One of the first medical uses for cannabis that has been studied in the modern medical literature was its use in the treatment of chemotherapy for cancer patients. While recent studies have had the media prematurely claiming medical cannabis can “cure” cancer, the scientific evidence suggests a much more limited picture of what cannabis can and cannot do for cancer patients.
Nonetheless, there is medical evidence, accumulating since the 1980s and 1990s, that cannabinoids have an important role to play in assisting patients undergoing treatments for cancer. They can help manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Here’s what the research has found thus far.
Whether undergoing chemotherapy or not, many cancer patients experience pain. The tumour itself can cause pain. Chemotherapy medications can also cause pain, although this is a somewhat rarer cause of pain for patients with cancer.
Medical marijuana helps alleviate chronic pain for a number of different patients with different medical conditions. In particular, it helps those undergoing chemotherapy.
Stimulates the Appetite
Many patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer experience a loss of appetite. Metabolic changes and sometimes even the cancer itself can cause a loss of appetite. The most common cause is usually chemotherapy, which can cause severe food aversions, nausea, and vomiting.
Cannabis strains with high THC content promote appetite. THC stimulates the endocannabinoid system, which assists in appetite regulation.
Reduction of Nausea and Vomiting
For many patients undergoing chemotherapy, nausea and vomiting are the most severe and prevalent symptoms. This is compounded by the fact that conventional medications used to treat these symptoms are ejected by the patient.
A review published in the British Medical Journal states medical cannabis is effective across the board for all types of chemotherapy. Many different studies state medical cannabis is effective for this purpose. However, despite the promising results, some studies indicate not all patients will achieve relief with the use of cannabinoids.
Nabilone is particularly effective for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. In fact, it’s one of its primary indicated uses.
Not without Side Effects
As much as there is promise for the use of medical cannabis in relieving the symptoms of those undergoing chemotherapy, most studies have also reported side effects. Some have indicated dizziness, hallucinations, dysphoria, and depression.
Other side effects observed in some studies included drowsiness, particularly associated with the use of THC. Some patients reported a THC “high,” although these patients were in the minority.
Some research indicates certain cannabinoids may be useful only against specific chemotherapeutic drugs. Their use would then be indicated by the particular treatment the patient is receiving. Side effects would also need to be considered, particularly for certain populations, such as elderly patients and children.
What’s the Verdict?
As with all medical treatments, risks and benefits must be weighed, however. More research will demonstrate the particular situations in which medical cannabis could be the right treatment choice for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
For now, some patients will continue to benefit from the inclusion of cannabis and cannabinoid treatments.