Experts have advised that smoking may increase the severity of respiratory symptoms that result from COVID-19. Therefore you may want to limit or avoid exposure to smoking medical marijuana because this can put additional stress and strain on the lungs. Alternative delivery methods of medical marijuana can be used to reduce or eliminate smoke exposure. Talk to your healthcare team
The use of cannabis (the botanical name for the more commonly used word, marijuana), both recreational and medical, has undergone many years of scrutiny and challenge. Currently, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration lists cannabis and its derivatives as a schedule I controlled substance. Therefore, under federal law it can not be prescribed, used or sold – even when medical marijuana is used to treat cancer.
But state by state, the laws have been changing. For example, some states allow the use of medical marijuana (which requires a prescription from a doctor). Other states allow the use of recreational marijuana. Others have some variation of the two. And of course, there are some states that do not allow the use or possession of marijuana of any kind.
Needless to say, the laws around cannabis can be confusing depending on where you live.
However, one thing is clear: cannabis has been shown to benefit some cancer patients. 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.
What is Medical Marijuana?
Marijuana is the dried buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. Within these buds, there are two compounds called cannabinoids that have been shown to have an effect on the body: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (often referred to as THC), and cannabidiol (CBD). Medical marijuana is the use of cannabis to treat the symptoms of certain diseases, including the side effects of cancer.
Medical Marijuana and Cancer: How might cannabis help a colorectal cancer patient?
The use of medical marijuana has been shown to help ease some of the side effects that result from a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment.
THC has been known to reduce pain and nausea, whereas CBD has been shown to treat anxiety. For cancer patients, there have been a number of small studies that support the use of medical marijuana to treat symptoms such as pain, nausea, decreased appetite, neuropathy, and for reducing stress and anxiety. It’s important to note that the sole use of marijuana to treat and cure cancer has not been proven and is not recommended.
How do you take medical marijuana for cancer?
- Inhalation: smoking or vaporization
- Ingestion: eating foods that are cooked with cannabis
- Topical: using infused oils or lotions
Are there side effects?
Just like any other treatment, there are side effects to the use of cannabis.
The most common effect is the “high” that cannabis is known for. This sensation could cause paranoia and anxiety for some people.
In addition, at this time, growing cannabis is not strictly regulated. Therefore it is hard to know what strain (or specific type) of cannabis a person is getting – and different strains have slightly different effects. For example, certain strains aid sleep and relaxation while other strains can make you more alert. This means a person could react differently each time they pick up a new prescription if they are unknowingly purchasing a different strain.
Another negative side effect comes from smoking cannabis, which increases the risk of harm to the lungs.
Where are we now with cannabis legalization?
Currently, cannabis legalization is as follows:
- Medical marijuana is legal in 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia
- Cannabis is allowed for recreational use in 10 states
- Cannabis use is decriminalized in 13 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands
What if I don’t have access based on my state?
There are two pharmaceutical drugs that are similar to medical marijuana and are approved in the United States for treating nausea and vomiting: Dronabinol (Marinol ®) and Nabilone (Cesamet ®).
Dronabinal is FDA-approved for the treatment of nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy. It is a synthetic form of THC and is taken by mouth as an oral capsule. Nabilone is also used to treat severe nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy, and similar to dronabinol, it is a man-made, synthetic form of cannabis.
While oftentimes medical marijuana (made from a plant) has a negative stigma, these medical prescriptions (made in the lab) don’t, although they are chemically the same. Regardless, both deliver the cannabinoids that relieve the side effects of many cancer patients.
What about the stigma?
Many people feel a stigma around marijuana and cancer. This could be due to the federal regulations, cultural norms or personal perspective. But many colorectal cancer survivors have successfully used medical marijuana in their cancer journey:
“I never thought that I would be one to look to alternative therapies to manage my disease. But after 6 years of fighting this awful disease and learning more and more about different alternative treatment options to help me alongside traditional medicine, I’ve learned to be open to anything that will help my body heal.”
– Melissa Bhar, Colorectal Cancer Fighter
“Medicinal marijuana was never offered however, my oncologist was extremely supportive once I brought it up. We had to abide by the state laws (Hawaii) and he provided every referral I needed to get my RX filled. Medical marijuana helped me with everything. I was able to keep my food down, my appetite was consistent and nausea was almost eliminated. I’m 2 years post ileostomy takedown, and I don’t have any cravings or drawbacks from medicinal marijuana. I wish I would’ve started using medical marijuana from chemo treatment #1”
– Kenny Toye, Stage III survivor, Fight CRC Ambassador
“When dealing with cancer you are given several medications to deal with nausea and pain. For me, the multiple prescriptions became overwhelming, each having their own side effects. Cannabis turned out to be a great alternative. It comes in many forms for consumption and provides quick relief. Thankfully, I have not experienced any opposition when discussing alternative medicine with my medical team, and I felt supported in my decision to try cannabis to ease some of my side effects”.
– Yasmeem Watson, Stage III survivor, Fight CRC Research Advocate
More resources on medical marijuana and cancer
Need more information on medical marijuana and cancer? Listen in to Fight CRC’s Taboo-ty Podcast: Medical Marijuana! As more and more states are developing medical marijuana programs, Dr. Tim Byers answers the questions that many patients and caregivers need to know.
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.