- by Marni Meistrell
No disease is more dreaded and feared than cancer. At present, up to 40 percent of all Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.
The good news is that survival rates for cancer are also going up. There are differences between cancers (some have much higher fatality rates than others), but overall the trends are positive and encouraging.
Refinement of treatment methods and better preventive techniques are responsible for these improvements, and medical marijuana may be contributing (indirectly) to the upsurge in cancer survival. If you want to start treating cancer with medical marijuana, here is a guide to help you.
It is important to emphasize that medical-grade cannabis products are not a cure for cancer. While several pre-clinical/laboratory studies suggest cannabis may help slow or reduce growth rates for some cancerous tumors, clinical trials have yet to be performed and physicians do not prescribe medical marijuana as an anti-cancer agent.
However, medical marijuana is still a potent and effective remedy for many of the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, as research and user testimony have established. Medical marijuana may indeed increase cancer survival rates by making treatment (and the disease itself) more tolerable, but this is a question that must be studied further.
Treating Cancer with Medical Marijuana: How Exactly Does it Help?
Physicians recommend treating cancer with medical marijuana to help patients cope with symptoms caused by the disease or by treatment methods, which can be shocking to the human body.
Cancer patients are frequently offered medical-grade cannabis products for the relief of chronic, moderate-to-severe pain, caused either by the cancer itself or by chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery. This is especially true for patients who have not responded well to opioids, which at present are still the first choice for pain relief in most instances.
Multiple studies have verified the effectiveness of medical marijuana when used to treat chronic pain. The human body has pain-suppressing receptors in the brain and nervous system that bind naturally and easily with the chemical compounds found in cannabis products (these receptors are known collectively as the endocannabinoid system). Cannabis is also an anti-inflammatory (anti-swelling) agent, which adds to its ability to reduce pain and discomfort.
One interesting study, published in 2010 in the Journal of Pain Symptom Management, found that cannabis extract containing the cannabinoids THC and CBD (the primary chemical compounds used in medical marijuana products) was effective against chronic pain in patients resistant to opioid painkillers.
This is significant since opioid medications often stop working once the user develops a greater tolerance for the drug (and opioids can be addictive at higher dosages unlike medical marijuana, which is non-addictive at almost any dosage).
Nausea and Vomiting
Chemotherapy is routinely used to attack cancerous tumors, but it is stressful for the body and can cause some highly unpleasant side effects, including intense nausea and vomiting. If radiation therapy is also used to attack the disease, that can add to the severity of these symptoms.
But medical marijuana is a safe and soothing antidote to the extreme stomach discomfort associated with chemotherapy, as has been confirmed by several research studies. Cannabis is now widely recommended for cancer patients undergoing this form of treatment, and users often report dramatic reductions in the strength and frequency of their post-chemo nausea.
As an additional benefit, cannabis further counteracts the effects of chemotherapy by stimulating appetite and combating the weight loss normally associated with this medical procedure. In one clinical trial, discussed in the February 2011 online edition of the Annals of Oncology, patients with advanced cancer who were taking a form of medical marijuana high in the compound THC experienced significant improvements in appetite and in their sense of taste.
Loss of Nerve Function
Nerve damage (neuropathy) is a common aftereffect of treatment methods like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which are invasive by nature. This condition can cause spasms of pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling or burning sensations in the feet and hands.
Medical marijuana products will not reverse nerve damage, but they can help lessen the severity of its effects and increase patient comfort in the process.
Anxiety and Depression
Medical-grade cannabis is not normally recommended by physicians specifically to reduce depression and/or anxiety.
But this is a common bonus benefit. The cannabis compound CBD has a strong capacity to reduce anxiety and improve mood, as has been verified by research published in 2014 in the journal CNS & Neurological Disorders—Drug Targets, and also by the testimony of cancer patients taking medical marijuana strains containing generous quantities of CBD.
Why Do Cancer Patients Choose Cannabis?
Even in states where medical marijuana is legal, it is seldom offered to cancer patients immediately. But when it is offered as an option, and when doctors explain the benefits, many if not most patients are anxious to at least try these non-toxic medical products, which work in harmony with the body’s natural healing capacities.
The pain associated with cancer may gradually increase in intensity, and opioids are generally the first form of painkiller prescribed for cancer patients. But these drugs can be highly addictive, especially if taken in ever-growing doses. This makes medical marijuana an attractive alternative, since medical-grade cannabis products have no record of producing addiction and have milder side effects than popular opioid drugs.
Despite their effectiveness, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are difficult forms of treatment to endure. Their side effects (particularly the nausea, vomiting and general feelings of sickness) can be powerful and can leave cancer patients feeling far worse than they did before. Cannabis products have gained a reputation as strong and reliable antidotes to the discomfort caused by chemotherapy and radiation, however, and they have helped many cancer patients make it through aggressive treatment regimens without excessive suffering.
How Is Cannabis Used to Treat Cancer (and Cancer Treatment) Symptoms?
Medical marijuana in Puerto Rico is available in various forms. Edibles, tinctures for oral ingestion, creams and oils for topical applications, and vape cartridges that vaporize cannabis extract for inhalation are included among a patient’s options.
For chronic pain associated with cancer, edibles, tinctures or vaporized cannabis taken on a regular (daily) basis can bring significant relief. They can also help counteract the loss of appetite (and accompanying weight loss) that sometimes result from cancer treatment.
But edibles may not be appropriate for those dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy. The nausea caused by chemotherapy may make edibles hard to digest or keep down. For this reason, vaporized cannabis may be a better and more effective choice for patients seeking relief from chronic nausea.
Which Cannabis Products Work Best for Treating Cancer Symptoms?
Cannabis in its natural form contains dozens of chemical elements, many of which may have health-related applications. But CBD and THC are the primary cannabis compounds found in most types of medical marijuana, including the strains and products used to treat cancer symptoms.
CBD in particular is known to be effective in treating pain, so strains that contain high levels of it are good choices for patients struggling with moderate-to-severe physical discomfort.
THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and if taken in reasonable doses can help boost mood and increase appetite. Most cannabis products recommended for cancer patients will include a balance of CBD and THC (frequently a one-to-one ratio), and physicians usually tell cancer patients to experiment with various strains to make sure they find a product that works well for them.
The quantity of medical marijuana a patient uses will ultimately be determined by trial-and-error, and no two people react to cannabis products in the same way. Doctors encourage patients to start out with small doses and increase their consumption gradually, until the positive effects of the medications become obvious.
Another factor in determining correct dosage is the CBD-to-THC ratio. The two compounds work best in combination, but depending on the desired effect patients may choose strains that contain greater quantities of CBD, which has more capacity to reduce pain.
Doctors will recommend certain doses of medical marijuana for cancer patients depending on the symptoms they report. But in the end, patients must evaluate the effectiveness of cannabis products directly to determine their best dosage and gain maximum advantage.
Law 340 and How It Affects Treating Cancer with Medical Marijuana
Although Medical Marijuana has been legal in Puerto Rico since 2015, sales didn’t take place until January 2017. From there, Law 340/Ley 340 was created to govern how we use Medical Marijuana, which includes treating cancer with medical marijuana. Here is Law 340/Ley 340 explained in detail.