I’m blessed to say that the shadow of cancer has so far stayed away from my door and that of my immediate family. But my friend Ana wasn’t so lucky. Her mother got pancreatic cancer, and after several rounds of chemo she was hanging on by a thread to make it to her 80th birthday. She wanted to die though. Dosed up on morphine, she was confused, wracked with pain, had no appetite and couldn’t sleep.
Living in Belgium, the family’s young, open minded doctor found a legal loophole through which she could prescribe medicinal cannabis oil to her ailing patient. And after a few drops on the tongue of the whole cannabis plant oil containing both THC and CBD, the opioid fog began to lift. In fact soon after she stopped taking the morphine and remained completely lucid up until the moment she died. Her pain had eased, she could laugh and joke with her family, and lived out her remaining weeks with peaceful dignity. This wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t had the possibility of taking medical cannabis.
I’ve previously written about whether cannabis can cure cancer. Numerous people say thanks to their medical marijuana regime they are now cancer free today. However, not everyone feels they can make that leap of faith. Many instead choose a more orthodox oncology route complete with surgery, chemo or radiotherapy. But one does not necessarily rule out the other, and increasingly patients are turning to medical cannabis as an adjunct to the cancer treatment they are receiving.
So let’s look at the ways medical marijuana can complement conventional cancer treatment.
Stop nausea and vomiting
A common experience of patients going through chemotherapy are intense feelings of nausea, retching and vomiting. Jeff Moroso, endured 12 rounds of chemo for his colon cancer. In an interview with Newsweek he described just how difficult the treatment was to bear, despite the cocktail of other meds he was prescribed to counteract the side effects. “I felt real sick, incapable of doing anything except for lying there and trying to hang on,” he recounted. And so he turned to cannabis. The improvement was dramatic and by the seventh round of chemo, he’d come off the other prescription pills.
Oncologist Donald I. Abrams, M.D at San Francisco General Hospital is in no doubt about the cannabis plant’s ability to quell nausea and vomiting. In his paper ‘Integrating cannabis into clinical cancer care’ he declares, “I have often said that I need a clinical trial to demonstrate that cannabis is an effective antiemetic about as much as I need a placebo-controlled trial to demonstrate that penicillin is an antibiotic!”
And in the recent review of the effects of cannabis by the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting were one of the only health conditions for which “there is conclusive evidence” that certain oral cannabinoids show good results at preventing and treating those ailments.
The THC based medication, Nabilone (Cesamet) and a synthetic version of the cannabinoid Marinol (Drobinal) are both prescribed in certain countries, including the US, for chemo induced nausea and vomiting when other medications have failed. While in countries or US states where medical cannabis has been legalised, chemo induced nausea is a common qualifying condition.