Scott Sanders, who based on his experiences created the website Cancerwell.org, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer, shared with Healthy Lombard some information about the possibility of using Cannabis for Cancer. Scott writes that cannabis can make daily life easier while undergoing cancer treatment. If treatment is taking a toll on your well-being and you need relief, cannabis may help. Here’s what Scott has found about using medical cannabis for cancer relief.
The role of cannabis in cancer treatment
Cannabis’s therapeutic effects come from two compounds: delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, found in marijuana and responsible for its psychoactive effects, and cannabidiol, or CBD, which is non-psychoactive and found in both marijuana and hemp.
These compounds are used to treat some of the most unpleasant side effects of cancer treatment: nausea and vomiting, pain, appetite loss, insomnia, and anxiety.
Nausea and vomiting
Relief from chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting is the primary reason cancer patients use medical marijuana. In fact, the FDA has approved medications based on synthetic THC to treat nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.
Cancer patients who use cannabis in conjunction with opiate painkillers use about 80% fewer opiates than patients relying on opiates alone. Patients with mild pain may be able to rely on cannabis alone for pain relief and skip opiates entirely. While both CBD and THC are believed to have pain-relieving properties, researchers have focused their efforts on drugs containing both CBD and THC for maximum pain relief.
Appetite loss can lead to weight loss, fatigue, poor immune function, and muscle wasting in cancer patients. THC, a known appetite stimulant, is less potent than the appetite stimulant drug megestrol but with fewer risks.
Help to fall asleep is one of the leading benefits touted by CBD proponents. Studies do show that CBD improves sleep in two-thirds of patients, although improvements taper off over time.
While not directly caused by cancer treatment, many people experience anxiety after a cancer diagnosis. Anxiety can worsen other symptoms including insomnia and pain, so it’s important to manage mental distress in cancer patients. Nearly eight in 10 people report sustained improvements to their anxiety when taking CBD. THC also reduces anxiety but may trigger agitation and panic in high doses.
How to talk to your doctor about cannabis
Before discussing cannabis with your doctor, familiarize yourself with the legal status of medical marijuana in your state and the terminology used to discuss cannabis cultivars, administration methods, and dosages. Having this information will allow you to be an informed patient and show your doctor you understand the potential — and the limits — of cannabis in cancer treatment.
Unfortunately, informing yourself may not be enough if your doctor isn’t knowledgeable about cannabis. Physicians may also be hesitant to recommend medical marijuana due to the fact that it remains illegal at the federal level. Some patients have to shop around to find a doctor who is open to medical cannabis. However, even if you receive a medical marijuana recommendation from another doctor, it’s critical to talk to your primary doctor about possible medication interactions.
How to shop for cannabis products
While doctors can recommend medical cannabis, they can’t prescribe specific products. That means it’s up to patients to find the cannabis products that best manage their symptoms, a process that often includes a good deal of trial and error.
When seeking fast relief from symptoms, inhaling cannabis is best. However, long-lasting effects are better delivered by edible cannabis products. Some patients combine inhaled cannabis with edibles for both short-term and long-term relief.
Inhaled cannabis options include smoking or vaporizing marijuana flower or extracts. Edible cannabis may be consumed as tinctures, oils, sublingual sprays, or food products. Cannabis products may contain CBD, THC, or a combination. Know which compound or combination is most effective for your symptoms so you buy a product with maximum therapeutic value.
If you’re seeking a natural way to control cancer treatment side effects of conventional medications aren’t working for you, cannabis could be a smart choice. However, cannabis isn’t without risks. As with any treatment option, talk to your doctor to discuss the pros and cons before taking cannabis as part of your cancer treatment regimen.