Cannabis and Cancer
Marijuana (also known as cannabis, pot, weed, Mary Jane, hash, etc.) comes in many forms; flower, wax, shatter, RSO, etc...
The plant’s medicinal practices go back to ancient times, however it still remains controversial in the United States. Now legal in Oklahoma with the issuance of a medical marijuana card. Yes, Cancer is absolutely on the list of approved conditions!
Marijuana has active ingredients called cannabinoids that can help regulate numerous biological functions in many organisms. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a cannabinoid that produces a “high” feeling that many users attribute to marijuana, but it can also be beneficial for many side effects of cancer and its treatments. Cannabidiol (CBD) is another cannabinoid that has many potential applications in cancer and other serious medical conditions.
Cancer and Marijuana
A number of studies involving individuals undergoing cancer treatment have shown that medical marijuana can help in managing the following:
Pain. Marijuana can work similarly to opioids (the strongest pain relievers available) when treating individuals living with cancer related pain. Additionally, it may have anti-inflammatory effects that can help with pain. Some treatment plans may include both opioids and marijuana.
Neuropathy. Neuropathy is a medical term for nerve damage, which is a common complication of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. It is typically characterized by a feeling of weakness, numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands and feet. Medical marijuana has been shown to provide relief for those experiencing pain from neuropathy.
Nausea and vomiting. Many individuals living with cancer experience nausea and vomiting as a side effect of chemotherapy. There are many medications available to treat this symptom. Dronabinol is a synthetic cannabinoid that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this indication. Additionally, studies have shown that medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for nausea and vomiting.
Anorexia or cachexia. Anorexia is the medical term for loss of appetite. Cachexia and wasting syndrome is a phenomenon of unintentional weight loss, specifically the loss of lean muscle and fat. It is often accompanied by fatigue and a decline in functional abilities. The synthetic cannabinoid dronabinol is also FDA-approved for anorexia associated with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), but not specifically for cancer. There are limited studies that demonstrate the efficacy of medical marijuana in the management of these symptoms. However, marijuana may improve one’s appetite and this condition may be a state-approved indication for medical marijuana.
Anti-neoplastic. Pre-clinical studies (lab and animal testing) show that marijuana may be effective in slowing down or stopping the growth of certain tumors. To date, there has been one small human trial to study this anti-cancer effect. However, there are other studies that show an association between recreational marijuana use and the development of certain cancers. These studies do not show that marijuana is a cause of these cancers, but only that there could be some link. Further research is needed to understand the safety profile and potential anti-neoplastic effects of this treatment.
The labeling of marijuana as an illegal drug has greatly limited the research of its medical applications. However, there has been increasing interest in this field over the past few decades. More studies are needed to fully understand the exciting potential benefits to improve symptoms and quality of life for individuals living with cancer.