Medical Cannabis – Should It Be Part Of Your Cancer Care?

What makes cannabis medicinal? Why is it different from the marijuana people use recreationally? How does medical cannabis actually work as “medicine” to help alleviate side-effects of cancer treatment and array of other symptoms from other diseases. These are some of the questions that many young women facing a breast cancer ask and we want to get you the answers.

Here is how it works:

Cannabinoids (e.g., THC and CBD) are the chemical compounds secreted by cannabis flowers that provide relief to an array of symptoms including pain, nausea, and inflammation. These work their medicinal magic by imitating compounds our bodies naturally produce, called endocannabinoids, which activate to maintain internal stability and health.

Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.

Humans and animals alike naturally synthesize endocannabinoids, chemical compounds that activate the same receptors as cannabinoids found in cannabis.

When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids bind to receptor sites throughout our brain (receptors called CB-1) and body (CB-2). Different cannabinoids have different effects depending on which receptors they bind to. This concept is the cornerstone of cannabis as medicine.

Cannabis contains at least 85 types of cannabinoids, many of which have documented medical value. Different products and strains have been developed to deliver varying doses of cannabinoids (e.g. THC 0-0.7%/ CBD 14-16%) to alleviate different symptoms.

Governments in various regions allow people with medical conditions access to marijuana for medical reasons with a prescription: this is called medical marijuana or medical cannabis.

Read the Canadian government’s guidelines for medical marijuana here!

How it can benefit cancer patients:

Cannabis has analgesic (pain reducing) and anti-inflammatory properties which may be used in the management of symptoms and side effects for cancer treatment. Some people with cancer may find using medical marijuana or drugs that contain cannabinoids helps them cope with symptoms and side effects including:

  • Nausea and vomiting – Several studies have shown that some cannabinoids can relieve nausea, vomiting or both. These are side effects of some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Loss of appetite – Loss of appetite is a common problem for people with cancer. Loss of appetite and weight loss (which is called cachexia when it is severe) often occur together. Some people find that medical marijuana can help increase their appetite.
  • Pain – Some patients claim that medical marijuana can help relieve long-term (chronic) or severe pain and have an analgesic affect.
  • Sleep – Some people claim that certain strain strains of cannabis, especially those with higher levels of THC, help promote drowsiness and sleep.
  • Palliative Care – Growing evidence suggests that the use of cannabis in palliative patients may help control the symptoms as mentioned above. The use of cannabinoids in this population may also reduce the use of other pain medications often prescribed in the opioid family.
  • Medical marijuana has also been used for management in the following:
    • Migraines
    • Anxiety
    • Inflammation
    • Some neurological disorders

Wondering how you can talk about cannabis with your your medical team? Click here for some tips.

For more information on medical cannabis from Health Canada click here!

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