How Can Medical Marijuana Help With Cancer Recovery?

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    According to research and data provided by cancer.gov, there will be an estimated 1,806,590 new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2020.  Of that number, an estimated 606,520 will succumb to cancer or as a result of complications from cancer treatment. 

    The treatment for most cancer types includes prescription drug therapies, radiation therapy, and significant dietary and lifestyle changes.  For patients living with cancer, sometimes the cure is worse than the disease because cancer and chemotherapy symptoms can be disruptive and uncomfortable. 

    In states that have legalized medical cannabis, patients have arrived at a new area of alternative medicine.  Where prescription medications are not the only choice for symptom management while undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

    1. Cannabis May Help Reduce Persistent Nausea 

    Feelings of nausea and vomiting are triggered by messages from the brain.  That area is called the vomiting center.  And there are many signals that chemotherapy induces in the body that can cause stomach upset. 

    When someone is undergoing chemotherapy treatments, the brain called the chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ) reacts to chemicals or medications in the bloodstream.  Both the brain cortex and the limbic system are sensitive to taste, sight, and smell. Chemotherapy triggers a response that can make food smell unappealing. 

     

    The science is a little complex.  The dorsal vagal complex (DVC) is an area in the brainstem that regulates nausea and vomiting.  Both the DVC and the digestive tract have receptors for cannabinoids. When these receptors receive THC, they reduce the messaging of triggers and can also significantly reduce feelings of nausea. 

    While CBD (with a negligible 0.30% THC level) can benefit patients with cancer, some studies suggest that stronger THC levels are more effective at reducing the chemotherapy symptoms of gastric upset. 

    1. Relief of Chronic Pain 

    For some patients, cancer treatment may start because of the growth of a tumor.  Sometimes tumors can impinge or press against sensitive nerve receptors in the body.  Other patients may have a series of surgical interventions to remove cancerous growths. 

    The amount of pain that someone receiving cancer treatment may experience can depend on one of many factors that include:

    • The type of cancer
    • The location of the cancer 
    • What stage of cancer the patient has arrived at
    • Nerve damage from chemotherapy or drug treatments for cancer

    Not everyone has disability benefits to stay home and focus on their health needs after being diagnosed with cancer.  Many people have a financial need to keep working as best they can.  Activities of daily living cannot stop during cancer recovery. Medical cannabis can provide an economical and effective alternative resource for pain management. 

    1. Cannabis Can Be an Appetite Stimulant

    The ability for cannabis to inspire random snacking is almost legendary.  But while you may normally want to avoid the late-night munchies, it can be a beneficial appetite stimulant.  Loss of appetite is one of the side-effects of cancer treatment.  And finding a way to maintain a healthy appetite is critical to rebuilding the immune system. 

    Medical cannabis has been suggested as therapy for patients with eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia. By reducing nausea triggers and increasing appetite stimulation, individuals who suffer eating problems of any kind may find cannabis helpful. 

    1. Address Chemotherapy Induced Insomnia 

    Certain strains of cannabis have dominant terpenes that promote rest and relaxation.  There are many reasons why people diagnosed with cancer struggle with sleep.  There is the psychological aspect of facing a life-threatening chronic disease. And there are physiological symptoms that make sleep more challenging, like moderate to severe pain. 

    1. Medical Cannabis May Reduce Anxiety and Depression 

    From the moment a patient is diagnosed with cancer, the assault against the peace of mind and relaxation begins.  It is natural for patients receiving cancer treatments to feel frustrated, sad, or angry about their health circumstances. 

    Medical procedures are inconvenient, life-disrupting, and sometimes painful.  And there is the ‘fear of the unknown’ as patients face a life-saving battle between themselves and invasive chronic diseases. 

    Cancer treatment can feel like an unending barrage of tests and examinations, surgeries, and procedures. It is not hard to understand why many patients diagnosed with cancer rate higher than average on depression and psychological anxiety scales. 

    Many states that have legalized medical cannabis programs allow for clinical anxiety or depression as a qualifying health condition.  But not all of them.  Many research studies suggest that cannabis has analgesics (solving pain) and a psychological benefit for cancer patients.   There are so many unknowns about cancer, including whether chemotherapy can alter brain chemistry.  Whether patients with cancer can develop depression or clinical anxiety as a result of their health emergency.  

    Some feel that cannabis helps resolve feelings of lethargy, isolation, anger, and frustration.  Others think that wiping out pain symptoms and restoring high-quality sleep by using cannabis daily contributes to improved mood and energy.  The positive boost that cancer patients need to have their best chance of recovery.