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How Does Cannabis Fit into Cancer Care? A Study Investigates

A new study by respected oncologist Dr. Donald Adams examines the use of cannabis as a medical treatment for patients with cancer.

A new research review from cancer and integrative medicine specialist Dr. Donald Abrams investigates the evidence regarding cannabis’ role in cancer care. In the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Current Oncology, Abrams presents the research demonstrating cannabis’ potential benefits for cancer-related symptom management and at treating cancer itself.

“Cannabis is useful in combatting anorexia, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, pain, insomnia, and depression. Cannabis might be less potent than other available antiemetics, but for some patients, it is the only agent that works, and it is the only antiemetic that also increases appetite. Inhaled cannabis is more effective than placebo in ameliorating peripheral neuropathy in a number of conditions, and it could prove useful in chemotherapy-induced neuropathy.”

Abrams cites several studies demonstrating cannabis’ ability to reduce and even prevent neuropathic pain, a common symptom experienced by cancer patients. In one study, low dose medical cannabis was found to produce the same pain relief as traditional medications. Findings in some preclinical studies even suggest that cannabinoids may prevent painful peripheral neuropathy caused by chemotherapy. Abrams adds that in his clinical experience, he’s observed that his patients benefit from adding cannabis to their pain regimen, including some that were able to wean themselves down or off opiate medications.

Cannabis’ most clear-cut benefit for cancer patients, Abrams argues, is for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. While data from controlled clinical trials have been less impressive than what Abrams says he’s personally observed in his almost 40 years of practicing oncology, other human and preclinical studies have provided “more convincing evidence.” A systematic review of 30 randomized controlled trials involving 1138 patients found cannabinoids to be more effective for reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea than conventional medications.

Research also indicates that cannabis is the only nausea-suppressing substance that also stimulates appetite, Abrams explains. Patients undergoing chemotherapy commonly experience a lack of appetite, which can lead to malnutrition. Cannabinoid-based treatments have been shown to make food taste better, and to increase both appetite and caloric intake.

In the review, Abrams deliberately points out that there’s not enough evidence yet to conclude that cannabis and its cannabinoids can cure cancer, although he does say, “it might be possible.” Cannabinoids have demonstrated potential anticancer effects in several preclinical studies. One of the earliest, conducted by the National Cancer Institute in 1975, reported tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) inhibited the growth of lung cancer cells from mice. Since then, additional studies have suggested that cannabinoids induce apoptosis, decrease tumor cell invasiveness, and reduce the viability of cancer cells. Much of the evidence indicates that cannabinoids’ potential anticancer effects are related to their interaction with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1).

“Preclinical data suggest that cannabinoids could have direct antitumour activity, possibly most impressive in central nervous system malignancies. Clinical data about the effects of cannabis concentrates on cancer are as yet unavailable. Oncologists could find cannabis and cannabinoids to be effective tools in their care of patients living with and beyond cancer,” the review concludes.

The review also makes note of a 2014 WebMD poll, indicating that 82 percent of oncologists believe their cancer patients should have legal access to cannabis. In the U.S., cannabis is classified as a Schedule I substance, but 29 states have passed their own laws allowing access to marijuana for medical purposes.

You can access Abram’s entire study, “Integrating cannabis into clinical cancer care,” via the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health.

Learn even more about cannabis’ benefits for cancer and the disease’s symptoms through our education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis-related research by regularly visiting our news feed.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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