What Cannabis Can Do for Cancer Symptoms

If you are using cannabis to treat cancer, you might notice some of the following symptoms related to the disease:

  • Pain 
  • Neuropathy or nerve damage 
  • Nausea 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Cachexia or “wasting” syndrome, which is extreme weight loss and muscle loss 
  • Depression

It is important to note that there is no proof that cannabis can completely cure cancer. Cancer patients should always have individualized treatment plans that include thorough, collaborative decision-making and regular checkups with their healthcare team. Cannabis can be an important addition to chemotherapy, but it cannot be used in place of conventional cancer treatments.

Cancer-Related Symptoms and Cannabis Delivery Methods 

The potential for cannabis to help cancer patients with a number of cancer-related issues is shown in the following excerpt from Opportunities for Cannabis in Supportive Care in Cancer. It is important to note that although further clinical trials are necessary, this information serves as an excellent starting point when considering cannabis products in order to treat chemotherapy and radiation side effects.

Vaporizing or Smoking

  • Within 2-30 minutes after breathing in, peak levels begin and may endure up to 4 hours.
  • Symptoms are relieved quickly.
  • Useful while vomiting occurs and a patient is unable to keep food down.
  • In persons with breathing problems such as asthma or lung cancer, it might cause respiratory tract irritation.
  • Patients with thoracic cancer or lung cancer may need to avoid certain foods.
  • Smoking is linked to free radicals produced by combustion and carries health risks.
  • The risk for infection is going up.

Edibles, Pills, or Tinctures

  • Bioactive compounds may be detected in the circulation 1-6 hours after dosing.
  • Slower onset, but more persistent than smoking or vaping.
  • The intensity of cannabis side effects may be increased even more.
  • Because Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has low and variable bioavailability (6-20%), it might be more difficult to administer.

Creams, Lotions, or Ointments

  • Ineffective and unappealing bioavailability.
  • A cannabis product that is applied directly to the skin and the pain site.

Keeping these factors in mind

It’s important to consult with your oncologist before utilizing cannabis for cancer as there can be dangerous side effects and drug interactions with other medicines you’re taking, particularly those used for chemotherapy and cholesterol medications. Some of the adverse effects of the drug include sleepiness, mood changes, diminished blood pressure, and a change in heart rate. There are also diseases that may make it difficult to take the drug.

Can cannabinoids slow down the growth of cancer? 

Cannabis has been shown to have anti-neoplastic effects in animal and human studies, suggesting that it has the potential to slow or halt the growth of cancerous tumors. The use of marijuana and its associated cannabinoids is a promising possibility for improving patient outcomes when used in conjunction with existing cancer treatments. Marijuana and its cannabinoids are thought to have anti-cancer properties.

As reported in this publication, the use of cannabis for medical purposes has the capability of defeating cancer’s ability to override programmed cell death (apoptosis) as well as combating tumor cell invasion and preventing or slowing cancer cell metastatic spread. Among the most common types of brain and spinal tumors are gliomas, melanoma (skin cancer), pancreatic cancer, and cancers originating from the liver.

It is important to mention, however, that in certain types of cancer, such as HER2-positive breast cancer, cannabinoids that activate the cannabinoid receptor CB2 of the endocannabinoid system, such as cannabidiol (CBD), may actually promote tumor growth. Furthermore, CBD is ineffective against ovarian cancer. Kaposi’s sarcoma has a similar detrimental response to increasing cancer.

It’s worth noting, however, that not all types of cancer respond to cannabis treatment with THC and CBD in the same way. Furthermore, because not all forms of cancer are enhanced by THC and CBD, it’s critical to discuss cannabis usage with your oncologist if you’re dealing with any type of disease.

Understanding Cancer Symptoms and How Cannabis May Help

Reduce Pain

Patients with cancer can experience chronic pain, which is ongoing and lasts three months or more, as well as intermittent pain and breakthrough pain that isn’t controlled by usual pain medications. This discomfort can be caused by a tumor pushing into healthy tissue while it grows or as a result of chemotherapy or surgery treatment.

Even though there is little research on using cannabis for cancer-related pain in a clinical setting, there is some anecdotal evidence that it may be beneficial, although not enough to suggest widespread usage. Cancer.gov, on the other hand, claims that cannabis use can assist people who have chronic pain as a result of cancer.

The Journal of Pain and Symptom Management published a 2010 study that found there is a need for more clinical research on the use of cannabis for cancer-related pain. This multicenter, double-blind study compared 1:1 THC/CBD cannabis extract with THC extract in patients with intractable pain. According to a study published in the Journal of Pain by Johnson et al, patients who continue to have pain despite taking opioids had similar symptoms. The THC-only group did not experience significant improvement over the placebo, but those receiving a combination of THC and CBD experienced a 30 percent reduction in baseline pain levels.

Neuropathy

Neuropathy, or nerve damage, can result from chemotherapy, surgery, radiation treatments, or tumors pressing on or compressing a nerve. Neuropathy may be felt in a variety of ways, including burning or tingling discomfort, loss of feeling, weakness, sharp and shooting pain, balance issues, and difficulty grasping objects. Medical marijuana has been found to lessen chronic inflammation generated by cancer via manipulation of the body’s immune response. 

In a 2013 double-blind and placebo-controlled study, researchers studied patients who still experienced neuropathy pain with traditional therapies. 39 patients were given a 3.53 percent vaping cannabis dose, 1.29 percent vaping cannabis dose, or a placebo cannabis dosage. According to this research, there was no significant difference in pain between the active cannabis dosages

Nausea

Vomiting and nausea are common side effects of chemotherapy. In certain people, some chemotherapy treatments can cause nausea and vomiting. It is critical that you communicate with your doctor if you are feeling sick or nauseated so that they may help alleviate those treatment effects. If you’re receiving chemotherapy in pill form, it’s crucial to follow your doctor’s instructions.

Chemotherapy is intended to kill cancer cells, but it may also irritate the lining of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach, which can be irritated by certain cancer medicines and induce vomiting. The body and brain will also identify the chemotherapy as a foreign substance, causing nausea and vomiting. CBD has been demonstrated to modulate the secretion of substance P and relieve nausea, functioning as an antiemetic.

5-HT3 receptor antagonists are the most often used class of antiemetics or anti-nausea medications. The gastrointestinal tract is lined with 5-HT3 receptors, which bind to extra serotonin produced by the brain in response to chemotherapy and cause nausea. Cannabis has been found to have an antiemetic effect by blocking these receptors, similar to anti-nausea medications. CBD is shown to operate as a 5-HT3 receptor modulator by decreasing the serotonin that binds to them, which reduces nausea.

Cachexia

Cachexia is a condition that causes weight loss, anorexia, lack of energy, weakness, and loss of strength, and anemia (the inability of blood cells to effectively transport oxygen to the body). It’s very typical for people who are losing weight due to Cachexia to have lost not just superficial pounds, but also more substantial amounts of muscle and fat. Once the body has eaten muscle and other tissues, it becomes unable to combat infection, resulting in deterioration during advanced stages of cancer and potential death after treatment.

The endocannabinoid system, once triggered by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, can assist stimulate appetite via the hypothalamus, hindbrain, limbic system, intestinal tract, and adipose tissue. Marijuana usage may also aid in the treatment of hunger issues in persons with head and neck cancers that experience dysgeusia.

There is some evidence suggesting that medical cannabis may help with cachexia treatment. In research presented in the Journal of Cancer, researchers investigated the ability of cannabis to enhance appetite in cancer patients. The researchers discovered that patients who received THC had better quality of life scores when it came to bigger pre meal hunger and improved food taste, suggesting that the drug may improve appetite in cancer patients.

Cannabis-based pharmaceuticals

It is important to note that Dronabinol and Nabiximols are two different drug therapies that contain both THC and CBD. It has been announced that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved dronabinol, which is a gelatin capsule containing THC. This medication is used to alleviate nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy in patients. Oncology trials have looked at Dronabinol, but it has not been proven to be more beneficial than placebos or other treatments in clinical trials.

Nabiximols (Sativex) is a THC and CBD-based drug that can only be obtained by prescription. It’s a whole cannabis plant extract mouth spray that contains both THC and CBD. It isn’t licensed in the United States yet, but it appears to help relieve cancer pain that can’t be relieved with pain medication. In some cases, however, nabiximols have not been found to help. More study is being conducted, though.

Nabilone, also known as Cesamet, is a man-made cannabinoid that does not include any marijuana. It contains synthetic cannabinoids and is used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer.

An Oncologist’s Perspective

A 2019 research published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management surveyed a group of 237 oncologists to assess what they thought about medical cannabis’s perceived benefits. This study focused on responses regarding three areas of cancer treatment, including those concerning patients near the end of life, early-stage cancer patients, and cancer survivors.

Overall, 82.8 percent of oncologists agreed that cannabis has end-of-life advantages for cancer patients. The majority of these oncologists also believed that medical cannabis increased appetite and battled cachexia, while only half thought it was useful for nausea and anxiety.

*DigiDrs is not offering this as professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self diagnose, or prescribe treatment based on the information provided in these pages. Consult a physician before making decisions on the treatment of any of these medical conditions.

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