There’s much discussion in the medical community regarding cannabis as a treatment for cancer, the number one cause of death in Canada. In 2017 alone, more than 200,000 Canadians were diagnosed with cancer.
The research on this topic has come quite a long way. Even the National Cancer Institute of America, directed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, has confirmed that cannabis has been shown to shrink cancerous cells in lab mice. This type of admission from such a big name in medical research is shocking to say the least. And while this is very promising, it’s still unfortunately not enough evidence to truly validate cannabis as a treatment for cancer—yet.
In most major countries, doctors are still unable to prescribe a medical marijuana treatment plan for cancer or cancerous tumours themselves. But there has been more exhaustive and conclusive research on cannabis as a treatment for many of the symptoms that come with cancer and chemotherapy, including nausea, lack of appetite, weight loss and pain.
In one study, 211 cancer patients were treated with natural cannabis for six to eight weeks to combat side effects. Out of the original 211 subjects, 131 patients finished the trial and were surveyed on their results. Of those 131 patients, 96% of them reported “significant improvement” on every measured symptom, including:
- Mood disorders
- Weight loss
- Sexual function
- Sleep disorders
Symptoms of Cancer & Chemotherapy that Cannabis Can Help Treat
A Combination of CBD & THC Can Help Ease Pain
Chronic pain is a severe side effect plaguing most cancer patients. For many, the most common opioid painkillers can help alleviate that pain. But opioids come with pretty serious side effects, from constipation to extreme addiction. Patients who don’t want to risk experiencing opioids’ side effects are in need of a more holistic treatment for chronic pain.
The desire for a safer, more natural alternative is why so many turn to medical marijuana instead of opioids. A survey of 271 Canadian medical cannabis patients showed that 60% of respondents used cannabis to manage pain symptoms, and 30% used cannabis instead of opioid drugs.
Another study released in 2017 concluded that the cannabinoids in cannabis help manage pain effectively. This study was conducted by a committee of over 15 MDs and PhDs, and looked at 10,000-plus scientific studies on the topic. It also reflected a similar conclusion by Harvard University researchers who reviewed six chronic pain studies, which supported the use of cannabis as a pain reliever.
Both of these findings add credence to the study by the University of California, Berkeley and HelloMD in which nearly 3,000 medical marijuana patients were surveyed, and 97% reported that they could decrease their opioid intake when using cannabis for pain management.
For chronic pain, a combination of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can help. Try a strain like Clearview Kush by Peace Naturals, which is a sativa hybrid with a high-THC content and small dose of CBD.
Numerous Studies Show Cannabis Can Effectively Treat Nausea
Besides hair loss and chronic pain, nausea is one of the most common side effects of cancer and chemotherapy. For as many as 20% of cancer patients, the continuous sensation of nausea is much worse than vomiting is. (Vomiting is a side effect that’s more successfully controlled by many pharmaceutical drugs.) And it can actually lead some to discontinue treatment altogether.
Luckily, one of the most concrete medical uses of cannabis is to relieve nausea. Marijuana’s anti-emetic properties are backed by scientific research and centuries of ancient medicinal history. Health Canada has approved two synthetic cannabinoid medications, Marinol and Nabilone, as weapons against chemo-related nausea and vomiting.
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In a 2011, a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology looked into the “considerable evidence” that the endocannabinoid system (ECS), through which cannabis is synthesized in the body, regulates nausea and vomiting in humans and other animals. The researchers examined over a decade’s worth of research on the topic, from animal models to human trials.
The study concluded, “Both preclinical and human clinical research suggests that cannabinoid compounds may have promise in treating nausea in chemotherapy patients.”
For nausea, try Aphria’s Capilano oil. This oil harnesses the synergistic power of both THC and CBD to calm the body and stamp out nausea. Aphria’s oils are taken orally, and one 45 mL bottle will use 9 g of your monthly prescription, because 5 mL of oil is equal to 1 g of dried cannabis flower.
Look to Marijuana as an Appetite Stimulant
Not only is cannabis an effective treatment for nausea, but it goes one step further than traditional anti-nausea medications. For many undergoing chemotherapy, food can start to lose its taste completely or begin tasting metallic. Others simply lose their appetite completely. That’s where medical marijuana comes in. Cannabis can actually increase appetite and improve the sense of taste—two things traditional anti-nausea drugs don’t do. And that can dramatically help a cancer patient that has lost the will to eat and is experiencing serious weight loss due to lack of appetite.
In a 2011 study, adult, advanced-cancer patients with poor appetite and a skewed sense of taste were treated with a synthetic version of THC twice daily for 18 days. Another group was treated with a placebo. After the 18 days, 21 patients who completed the trial were examined; 73% of THC-treated patients showed improved appreciation for food and an enhanced sense of taste and smell. Meanwhile, 64% said they felt an increase in appetite and preference for protein-based foods.
To increase appetite and appreciation for food, it’s important to try cannabis with a higher THC content like Emblem’s Astral Plane. This strain has a nearly 14% THC content, a nice medium-high amount that can help boost the appetite. Before consuming this strain, be aware that high-THC content will result in psychoactive effects.
THC Is Shown to Help People Fall & Stay Asleep
For many cancer patients, sleep is all too illusive. And if a patient can fall asleep, it’s often hard for them sleep through the night. It’s obvious that a proper sleep regimen is vitally important for the healthy functioning of any person, but it’s especially critical to those battling serious diseases like cancer. While there are many pharmaceutical sleep aids on the market, many of them have side effects that are far from ideal for cancer patients, including:
- Changes in appetite
- Stomach pains
- Physical weakness
A 2008 study looked into the effects of THC on sleep. This study showed that THC promotes sleep by binding with the ECS’s CB1 receptors throughout the body to create sedative effects. By binding with the CB1 receptor, THC is able to promote sedation and sleep by inhibiting the arousal system. It also increases the level of adenosine, a chemical that promotes sleep.
In another study, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at 17 young participants with sleep apnea who were treated with synthetic THC pills before bed. All of the test subjects showed improved sleep patterns. The researchers concluded that THC is able to stabilize autonomic output and decrease the severity of the sleep disorder.
Marijuana strains with a high level of THC, rather than CBD, are more likely to promote sedation and sleep. Indica cannabis strains are thought to be more effective for sleep issues than sativas are.
Try the Stellio by MedReleaf as a sleep aid. This indica strain ranges from 18–21 mg of THC, a higher dose that will help sedate and may even boost appetite as well.
If you or someone you know is undergoing treatment for cancer, cannabis could provide relief for many of the accompanying side effects. You can now have a medicinal cannabis consultation through HelloMD. The process is all online, so you can get your medical marijuana prescription and chat to a health practitioner all from the comfort and privacy of your own home.
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