Cancer is a dreaded disease that affects millions of people in the United States. Cancer claims the lives of about 600,000 people each year. Advances in cancer treatment have lowered the death rate, and many forms of cancer are survivable if detected and treated before it has a chance to spread.

Cancer treatments, unfortunately, often lead to unpleasant side effects, which can leave patients struggling to conduct normal, active lives. Chemotherapy, the most common form of cancer treatment, may cause severe nausea and weight loss. Medical cannabis has been shown to help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy and represents a safer therapeutic option for those afflicted with cancer.

Chemotherapy: Common Side Effects

Chemotherapy has long been a common and effective way of treating cancers. Powerful chemical agents target fast-growing cells, such as typically found in many forms of cancer, and control their growth or even destroy them. Chemotherapy is often used in conjunction with other cancer-fighting treatments, including radiation therapy and surgery. Because chemotherapy agents are usually administered through injections, however, they can affect healthy body cells as well – cells in the bone marrow, the digestive system, and the skin or hair follicles.

Some patients undergoing chemotherapy may have few, if any, side effects. Many others may experience mild or even severe side effects, which include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation)
  • Hair loss

Medical Cannabis: An Alternative for Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects

For patients who experience the unpleasant side effects associated with chemotherapy, there are a few options. Anti-emetic drugs may be prescribed, which can control the nausea. These drugs may not be effective in all cases, leading medical researchers to investigate alternatives.

Medical cannabis represents one of those alternatives. In numerous clinical studies, and with reams of anecdotal evidence, cannabis and cannabis-derived products have been shown to help control the nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss associated with chemotherapy in cancer patients. The key to its abilities lies in certain chemical compounds called cannabinoids that mimic substances naturally produced by the human body in the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating a number of body processes, including the transmission of electrical signals between the nerves and brain. Cannabinoids in cannabis, particularly cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but not limited to these two alone, bind to the receptors in the endocannabinoid system.

CBD has been shown to provide substantial pain relief for numerous health conditions, including the pain arising from many cancers and cancer treatments. It also has powerful anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory effects. THC, the psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” sought after by recreational marijuana users, can stimulate the appetite, allowing patients undergoing chemotherapy to eat and drink more normally. Combined, the two cannabis compounds can alleviate many of the common side effects of chemotherapy, giving cancer patients a fighting chance. Further research is ongoing, helping to unlock new applications for medical cannabis.

Interested in hearing more about this topic? Stephan, one of our dosing specialists, used medical cannabis (particularly edibles and FECO) to aid with his symptoms from chemotherapy and found it to be incredibly beneficial. Read more about his experiences here.