Medical cannabis offers many benefits for patients facing cancer.
Relief From Cancer Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects
When used properly, cannabis can be a safe and effective treatment for nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy1, chronic pain2, and insomnia3. Animal studies have shown that cannabinoids can prevent the development of neuropathic pain, a common side effect of chemotherapy.4,5,6,
Patients can often achieve significant improvements in quality of life with minimal side effects using very low doses of cannabinoids, in the range of 10-60mg per day (less than half a gram of herbal cannabis). A combination of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids in various ratios can be used to fine-tune the benefits and minimize the side effects of cannabinoid treatment. Medical cannabis can help patients tolerate conventional cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, and can be used as an adjunct to these treatments with low likelihood of drug interaction7. For patients with terminal cancer, cannabis offers numerous benefits in palliative care at the end of life8.
Use Cannabis to Fight Cancer and Promote Healing
In addition to the symptom relief and improvement in quality of life for cancer patients, cannabinoids have also demonstrated anti-cancer oncologic effects in numerous animal models.9 A large body of anecdotal evidence suggests that human cancers also respond to treatment with cannabinoids.10,11 Several patients have reported slowing or arresting the growth of tumors, while others have experienced full remission of aggressive cancers while using cannabis extracts.12
To achieve these powerful anti-cancer effects, most patients require a higher dose than what is needed for symptomatic relief, often 200mg – 2,000mg cannabinoids per day, the equivalent of up to 1-2 ounces of herbal cannabis per week. While this level of treatment may be cost effective, especially if the cannabis is grown outdoors, acquiring this amount of medicine from a medical cannabis retailer could incur significant costs (see below). At these high doses, a knowledgeable medical provider must monitor the treatment to prevent side effects and interactions with conventional cancer treatment. While any medical treatment carries certain risks, even high-dose cannabis is non-lethal and much safer than conventional chemotherapy, though the efficacy of high-dose cannabis for cancer has not been studied in humans.
If you have cancer, and are interested in learning more about the use of cannabis, please make an appointment with a doctor or nurse practitioner that specializes in cannabinoid medicine.
I recommend reflecting on the following questions before your visit:
- What is your prognosis? How likely is success with conventional treatment?
- Are you interested in cannabis-based symptomatic treatment or a more aggressive anti-cancer approach?
- Are you willing to follow up with your oncologist to monitor the changes in your condition?
- How comfortable are you with mortality and death? Are you making fully informed medical decisions based on your personal preferences, or based on fear?
If you decide to pursue a high-dose cancer treatment protocol, be prepared for the costs:
- Medical costs: initial and follow-up visits with your oncologist, your cannabinoid medicine specialist, and perhaps other complementary providers such as an acupuncturist or Reiki practitioner.
- Cannabis costs: most adult patients will have to spend $100-$1,000 per week for a potent cannabis concentrate. Each batch will require laboratory testing for cannabinoid content ($25-$75 in most cannabis analytic labs). While many cannabis producers are working hard to create appropriate formulas, some patients may have to purchase herbal cannabis in bulk and prepare their own concentrates.
- Supplements and natural medicines: Most integrative oncologists and many cannabinoid medicine specialists will recommend natural medicines that are not covered by health insurance to promote health, fight cancer, reduce side effects, and enhance the benefits of cannabis. Average cost $25-$100 per week.
The use of cannabis in the treatment of cancer is an emerging field in medicine, and your cannabinoid medicine specialist should admit to knowing very little about the optimal dosage of the various cannabinoids. By staying up to date on the research and collaborating with other leaders in the field, providers like my colleagues and myself can continue to meet the needs of real patients who choose not to wait for the federal government to stop obstructing human research on cannabis and cancer. Medical cannabis can be a part of an integrative plan that addresses your mind, body, spirit, family, and community.
For a comprehensive review of the anticancer effects of cannabinoids, with numerous personal success stories, I suggest Justin Kander’s book “Cannabis for the Treatment of Cancer: The Anticancer Activity of Phytocannabinoids and Endocannabinoids,” available online.
By Dustin Sulak DO
Do you want to feel confident in the advisor role helping patients or achieve the best possible results as a cannabis using patient?
1 Machado Rocha, Francisco C., et al. “Therapeutic use of Cannabis sativa on chemotherapy‐induced nausea and vomiting among cancer patients: systematic review and meta‐analysis.” European journal of cancer care 17.5 (2008): 431-443.
2 Portenoy, Russell K., et al. “Nabiximols for opioid-treated cancer patients with poorly-controlled chronic pain: a randomized, placebo-controlled, graded-dose trial.” The Journal of Pain 13.5 (2012): 438-449.
3 Russo, Ethan B., Geoffrey W. Guy, and Philip J. Robson. “Cannabis, Pain, and Sleep: Lessons from Therapeutic Clinical Trials of Sativex®, a Cannabis‐Based Medicine.” Chemistry & biodiversity 4.8 (2007): 1729-1743.
4 Ward, Sara Jane, et al. “Cannabidiol prevents the development of cold and mechanical allodynia in paclitaxel-treated female C57Bl6 mice.” Anesthesia and analgesia 113.4 (2011): 947.
5 Naguib, Mohamed, et al. “Prevention of paclitaxel-induced neuropathy through activation of the central cannabinoid type 2 receptor system.” Anesthesia and analgesia 114.5 (2012): 1104.
6 Burgos, Elisa, et al. “Cannabinoid agonist WIN 55,212-2 prevents the development of paclitaxel-induced peripheral neuropathy in rats. Possible involvement of spinal glial cells.” European journal of pharmacology 682.1 (2012): 62-72.
7 Stout SM, Cimino NM. Exogenous cannabinoids as substrates, inhibitors, and inducers of human drug metabolizing enzymes: a systema0c review. Drug Metab Rev. 2014 Feb;46(1):86-95.
8 Green, Anita J., and Kay De‐Vries. “Cannabis use in palliative care–an examination of the evidence and the implications for nurses.” Journal of clinical nursing 19.17‐18 (2010): 2454-2462.
9 Sarfaraz, Sami, et al. “Cannabinoids for cancer treatment: progress and promise.” Cancer research 68.2 (2008): 339-342.
10 Singh, Yadvinder, and Chamandeep Bali. “Cannabis Extract Treatment for Terminal Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with a Philadelphia Chromosome Mutation.” Case reports in oncology 6.3 (2013): 585-592.
11 Kander, J. “Cannabis for the Treatment of Cancer: The Anticancer Activity of Phytocannabinoids and Endocannabinoids” 2015.
12 Gardner, F. “Doctors stress need to document anti-cancer effects of Cannabis ‘oil’.” O’Shaughnessy’s: The Journal of Cannabis in Clinical Practice. Winter/Spring 2013.