Can cannabis help cancer patients? Over the last few decades, researchers, healthcare professionals, cancer patients, and lawmakers have become more and more convinced of the therapeutic benefits of Medical Marijuana for treating cancer and other conditions.
Cannabis is not a panacea, nor is it a cure for cancer. There is promising research showing the potential of cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as antitumor medications. Other research, however, shows THC can encourage tumor growth in some cases.
Modern medicine has helped countless patients get rid of cancer through radiation, chemotherapy, surgical excisions, and other methods. Cannabis does not replace these traditional cancer treatments, but it can make a patient’s recovery much more bearable.
Here are a few of the most common ways cancer patients are finding relief through cannabis medicine.
Chemotherapy, perhaps the most well-known cancer therapy, works by using drugs to destroy fast-growing cells. While chemo is known to be an effective tool in treating cancer, it’s just as famous for its side effects.
Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often experience Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea (CIN).
“There is substantial evidence to support the conclusion that Medical Cannabis or cannabinoids are effective in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV),” a document by the Utah Cannabinoid Product Board and the Utah Department of Health states.
Delta-8 THC, a relative of delta-9, proved beneficial in reducing nausea in a study of eight children undergoing chemo for different blood cancers.
“Vomiting was completely eliminated. The side effects were negligible,” the study authors wrote.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Marinol (dronabinol), a synthetic THC, for medical use in the 1980s, and many cancer patients have used it for nausea ever since.
Because Marinol is synthetic, it contains none of the other therapeutic compounds, such as CBD, found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Therefore, some patients may prefer to use raw flower or other cannabis products with cannabinoids beyond THC alone.
Cancer-related pain can manifest in several ways. and numerous studies support cannabis as an effective way to manage both neuropathic (nerve) and visceral (organ) pain associated with cancer.
A 2010 study found cannabis treatments effective for patients with advanced cancer pain not fully relieved by potent opioids. Several guests on the “Utah in the Weeds” podcast, including a cancer patient, have shared their stories of using cannabis to reduce or eliminate their use of opioid pain relievers.
The effects of cannabis for cancer-related pain management can vary from patient to patient. Some patients find cannabis acts as an effective distraction from pain, while others say cannabis prevents or eliminates their pain.
According to the American Cancer Society, people with cancer sometimes have sleep problems brought on by treatment effects and other factors. Cancer patients may have different symptoms like pain, cramping, anxiety, or nausea that interrupt their sleep cycles.
With careful application, cannabis can help treat a range of sleep problems. Cannabis tinctures and edibles generally have longer-lasting effects than inhaled methods of cannabis ingestion, making them ideal for promoting restful, uninterrupted sleep.
Patients can also try inhaled methods to improve sleep quality, such as dry herb vaporizers and vape cartridges. Inhaling cannabis tends to cause more psychoactivity than other methods, so patients may find it helpful to wait at least 60 minutes between inhalation and bedtime.
Cancer patients often have feelings of anxiety and depression. Researchers in Israel found that 44 percent of cancer patients reduced their anxiety by using cannabis.
Another study found cancer patients reported several quality-of-life improvements, including reduced depression, after joining Canada’s Marihuana for Medical Purposes program.
THC is “biphasic,” meaning it can worsen conditions like anxiety and depression if used in excess. We strongly recommend keeping a journal to track how you’re feeling before and after you use cannabis. See our “Find Your ‘Just Right’ Dose” guide for details.
Dozens of states, including Utah, now have active Medical Cannabis programs. All of the states with legal Medical Marijuana recognize cancer as a qualifying condition.