Finding Relief: The Role Cannabis Can Play in Easing the Most Common Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
During the past few decades, there has been growing interest in the role that cannabis can have in helping to manage the life-altering symptoms caused by many health conditions and their treatment regimens. Cancer is no exception.
A cancer diagnosis often brings a grueling treatment regimen – from surgery and radiation to chemotherapy and even immunotherapies. These life-saving treatments are known to also cause a host of symptoms that vary in severity, including joint pain, insomnia, anxiety and digestive challenges such as nausea, vomiting and a diminished appetite.
For years, patients have found relief through cocktails of prescription medication, each carrying a reprieve for a specific symptom. A number of studies, and more importantly, cancer patients’ own feedback, are pointing to cannabis as an opportunity for effective mass-symptom management and improving quality of life. In fact, a study presented at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology revealed that the overwhelming majority of oncology providers surveyed believed that medical marijuana can help patients.
How can cannabis help to manage cancer treatment symptoms?
For hundreds of years, cannabis has been used as a natural treatment for many of the most common symptoms associated with cancer treatments. Its active ingredients, cannabinoids, help to regulate a number of biological functions by interacting with the body’s own endocannabinoid system, which produces its own cannabinoids.
What cancer treatment symptoms will it alleviate?
Chronic Pain: In treating chronic pain, cannabis works similar to opioids, without the debilitating side effects and risk for opioid use disorder (OUD). It has also been shown to provide relief for patients experiencing pain from neuropathy, or nerve damage that manifests itself in weakness, numbness, or tingling in hands and feet, which be a complication of chemotherapy and other treatments.
Insomnia: As many as half of all people undergoing cancer treatment have trouble falling or staying asleep, increasing risks for anxiety and depression. Cannabis can help restore a natural sleep cycle through its analgesic properties that relive pain and stress.
Anxiety: Worry, nervousness, and fear are all normal reactions for cancer patients undergoing treatment. Lower-dosages of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a cannabinoid, can be used as a tool to relax the body and mind, providing relief for patients who are experiencing anxiety.
Nausea, Vomiting and Loss of Appetite: According to research on evidence-based management of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, up to 80% of patients receiving chemotherapy will experience some level of these symptoms. When the body’s endocannabinoid system is suppressed, nausea and vomiting, along with other digestive issues, is relatively common. The cannabinoids from cannabis, namely THC, mimics the cannabinoids the body produces and prevent feelings of nausea and vomiting. Similarly, researchers have proven that cannabis is an appetite stimulant.
Where can oncology patients and their caregivers learn more?
Finding out if cannabis can help ease a patient’s symptoms begins with education and open communication. Cancer-focused nonprofits serve an important role in providing patients with information, resources and, perhaps most importantly, access to peers who may have relied on cannabis-based symptom relief options.
But when it comes to actually seeking out relief from cannabis, dispensaries like the Mint are an invaluable tool for those who are looking at a dizzying array of product and dosages. And just as there are countless strains of cannabis available, so too are there many different ways to consume it, not to mention finding the right amount to consume. At the Mint, our budtenders are trusted patient resources who can work with each patient to figure out the optimal strain, method, and customized dosage for each individual.