As the senior population grows, countries such as Canada are bracing for an expansion of the number of patients with catastrophic and chronic illnesses. Currently, cancer is the number-one cause of death in Canada, followed by heart disease and stroke. The numbers are only expected to rise.
Palliative care is administered for those who are facing the end of their lives. The goal of medical intervention at this stage is not to prolong the patient’s life or to “cure” them. Rather, the goal is to make the patient as comfortable as possible. For those with a disease like cancer, this can sometimes be a tall task.
As the number of people who are diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses continues to expand, so too will the number of people receiving palliative care. One question researchers are currently asking is whether medical cannabis could play a role in palliative care in Canada.
A Potential Option for Pain Management
Much of the current research on the medicinal use of cannabis has focused on its potential as an analgesic. Studies on CBD and THC suggest they could play a role in limiting the amount of pain patients experience. Many tout medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids in the treatment of chronic pain. Cannabis could play a role in helping solve the current opioid crisis.
Patients in palliative care often experience pain. The end stages of cancer, for example, can be very painful for a patient. The goal of palliative care is to alleviate this pain for patients and generally improve their quality of life as much as possible as they approach the end of their lives.
Some studies have suggested cannabis could be administered to patients in palliative care as a pain treatment. One study of 1,000 patients found a significant reduction in the pain they experienced.
Spiritual and Existential Suffering Could Be Alleviated
Other concerns for those in palliative care are often spiritual or existential questions. This is particularly true if the patient is facing the end of their life. Those who are suffering without much chance of recovery may also ask such questions. People may wonder why they are being “punished” or if they are being “tested.” They may also question the point of existence, especially if it is painful or if the illness is traumatic.
Some preliminary research in this area shows medical cannabis could aid patients who exhibit such spiritual or existential suffering. THC, in particular, is known to have psychoactive qualities. While this can stimulate paranoia and anxiety in some patients, it can produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation in others.
Cannabis has been used in spiritual practices since ancient times. Although it is difficult to rate relief of this type of suffering any way except self-reporting, some patients do state they find medical cannabis provides a therapeutic effect in alleviating the trauma that accompanies illnesses such as cancer.
Improving Quality of Life
The goal of palliative care isn’t necessarily to extend a patient’s life but to improve the quality of life. While palliative care isn’t the exclusive reserve of patients facing an end-of-life scenario, this is when it is most commonly administered.
The effects of medical cannabis seem to include improved appetite, taste changes that make food more pleasurable, a reduction of nausea and vomiting, and potential relief from the symptoms of depression. Overall, patients using medical cannabis generally reported their quality of life improved.
Research about medical cannabis is still emerging, and good evidence will prove both its possibilities and its limitations. For now, it appears there is an emerging case for the use of medical cannabis in palliative care.