For centuries, marijuana has found a place in herbal remedies, and today, scientists are uncovering the therapeutic potential of its many biologically active components, known as cannabinoids. Two of the most extensively studied cannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). However, in the United States, marijuana and its cannabinoids remain classified as Schedule I controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration, making them illegal at the federal level. The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved whole or crude marijuana for any medical use. Nevertheless, many states have passed laws allowing the use of marijuana to treat specific medical conditions, and some cannabinoid-based medications are FDA-approved.
Alleviating Symptoms of Cancer
The potential benefits of marijuana while dealing with cancer are becoming increasingly evident. Smoked marijuana has shown promise in alleviating nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy, offering relief to cancer patients. Additionally, several studies suggest that inhaled marijuana can effectively manage neuropathic pain, which results from damaged nerves. Notably, marijuana has also been found to boost food intake in HIV patients.
Marijuana’s Impact on Cancer Itself
Exciting breakthroughs have emerged regarding marijuana’s potential to influence the behavior of cancer cells. Both THC and CBD exhibit the capability to impede the growth and induce cell death in specific types of cancer cells. Nonetheless, it is crucial to highlight that while these studies confirm the safety of cannabis cancer treatment, they do not conclusively establish their efficacy in controlling or eradicating the disease. Therefore, a cautious approach is advised, with an emphasis on integrating THC for cancer pain as a supplementary therapy rather than a sole solution.
Cannabinoids in Cancer Treatment
Research into treating cancer with cannabinoids has been going on for quite sometime. Cannabinoid-based medications, approved for medical use in the US, include:
- Dronabinol (Marinol/Syndros): Contains delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is FDA-approved to combat nausea and vomiting stemming from cancer chemotherapy. It’s also used to address weight loss and poor appetite in AIDS patients.
- Nabilone (Cesamet): A synthetic cannabinoid similar to THC and cancer, it can be taken orally to manage nausea and vomiting resulting from cancer chemotherapy when other medications prove ineffective.
- Nabiximols: A cannabinoid drug under study in the US, it’s a mouth spray with a nearly one-to-one mix of THC and CBD. It’s used in Canada and parts of Europe to treat cancer-related pain and symptoms such as muscle spasms and pain from multiple sclerosis. While not yet approved in the US, clinical trials are underway to explore its potential benefits for various conditions.
Cannabinoids and Symptom Management
Cannabinoids and chemotherapy go hand in hand, as cannabinoid medications have shown efficacy in managing symptoms, including:
- Nausea and Vomiting: Dronabinol has been found effective in reducing nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.
- Appetite Stimulation: Both dronabinol and marijuana extracts have improved food intake and prevented weight loss in patients with HIV.
- Pain Relief: The use of cannabinoids has been associated with reduced pain and improved sleep in some patients.
It’s essential to emphasize that while cannabinoids and cancer treatment show potential, they should not be considered a standalone replacement for conventional cancer care. Relying solely on marijuana and edibles for cancer pain and delaying or avoiding standard medical care can have serious health consequences.
Potential Relief for Cancer Patients
Although many U.S. cancer patients use cannabis for symptom management, doctors often feel uncomfortable discussing it due to legal complexities. Recent research led by Dr. Sandra A. Bryan aimed to fill the knowledge gap. The study involved 25 cancer patients using cannabis for two weeks, with the freedom to choose from various edible cannabis products. Initially, cannabis provided rapid pain relief but temporarily impaired cognition.
Surprisingly, after two weeks, patients reported improved pain, sleep quality, and cognitive function. Those who consumed cannabinoids in cancer treatment experienced more significant improvements in pain and sleep quality. While further research is needed, these findings suggest that edibles and chemo might help address cognitive issues related to cancer treatment and enhance overall well-being for patients. Dr. Bryan, who personally incorporated cannabis into her post-surgery and chemotherapy regimen, emphasizes the importance of offering better-informed options for both patients and doctors in cancer treatment.
The potential benefits of cannabis in cancer treatment are emerging, with cannabinoids offering relief from symptoms and showing promise in slowing the growth of certain cancer cells. Approved cannabinoid medications provide options for managing side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea and vomiting. While ongoing research is needed to further understand the full scope of cannabis’s potential, it should be used in conjunction with standard medical care for cancer to ensure the best outcomes for patients.