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Medical cannabis (Beyond Conventional Cancer Treatment)

Medical cannabis has many potential benefits for cancer patients, especially symptom management. Medical cannabis is used beyond conventional cancer therapy for fighting anorexia, nausea and vomiting, pain, loss of appetite and depression caused by chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting occur when one of the many sensory centres in the brain and digestive system is stimulated. Some drugs, including cisplatin, cause recurrent vomiting in almost all patients. Other drugs, such as methotrexate, produce these effects in a small number of chemotherapy patients. Vomiting can begin within minutes of treatment with some chemotherapeutic drugs or up to an hour after chemotherapy with cisplatin. Research studies have demonstrated the ability of several cannabinoids to suppress vomiting, including two types of THC (delta-9 and the less common delta-8-THC). THC seems to reduce chemotherapy-induced vomiting​1​.


Loss of appetite affects most cancer patients, which can impair the quality of life of cancer patients. Depending on the cancer type, 50 to 80% of people develop cachexia, a disproportionate loss of body tissue. Cachexia is most common in the later stages of advanced pancreatic, lung and prostate cancer. Medical cannabis is known for its appetite-stimulating ability. This effect is mainly due to the action of THC, which has been confirmed in several studies. Some patients may benefit from combination therapy consisting of THC and cytokine blockers to stimulate appetite and reduce nausea and pain​2​.

To prevent the spread of cancer

By targeting the various cannabinoid associated receptors, medical cannabis affects many essential cellular processes and signalling pathways that are crucial for tumor development. For example, they can induce cell cycle arrest, promote apoptosis, and inhibit proliferation, migration and angiogenesis in tumor cells. Different plant-derived cannabinoids and cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs have been the subject of intensive research for their potential antitumor activity, especially in cancer cells. In addition to THC, CBD is another plant-derived cannabinoid that has been extensively studied for its potential antitumor effects.

To manage cancer associated pain

Cancer patients often experience chronic pain that may be the result of direct tumor invasion or a side effect of cancer treatment. Because pain negatively affects the physical, functional and emotional aspects of life, effective pain management strategies are essential to restore and maintain the quality of life of cancer patients. Compounds derived from the Cannabis sativa L. plant species have been shown to reduce pain. The most studied examples are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), a group of compounds known as cannabinoids. These compounds are usually given by inhalation, orally as an oil or oil-filled capsule, or via aerosol containing only THC or a THC: CBD combination​3​.

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  1. 1.
    Atakan Z. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science beyond the Controversy. Vol 323. BMJ; 2001.
  2. 2.
    Dariš B, Tancer V, Knez Ž, Ferk P. Cannabinoids in cancer treatment: Therapeutic potential and legislation. Bosn J Basic Med Sci. 2019;19(1):14-23. doi:10.17305/bjbms.2018.3532
  3. 3.
    Blake A, Wan B, Malek L, et al. A selective review of medical cannabis in cancer pain management. Ann Palliat Med. 2017;6(Suppl 2):S215-S222. doi:10.21037/apm.2017.08.05


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