Cancer And Cannabinoids: Managing Symptoms vs. Curative Approach
Posted by Deanna Mautz (she/her), BSN RN on 4th Feb 2022
Ed Note: We are reposting this piece in honor of World Cancer Day.
When it comes to cancer and cannabinoids, cannabis as medicine often has two thoughts: using cannabis for symptom management and using cannabis in a more aggressive curative style approach. Often, the client starts out with a symptoms management approach, and when they start to experience benefits, or if the prognosis of their diagnosis changes, they start looking at incorporating cannabis as more of a curative approach. Each path requires a different approach to therapy, with varying outcomes.
Clinical research on integrating cannabis into cancer care is extremely limited. However, we have pre-clinical studies and anecdotal information to guide us.
Symptoms vary based on the type of cancer but frequently include pain, fatigue, nausea, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and unexplained weight loss. Frequently, individuals also deal with side effects of chemotherapy such as neuropathic pain and nausea/vomiting.
Medical cannabis may help patients manage symptoms and tolerate cancer treatments like chemo and radiation. Cannabis may be used along with these treatments with a low likelihood of drug interaction if monitored and supported by an experienced healthcare provider.
When it comes to symptoms management, we assess the individual to determine the Right Substance (which cannabinoids to use), the Right Method (inhalation, ingestion, sublingual, topical), and the Right Dosage (right amount of cannabinoids, right route of administration, right timing and frequency) to create a wellness plan that is unique to each individual.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to cannabis as medicine in managing symptoms, and frequently, lower doses of cannabinoids tend to provide great benefit with little to no adverse effects.
More Aggressive Curative Approach
Cannabis has been used effectively for symptom management of cancer for decades. Now scientific evidence is beginning to explore and understand that cannabis as medicine may also produce anti-cancer effects.
Scientific research shows that both THC and CBD have anti-cancer properties in certain cancers. Both cannabinoids have been shown to cause apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells, inhibit tumor growth, inhibit metastasis and cancer cell migration, and inhibit the formation of new blood vessels.
When using cannabis for a more aggressive approach, often individuals utilize a much higher dose of cannabinoids (up to 2000 mg a day) than what is needed to manage symptoms.
Not all cancers respond the same way to these cannabinoids, especially THC and THCa. Where lung, liver, bone, brain and skin cancers may respond well to 1:1 or 1:4 combined CBD:THC extract, endocrine-driven cancers like breast, ovarian, uterine, and prostate are anecdotally reported to respond better to a 4:1 ratio CBD:THC extract.
High doses of cannabis should be monitored closely by an experienced health care provider. Larger doses of cannabis increase the risk of interactions with blood thinners, tamoxifen, and other breast cancer treatments. Cannabis should also be used under close monitoring when utilizing immunosuppressive therapies and hormone-suppressing medications.
With our preclinical research and anecdotal information, many believe cannabinoids have a very promising role in cancer care. According to Dr. Donald Abrams, combining both conventional medicine with complementary care like cannabis may provide the best outcomes.
Cannabis research Manual Guzman (Biles, 2019) also tells us that “Cancer is a very complex disease. There are at least 150 different types of cancer, so when we speak about cannabis or any treatment for cancer, first you should define what type of cancer we are dealing with because it’s really unlikely that a unique substance or a mixture of related substances, as is the case in cannabis, will be effective in all types of cancer.”
Images courtesy of Drug Policy Alliance
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