There are at least 10 good reasons why cancer patients ask for medical cannabis recommendations. While the verdict is still out on whether or not cannabis can treat or cure cancer, there are many ways in which the herb is beneficial for cancer patients. Here are 10 ways cannabis can make life with cancer a little easier.
Chronic pain is among one of the most severe side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. It’s also one of the most common reasons why patients seek out medical cannabis recommendations.
In fact, in a survey of 271 Canadian medical cannabis patients found that 60 percent of respondents opted to use cannabis to manage symptoms over pharmaceutical drugs.
Of that 63 percent, 30 reported that they preferred cannabis to prescription painkillers. Prescription painkillers are often prescribed to cancer patients to manage their symptoms even though cannabis, which is considered a less-addictive and non-toxic alternative, exists as a potential treatment option.
2. Nausea and vomiting
There is no doubt that chemotherapy and radiation treatments are grueling. Intense nausea and vomiting are perhaps two of the most debilitating side effects of the cancer treatments.
Human studies have shown that multiple cannabis compounds have antiemetic properties and successfully reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
In fact, cannabis compounds were so successful that pharmaceutical companies even created synthetic versions to legally sell to patients undergoing chemotherapy. This drug is marketed as Marinol.
3. Skin irritations
Feeling itchy? Developing a skin rash? These irritating ailments are common in patients undergoing conventional cancer treatments. The compounds in cannabis, called cannabinoids, are potent anti-inflammatory agents. This means that they may be helpful for calming minor inflammation-based allergic reactions like allergic dermatitis.
Interview research of cancer patients using medical cannabis treatments found that patients reported relief from itchy side effects. While most patients consumed oral or inhaled cannabis, the herb can also be applied topically in balms and salves. Topical cannabis application does not cause a psychotropic “high.”
4. Appetite and weight management
Apart from pain, nausea, and vomiting, an extreme loss of appetite is a major side effect of chemotherapy drugs. It’s fairly common knowledge that cannabis causes “the munchies“, stimulating a sudden increase in appetite. For cancer patients, what may come as an unwelcome side effect for some is a welcome relief.
Not only does cannabis tap into cell receptor systems that seem to stimulate the release of the primary hunger hormone ghrelin, but it also boosts the pleasure response to food in the brain. This not only makes you more hungry but can also help you get more enjoyment out of eating.
5. Mental health and well-being
There is no doubt that going through times of severe illness can do a number on your mental health. Cannabis is beloved by many for its euphoric and mood stimulating properties.
While the happy and upbeat “high” caused by psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is often the most popular choice among cannabis patients with mental health ailments, even non-psychotropic cannabidiol (CBD) is thought to improve mood and promote a positive sense of well-being.
In rodent studies, scientists have shown that CBD rapidly boosts levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is the molecule targeted by many popular antidepressant drugs. While most antidepressants can take up to several weeks to kick in, this preclinical research suggests that CBD begins to exert positive effects after a single dose.
Low doses of THC have also been found to boost serotonin levels, giving it an antidepressant effect.
One of the most famous side effects of cannabis consumption is drowsiness. Certain cannabis cultivars are more likely to cause drowsiness than others. As a loose guide, strains classified as indicas or Kush varieties are thought to encourage sleepiness and sedation.
Research on THC has also found that the cannabis compound tends to help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Cannabis is also thought to extend the time a person spends in deep sleep, which is considered the restorative phase of the sleep cycle.
7. Digestive distress
Constipation and diarrhea are two possible side effects of cancer treatment. Constipation is often associated with imbalances in the bacterial communities in the intestinal tract. Research suggests that cannabis compounds can alter the ratio of bacteria in the gut, promoting a more balanced internal ecosystem.
Feeling plugged up can also be a side effect of cancer medications, especially opiate pain medications. As mentioned above, many medical cannabis patients prefer the herb over prescription pain killers, potentially allowing them to reduce their doses of the pharmaceuticals and thereby easing side effects.
Diarrhea is associated with inflammation in the intestinal tract and can also be a side effect of cancer treatments. Recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that cannabis can reduce inflammation that contributes to intestinal distress.
8. Chronic fatigue
While some types of cannabis can make you sleepy, others have stimulating and energetic qualities. Though every different cannabis cultivar is unique, those classified as “sativas” are often thought to provide stimulating effects that can be compared to a morning cup of coffee. These varieties provide mental energy that can make it easier to start the day.
9. Sexual health
Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from a little sexual healing. All jokes aside, it can be extremely difficult for anyone suffering from chronic illness to maintain libido whether it’s due to severe pain and fatigue or as a side effect of a medication.
While sex, when you’re sick, may sound awful to some, feeling unable to please a partner and missing out on sexual love yourself can be heartbreaking.
Cannabis can improve sexual health in several different ways. The herb has been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries and recent research confirms that many consumers find that it enhances their sexual pleasure.
The benefits of cannabis for sexual health are subjective but meaningful. Many find that the herb helps them come into the present moment, temporarily leaving worries and anxiety behind. The plant also eases pain and relaxes muscles, making it much easier to feel physical pleasure and get in the mood for love.
10. Anti-cancer properties
While cannabis may help nine of the most common symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments, the most remarkable thing about the herb is its anti-cancer properties.
The ability of cannabis compounds to successfully kill cancer and tumor cells is currently a major area of investigation for biopharmaceutical companies and research institutions.
In laboratory and animal models, both THC and CBD have been found to trigger cell death, halt proliferation, and prevent the spread of cancer cells. They have also been found to block blood vessel formation in tumor cells, essentially starving the growths.
In a 2017 proof of concept study conducted by GW Pharmaceuticals, 21 patients with a severe and aggressive form of brain cancer (recurrent glioblastoma multiforme) were treated with a cannabis-based medicine.
Patients treated with the cannabis-based medicine had an 83 percent chance of surviving at least one year. Those treated with the placebo only had a 53 percent one-year survival rate.
Similarly, those treated with the cannabis-based medicine had a median survival rate of 550 days, while that number was only 369 days for the placebo group.
While this research is preliminary, many medical cannabis patients opt to take high doses of medical cannabis oil in an effort to take advantage of some of the anti-cancer properties of cannabis. Though, there is no high-quality scientific evidence to say whether or not this is a good idea.
Want to learn more about cannabis and cancer? Check out the full guide here.