more prone to have pain as an associated symptom. While marijuana’s benefits seem to encompass a range of pain issues from inflammation to neuropathy to muscular, studies have shown that marijuana can reduce pain in cancer patients.
Sleep – Patients with cancer often have issues with sleep; both falling asleep and staying asleep. Finding a product, either short acting or long acting depending on the form of consumption, and the right combination of cannabinoids along with more sedative type terpenes is the key to improving sleep in patients with cancer.
Fatigue – Cancer treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, can take a toll on a patient’s body and really leave them fatigued. Utilizing a balance of cannabinoids and more stimulating type terpenes are a great way to provide some energy and combat a cancer patient’s fatigue.
Cancer – Perhaps the most promising, and although controversial, benefit of marijuana in cancer is the treatment of the cancer itself. While some preclinical studies have shown the ability of some cannabinoids to decrease tumor cell growth which can stop the cancer from spreading, human research is still lacking. This in no way negates the use of traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. However, if studies in cell culture and animal studies continue to show evidence of a cancer fighting effect, doesn’t that add another tool in one’s arsenal for winning their battle with this disease?
As cannabis becomes more mainstream and society more welcoming of its use, the restrictions on being able to study this plant will hopefully dissipate. Being able to formally study all aspects of the cannabis plant and the benefit that it can provide with so many medical conditions, is the key to acceptance in the medical community.
- Gil Bar-Sela, Marina Vorobeichik, Saher Drawsheh, Anat Omer, Victoria Goldberg, Ella Muller, “The Medical Necessity for Medicinal Cannabis: Prospective, Observational Study Evaluating the Treatment in Cancer Patients on Supportive or Palliative Care”, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2013, Article ID 510392, 8 pages, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/510392
- Velasco, G., Sánchez, C. & Guzmán, M. Towards the use of cannabinoids as antitumour agents. Nat Rev Cancer 12, 436–444 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrc3247
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