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