The short answer is – YES! Medical grade marijuana, in-fact, is most often prescribed, legitimately, legally and successfully for cancer patients while they are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer. Author, advocate and edibles expert Angel O’Grady agrees:
“Yes yes I would say yes! Unless it’s for lungs then I would say no and maybe do a vaporizer or stick to edibles.” (Connect with Angel, founder of Mountain High Pharms and author of Hemp and Cannabis Cooking Basics on Facebook to learn more!)
The long answer is also YES! but it’s worthwhile to investigate the “how” and “why” and “what distinguishes medical marijuana from recreational pot?” Let’s take things one step at a time:
HOW is marijuana safe to smoke during cancer treatments?
There are hundreds of active chemical compounds in the marijuana plant. The most popular of these compounds is called THC, or tetra-hydro-cannabinol. THC is the chemical responsible for the “high” feeling you get (or, that you’ve heard about others getting, ahem…) when you smoke a joint. (Need a MMJ primer? Read this first.) High quality recreational marijuana is cultivated to have up to 70% THC, especially if it comes from the Colorado Rockies.
(Can’t say exactly how I know this…since I live here, and all my neighbors are the licensed growers who supply the retail recreational marijuana outlets. Spend any amount of time in a high-altitude coffee shop and you can learn A LOT about the art and science, and the do’s and definitely-DO-NOT of cannabis cultivation…oh, and one more thing: that’s why you should really take it easy on the Colorado pot – it’s significantly more potent!)
Conventional cancer treatment kills the cancer cells by burning with radiation and poisoning with deadly chemicals. These treatments also kill just about everything else for the patient – his energy, his appetite, his hair, his digestion, his sex-drive, his joy for living. I’ve seen this with friends and recently with my mom. My mom lived in Utah for the duration of her battle with cancer, where marijuana is still illegal. However, she was able to secure a valid prescription for medical marijuana during her cancer treatments to help with her appetite and depression. Medical marijuana, however, has almost no THC. Rather, it is cultivated specifically to be higher in a compound called cannabidiols, or CBDs. CBDs don’t make you feel spacy or give you that out-of-body trip, rather they alleviate pain, increase appetite, normalize hormonal function and even slow the growth of cancer cells.
Here’s an interesting thread I found that speaks more specifically about the chemical/biological changes your oncologist may find when you are using marijuana – prescription or otherwise:
“This topic is always quickly elevated. I think this question is best suited for you and your medical team. I would definately tell your Onc you are occasionally smoking because MJ can cause a rise in HCG and Estrogen. both of which you probably want to keep low as possible.” (from tc-cancer.com)
Marinol is a syntheitc THC pill that is often prescribed during chemo treatment. I did not use either, Ativan and Phenergen worked great for me with little side effects. My best tip is to get on a anti-naseau routine and stick to it. For me I took an 1/2 a phernegen 30 min before eating and took an ativan if I started feeling funny.”
It is worth noting as well, that the FDA, the AMA and the NIH agree that not enough research has been published to positively demonstrate the efficacy of incorporating marijuana into routine cancer treatments. Read what they have to say here.
Here’s what scientists at the University of Washington Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute discovered:
“Like opiates (substances derived from the opium poppy such as heroin), cannabinoids affect the user by interacting with specific receptors, located within different parts of the central nervous system. Two kinds of cannabinoid receptors have been found to date and are termed CB1 and CB2. A substance that occurs naturally within the brain and binds to CB1 receptors was discovered in 1992 and termed “anandamide.” Additional naturally occurring substances that bind to CB1 have since been discovered, and these, together with the receptors are termed the “endogenous cannabinoid system.
“The actual effects that the cannabinoids have reflect the areas of the brain they interact with. Interactions tend to occur in our limbic system (the part of the brain that affects memory, cognition and psychomotor performance) and mesolimbic pathway (activity in this region is associated with feelings of reward) and are also widely distributed in areas of pain perception.”
Why medical marijuana versus other ways to cope with cancer treatments?
Conventional treatments for the effects of chemotherapy and radiation focus on one symptom at a time – for diarrhea, take over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medicines. For nausea, take anti-nausea medicine. For pain, here’s some morphine – never mind the added side-effects from each of these medications, and potential negative drug interactions.
According to the American Cancer Society, nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy are typically treated with Seratonin and dopamine antagonists are often combined with steroids. These drugs have common side-effects including headache, diarrhea, constipation, trouble sleeping, increased appetite and weight gain, dry mouth, and dizziness. They also list cannabinoids as an effective medication to combat many of the symptoms of cancer treatment:
“Most commonly used drugs in this group:
- Dronabinol (Marinol®)
- Nabilone (Cesamet®)
These drugs may be used to treat nausea and vomiting from chemo when the usual anti-emetic drugs do not work. They also may be used to stimulate appetite.
Common side effects:
- Mood changes (anxiety, depression, paranoia, euphoria, apathy, and more)
- Confusion, disorientation
- Muddled thinking, trouble concentrating, poor memory
- Change in ability to perceive surroundings
- Poor coordination, clumsiness
- Dry mouth
- Increased appetite
- Low energy
- Feeling like you are moving when you are not (vertigo)
These drugs contain the active ingredient in marijuana [aka, CBDs]. Younger patients and those who previously used marijuana tend to tolerate the side effects better.”
Empirical research reveals a lower prevalence of severe side-effects from CBDs versus conventional medications. CBDs are also credited with a broader range of action – so incorporating them into routine cancer treatment covers more of the ill-effects from chemo and radiation. CBDs can be taken orally via capsules or pills, they can also be applied to the skin to speed skin cell recovery from radiation burns and eczema, they can also be smoked to obtain therapeutic benefits.
From my personal experience, I have never heard of any negative side effects from smoking pot. Marijuana has never been positively correlated with addiction and withdrawl symptoms, permanent loss of vital functions or further cancerous developments. In fact, laboratory studies show again and again marijuana’s power to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.
The prescription CBDs come in pill form or as concentrated oils in a capsule. Sometimes, the CBDs are not even derived from an actual cannabis plant, rather they are chemically manufactured in a laboratory. Previous research compares the difference in efficacy and cost to the consumer of laboratory manufactured CBDs versus naturally grown and extracted CBDs in treating ADHD – I wonder if similar research exists for CBDs and cancer treatment?
What distinguishes medical marijuana from recreational pot?
Now, I think, you’re starting to get the picture. Check out this straight-forward 3 minute presentation by Dr. Sunil Kumar Aggarwal: