How Medical Marijuana Helps Cancer Patients
Whole-plant cannabis contains multiple compounds that help to manage pain, counteract the side effects of chemotherapy, and improve the mood and outlook of cancer patients.
The body does not develop tolerance to medical marijuana as it does to opiate drugs, requiring increasingly higher doses to achieve the same level of comfort. Patients do not experience the unpleasant side effects, like constipation and disorientation, of opiate drugs.
- Pain – Cancer pain is caused by inflammation, nerve injury, and tumors invading bone and other sensitive tissue. It is chronic and persistent. Medical cannabis helps relieve pain by reducing inflammation and triggering the body to produce a natural analgesic. Ajulemic acid (Aja), a metabolite of THC, is an effective analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent.
- Neuropathy – Nerve damage resulting from chemotherapy and other cancer treatments often results in feelings of weakness, numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands and feet. Medical marijuana offers relief from neuropathic pain.
- Nausea and vomiting – Nausea and vomiting is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Nabilone and Dronabinol are synthetic cannabinoids approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of nausea. However, they are single-molecule drugs and do not offer the additional benefits of whole-plant marijuana.
- Loss of appetite – Medical marijuana stimulates the appetite so that cancer patients again enjoy eating and can consume the nutrients their bodies need.
- Anti-neoplastic – Studies in the lab show that marijuana may be effective in slowing down or stopping the growth of certain tumors. Some liver, prostate, lung, pancreatic, oral, and colon cancer cells, as well as abnormal immune cells in blood cancers such as leukemia, have cannabinoid (CB)1 and CB2 receptors. Cancer cells with or CB2 receptors react to the presence of THC or CBD, the two most active ingredients in marijuana.
Studies of the properties of medical marijuana indicate that marijuana can act against cancer by inducing apoptosis (the natural process of cell death), inhibiting proliferation of abnormal cells, and stimulating the immune system. The response of cancer cells to cannabinoids is sensitive to dosage. Your doctor will work with you to determine the right dosage of medical marijuana, monitoring your body’s response.