My daughter’s school is participating in Cancer Awareness Week this week. This is something that is very near and dear to my heart since I lost my Pappaw to cancer last year. I still miss him dearly and often wonder if there isn’t more that could have been done to help him and more to be done to make his last days easier. So every day this week I will be posting something educational relating to cancer awareness, prevention and treatment. Some of these posts will be controversial, but they will be backed by scientific studies and evidence. I am not a doctor and do not claim to know the cure for cancer or the illnesses that come with cancer. These are just my thoughts on the studies I have read.

So I’ll just jump right into today’s topic. How can cannabis help cancer patients with pain and nausea?

When my Pappaw had cancer he decided his cancer was too far progressed to take any harsh treatments for his cancer. He decided to take hormonal treatments (which helped quite a bit for a year) and pain medications. He went through a period of time where the hormone treatments working helping and the pain medicines were keeping him pain free. But then the hormone treatments got less and less effective and the pain got worse so the pain medication prescriptions were increased. With this increase came a loss of appetite and nausea. His last days were hard and filled with pain. He never received any treatment from Cannabis since it’s illegal in my state and I still to this day wonder if cannabis could have helped him.

Cannabis Pain and Nausea Research

Cannabis is now legal is 20 states and Washington D.C. for use for cancer patients (my state still is not one of these 20 states). There have been pre-clinical studies done on animals to investigate cannabinoids. According to Cancer.gov:
Stimulating appetite

  • Many animal studies have shown that delta-9-THC and other cannabinoids stimulate appetite and can increase food intake.

Pain relief

  • Cannabinoid receptors (molecules that bind cannabinoids) have been studied in the brain,spinal cord, and nerve endings throughout the body to understand their roles in pain relief.
  • Cannabinoids have been studied for anti-inflammatory effects that may play a role in pain relief.

There have also been clinical trials done to study the effect of cannabis and cannabinoids on the side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. According to Cancer.gov:

Nausea and vomiting

  • Delta-9-THC taken by mouth: Two cannabinoid drugs approved in the United States are available under the names dronabinol and nabilone. Both dronabinol and nabilone are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting in patients who have not responded to standard therapy. Many clinical trials have shown that both dronabinol and nabilone worked as well as or better than some of the weaker FDA-approved drugs to relieve nausea and vomiting. Newer drugs given for chemotherapy-related nausea have not been directly compared with Cannabis or cannabinoids in cancer patients. In addition, Methamphetamine, or meth, is a drug that falls in the stimulant category of substances, much like cocaine. That drug has long lasting effects causes racing thoughts, hyperactivity, rapid heartbeat, weight loss, and feeling no need for sleep among other things. It also comes with a lot of other side-effects that are more physical, some very obvious, that are disfiguring and debilitating. And some of those are permanent.
  • Inhaled Cannabis: Three small trials have studied inhaled Cannabis for the treatment of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. Various study methods and chemotherapy agents were used with mixed results. There is not enough information to interpret these findings.

Stimulating appetite

  • Delta-9-THC taken by mouth: A clinical trial compared delta-9-THC (dronabinol) and a standard drug (megestrol) in patients with advanced cancer and loss of appetite. Results showed that delta-9-THC was not as effective in increasing appetite or weight gain in advanced cancer patients compared with standard therapy. However, a clinical trial of patients with HIV /AIDS and weight loss found that those who took delta-9-THC had increased appetite and stopped losing weight compared with patients who took a placebo.
  • Inhaled Cannabis: There are no published studies of the effect of inhaled Cannabis on cancer patients with loss of appetite. Studies of healthy people who inhaled Cannabis showed that they consumed more calories, especially high-fat and sweet snacks.

Pain relief

  • To date, no clinical trials have studied cannabinoids in the treatment of chemotherapy-related neuropathy in patients with cancer.
  • Combining cannabinoids with opioids: In a small study of 21 patients with chronic pain, combining vaporized Cannabis with morphine relieved pain better than morphine alone, while combining vaporized Cannabis with oxycodone did not produce significantly greater pain relief. These findings should be tested in further studies.
  • Delta-9-THC taken by mouth: Two small clinical trials of oral delta-9-THC showed that it relieved cancer pain. In the first study, patients had good pain relief as well as relief of nausea and vomiting and better appetite. A second study showed that delta-9-THC could be given in doses that gave pain relief comparable to codeine. An observational study of nabilone also showed that it relieved cancer pain along with nausea, anxiety, and distress when compared with no treatment. Neither dronabinol nor nabilone is approved by the FDA for pain management.
  • Whole Cannabis plant extract medicine: A study of a whole-plant extract of Cannabis that contained specific amounts of cannabinoids, which was sprayed under the tongue, found it was effective in patients with advanced cancer whose pain was not relieved by strong opioids alone. Patients who received the lower doses of cannabinoid spray showed markedly better pain control and less sleep loss compared with patients who received a placebo. Results showed that, for some patients, control of their cancer-related pain continued without needing higher doses of spray or higher doses of their other pain medicines.

Anxiety and sleep

  • Inhaled Cannabis: A small case series found that patients who inhaled marijuana had improved mood, improved sense of well-being, and less anxiety.
  • Whole Cannabis plant extract spray: A trial of a whole-plant extract of Cannabis that contained specific amounts of cannabinoids, which was sprayed under the tongue, found that patients had improved sleep quality.

My Thoughts

Now with all of these studies and the success stories I can not for the life of me understand why lawmakers would prevent cancer patients from having access to cannabis treatments. Ok, many services appearing around the issue to make Cannabis available, but still not enough. It infuriates me that lawmakers with little to no medical background are in charge of making decisions for our healthcare! If you are like me and furious then do something about it. Contact your representatives. Cannabis legalization may not effect you right now, but you can bet it is having an effect on someone close to you and you don’t even realize it.

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29 Comments

  1. They really should legalize it for medicinal purposes.. I have known people with cancer or or diseases that were in so much pain and this would have helped significantly. Cancer is terrible we lose people to it too much,

  2. Personally…I am for the use of cannabis to ease the effects of cancer and chemo. I am skeptical about a pill form working…it just doesn’t seem like it would help. I never thought I’d see it being legalized in states like it has in recent months. Cancer is such an unforgiving disease (and I’ve had far too many experiences with seeing what it does to the body and person), and I don’t care what makes someone feel better…they should have access to it especially when medical studies show it can help.

    1. Honestly pill form is something I know little about. I’ve mainly studied the effect of cannabis oils, vaporizing and smoking it. From what I understand vaporizing seems like the safest and most effective way to go for many patients.

  3. I had NO idea that it was cancer awareness week!! I’m all for easing the pain and making others feel better … great idea for a blog post 🙂

  4. I don’t like the idea of using it for recreational use, but like you I see no reason why it isn’t legalized everywhere for medicinal purposes. I think it will be eventually.

  5. I agree, it should be available for medicinal purposes. I’m concerned about just making it completely legal, though. My primary concern is how harmful it has been shown to be for teenagers’ developing brains.
    ~ Kimberly

    1. That’s a legitimate concern. As for medicinal purposes for youth, particularly with treatment for children with seizures, they are given oils with very low levels of THC (the psychoactive portion of cannabis). The low levels of THC are far less harmful than the chemicals in anti-seizure medications. And the cannabis actually works when many anti-seizure medications haven’t. It’s really a hard decision for any parent to make. And I’m not for full on legalization, but for medicinal purposes I think it’s very necessary to legalize it.

  6. First of all, I’d like to say that I’m sorry you Pappaw had to go through all of that. Cancer is terrible and that’s putting it lightly.

    If it helps with pain then I think it should certainly be legal. Also, it helps with appetite and people with cancer usually don’t have an appetite, so it could help. I say legalize it!

  7. Cancer is such a horrible disease. I am definitely for easing the pain of people suffering from cancer. Why not? I am glad that you are educating others on Cannabis as people like myself who have not gone through this may not know anything about it.

  8. Thanks for the posting that this is cancer awareness week. My mother is a cancer surviver. It’s hard on everyone who is there supporting the patient. I never heard of this form of remedy, it was very informative.

  9. Cancer is such an evil part of our lives. I don’t have a strong opinion either way on treatment, but you have caused me to want to give this more thought so that I do.

    1. I figured there would be some people like yourself who have fairly neutral opinions about the treatment. I’m glad my post has put this treatment on your radar as something to think about.

  10. Tiffany Steadman-Collins

    So sorry you lost someone so near and dear to your heart. I can relate and have sadly lost many to this nasty disease.

    I am still on the fence about canibus. I believe it has healing qualities but like all drugs once available they are often abused sadly.

    1. The difference between cannabis and many of the other drugs that are out there that are legal and prescribed WAY too often is that it is far easier to get addicted to other pain medications than it is cannabis. And the lasting effects of cannabis are far less dangerous. I’m not saying there won’t be those that abuse it. I just think the likeliness for abuse will be less than the highly addictive and dangerous pain meds that are out there right now.

  11. I never used cannibis but I am all for people accessing it for health reasons or to improve their quality of life.

    1. I’m not a cannabis user either. I just believe people that need it should have access to it. It’s kind of sad how legalization supporters can be mistaken for cannabis users.

  12. Cancer is horrible! I’m so sick of watching people I love fight it! 🙁 I agree though, cannabis should be legalized at least for medicinal reasons!

  13. I agree with you – people need to GET INFORMED. Find out what the benefits are, research, and contact your state reps.

  14. I agree, if it helps them then why not?

  15. I had no idea this was cancer awareness week. Thanks for the post!

  16. You did a great job and gave us a ton of information. Cancer is insidious and a cure is overdue for all types.

  17. The history of making cannabis illegal is an interesting one. Henry Anslinger was a fruit loop who used horrible racial prejudice to scare people away from it. I don’t think politicians today realize why it was made illegal so many years ago. It’s ridiculous.

  18. Cancer patients greatly benefit from cannabis! Chemo is terrible but cannabis makes it lighter. Great post!

  19. Great info about cancer and cannabis! “Cannabinoids have been studied for anti-inflammatory effects that may play a role in pain relief.”- Amazing!

  20. Cannabis is now legal is 20 states and Washington D.C and any other states around the world Many clinical trials have shown that both dronabinol and nabilone worked as well which marijuana can provide.

  21. For me, it is a good thing. Cannabis has really a huge place in the medical industry. It cures not just one disease but a lot of it.
    Athea Jo recently posted…June’s Strain of the Month: Strawberry CoughMy Profile

  22. I am glad to know that more and more people can benefit from the wonderful properties of cannabis.
    James recently posted…Best Budtender Certification Programs | Looking for Dispensary Jobs?My Profile

  23. Some of the medical professionals truly believe that cannabis can alleviate the pain or even headache of patients with cancer. This is so intriguing yet there are studies that claim this matter to be successful or effective.

  24. I found it interesting that the use of cannabis for cancer patients is now legal in around 20 states. It also reminded me of my uncle, who has been suffering from chronic pain ever since he started taking his chemotherapy sessions. Maybe he can ask a doctor and see if using a broad spectrum tincture of 1000 mg would help.

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