Cannabis: The stigma, the current state, and the importance of your health care team

The use of cannabis continues to make headlines in the news – there’s no denying that it’s a controversial topic. Just this past week, research from Penn State College of Medicine hit the news as their results show medical marijuana may stop the growth of colon cancer cells.

In March 2018, we discussed medical marijuana in a blog post to cover the differences between tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC, and Cannabidiol (CBD), and to cover the potential benefits for side-effect management among colon and rectal cancer patients and survivors. In January 2019, we also hosted a Taboo-ty podcast episode that gets more in “the weeds” (pun intended).

The discourse surrounding this topic continues in a variety of online threads and within focused offline chats. Because there are still so many questions and “unknowns,” we decided to break it down even more for our patient community, allowing survivors to educate themselves about medical marijuana for cancer and make their own decisions with their medical providers regarding its use.

Where are we now with marijuana legalization?
Currently, the use of marijuana legally is as follows:

  • Medical marijuana is legal in 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia
  • Marijuana is allowed for recreational use in 10 states
  • Marijuana use is decriminalized in 13 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands

Why does the stigma of marijuana exist?

While there is an apparent shift in the laws (in 1996, California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis), the use of cannabis for medical purposes is still stigmatized from a societal standpoint. According to some, this stigma stems from the prohibition of cannabis in the early 1900s followed by decades of missing information, racial prejudices, and politics.

The continuation of the Federal designation of cannabis as a “schedule I” drug paints its use in a negative light. Afterall, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Drugs that fall within this category also include heroin and methaqualone.

Health-related stigma is not a new phenomenon and is seen in many other areas of healthcare as well. Unfortunately, it can often mean people do not seek the care and services that could be of benefit.

Many cancer patients struggle with the management of conditions like nausea, anxiety, and inability to eat, which have been shown to benefit from medical marijuana. Therefore, in the states where access to medical marijuana is legal, it could serve as an additional option to the variety of treatment options currently available. However, the results of a small study of medical marijuana users, suggest that the stigma of using medical marijuana may lead to under-treatment of those who might benefit from medical marijuana.

In many states, the stigma is changing, and this could be in part to the role of pharmacist inclusion in dispensing marijuana. One example is in medical cannabis dispensary located in Bristol, CT. Connecticut was the first state to mandate that a registered pharmacist (PharmD) be onsite at all medical cannabis dispensaries. Other states have followed suit (Arkansas, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania). Having a PharmD involved in the process of medical marijuana could be a huge step in reducing stigma for many. Pharmacists are able to answer specific questions, are more familiar with drug interactions, and are trained to counsel patients.

Is cannabis use a “one-size-fits-all”?

The use of medical marijuana is not one-size-fits-all. For some patients, medical cannabis for cancer may not provide benefits or ease side effects. For patients on certain medications, the use of medical cannabis may have a bad drug interaction. Patients who have a history of drug or alcohol abuse may need counseling prior to making any decisions about the use of medical cannabis. And some patients may not want to use medical cannabis for personal reasons.

In states where it is legal for medical purposes, it is important to be informed, as medical cannabis is an option – but the laws can be confusing. The bottom line: it’s imperative to talk to your doctor before heading to a dispensary where medical marijuana is sold, to make sure that your treatment team is up to date, and to make sure they discuss with you the risks and benefits – just as they would with any other treatment.

Where’s the research? What now?

Researching marijuana has been incredibly challenging, as noted in the recent Taboo-ty Podcast with Dr. Glode. She notes that there is only one federal government contractor who has been given the green light to grow marijuana for federally funded research. It is grown by a contractor from the University of Mississippi. This has made it challenging for large, high-quality studies to be carried out. In addition, the marijuana grown there likely has a different potency than the strains grown in other places, making it hard to truly understand the effects of cannabis.

However, the new research out of Penn State is exciting. Researchers studied lab-made derivatives of over 350 compounds found in marijuana and watched how they interacted with CRC cells. They found that ten of the compounds may be beneficial against colon cancer. While more research still needed, it is incredibly encouraging to see that this type of research is being carried out.

As research continues to grow and support the therapeutic use of cannabis for some medical conditions, the public is becoming more informed, and perhaps the stigma will continue to decrease. In fact, more than 60 U.S. and international health organizations openly support immediate legal access to medicinal marijuana under a physician’s supervision.

Let us know below in the comments what your experience with cannabis has been and any questions you may have!

The information and services provided by Fight Colorectal Cancer are for general informational purposes only. The information and services are purely educational and are not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is important to note that medical cannabis products may expose you to chemicals known to cause cancer and/or reproductive harm, therefore it is important to speak with your doctor before making any treatment decisions. Cannabis is currently listed as a Schedule I controlled substance pursuant to the federal Controlled Substances Act. Consequently, possession, distribution, cultivation, and manufacture of cannabis are illegal under federal law. State regulations regarding the medical use, possession and sale of cannabis differs by state. It is your responsibility to be aware of, and abide by, all laws and regulations.

Fight Colorectal Cancer only provides educational services and never recommends or endorses any specific physicians, products or treatments for any condition.

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2 comments on “Medical Marijuana and Cancer”

  1. 1
    Debbie merrill on May 15, 2019

    it really didn’t say how it helps colon cancer as far as the cancer itself or which part of the weed ,the THC or the other parts of the plant. I have tried it when I was on chemo,and the nausea went away and I felt no pain from the neuropathy and increase in appetite helped.

    1. 2
      Larry Allegretto on May 28, 2019

      first I wish you well
      What blend did you find worked the best for pain and nausea relief while going through chemo? Did you find any blends that it helps cure colon cancer?

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