A diagnosis of cancer can be terrifying. Cancer is a word that can strike fear into the hearts of the cancer patient and their entire family. A cancer diagnosis is just the beginning of a long, often uncertain treatment path. An oncologist may recommend several choices to begin treatment, but sometimes there aren’t many options depending on the type of cancer, and how far it has progressed.
Fighting cancer can be a painful road for many cancer patients. Hospital visits, treatments, and medications can go on for weeks, months, or years. The outcome may not be known even as treatment progresses. The stress and anxiety of cancer treatments can make things even more difficult for the patient.
An increasingly accepted way to deal with many of the side-effects that can accompany cancer treatments is with medical cannabis. Many cancer patients rely on cannabis — but does it really help?
How Is Cancer Treated?
More often than not, a combination of treatments will be used to fight cancer. Surgery may be necessary to remove as much cancer as possible. Radiation and chemotherapy might also be used. Immunotherapy and hormone therapy can also play a part. It is up to the patient and their oncology team to decide which of these treatments they want to try.
Medications Used To Treat Cancer
There are many drugs used to treat different types of cancer. Five of the best-known drugs used in conjunction with chemotherapy are Revlimid, Opdivo, Keytruda, Herceptin, and Avastin. Revlimid is used to treat multiple myeloma. It works against cancer cells by supporting the immune system. Opdivo is a prescription drug used to treat non-small cell lung cancer. It is used when chemotherapy is no longer working. Keytruda is used to block the PD-1 pathway. Herceptin is approved to treat some types of early-stage breast cancer. Avastin helps stop the growth of new blood vessels that feed tumors.
The medications used to treat cancer are complicated. There are many different medications because there are many types of cancer. Even though there is no cure for cancer yet, because of drugs like these, people are beating cancer more often, and the death rates are decreasing. The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention states that cancer death rates have been on the decline every year during the past 20 years.
Side Effects Of Chemotherapy
The National Cancer Institute states that cancer treatments can cause side effects. Side effects occur when cancer treatment affects healthy organs or tissues. Chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, pain, and sleeplessness, just to name a few. These side effects can compound the anxiety and stress of dealing with a cancer diagnosis. The side effects of chemotherapy vary from person to person, even if the same type of treatment is used.
Using Cannabis During Chemotherapy
Cannabis has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries. Scientists have discovered many biologically active compounds in cannabis. The two most studied cannabinoids in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC causes the euphoric sensation, or “high” associated with cannabis. THC can also help treat pain and nausea, two of the most common side-effects of chemotherapy. It can act as an anti-oxidant and help reduce inflammation.
CBD can help relieve anxiety and inflammation, and can counteract the high caused by THC. Cannabis has also been found to help with seizures, and is sometimes recommended by doctors for patients suffering from epilepsy.
Most Effective Method To Use Cannabis
Depending on how cannabis enters the body, the effects can vary. Cannabis can be smoked, vaporized, turned into cannabis oil or capsules. It can be used in food in different ways as well. However, the benefits of smoking or vaping cannabis seem to provide faster relief from side effects than capsules, oils, or edibles.
The THC in cannabis enters the bloodstream and gets to the brain more quickly when cannabis is smoked or vaporized. However, smoking or vaping cannabis means the effects it provides will fade away faster. Some studies have shown that inhaling cannabis may also help neuropathic nerve pain and help loss of appetite that some cancer patients may suffer from.
When cannabis is taken orally, it can take longer to feel the effects. It can take two hours or more before a cancer patient begins to feel relief. This is because the THC must go through the liver first. Since cannabis by mouth takes longer to work, a patient should be careful to not use more than is needed and have patience while waiting for relief.
Is It Legal To Use Cannabis For Chemotherapy Side-Effects?
Since there have been some studies that have shown cannabis to be beneficial in treating the side-effects of cancer and cancer treatments, many states have made it legal for medical use. The use of medical cannabis is permitted in one form or another in 35 states. In the 15 US states that have legalized marijuana for adult use, a cancer patient can obtain cannabis without a prescription. One in 3 Americans now lives in a state where recreational cannabis is legal. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
Many states that do not allow recreational marijuana use have medical marijuana programs. These programs require a recommendation from a doctor. If a cancer patient is approved to use cannabis as a treatment, they will be issued a card or certificate. Check out the state-by-state law breakdown at NORML.org for more information on legal cannabis in your state.
For more information on medical marijuana and cancer, visit Americans for Safe Access.