What the science says about the palliative treatment of cannabis cancer patients

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Cancer patients in the Czech Republic Republic have legal right access therapeutic cannabis, which should help manage the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. What kind exists scientific evidence for this treatment?

Currently oncologists offer a wide range of uses for cannabis, especially in the field of palliative care (for support, i.e. not intended to treat, only to help relieve symptoms) of patients with cancer.

We are talking about patients who suffer from pain associated with the disease, or are seriously affected by radiation and chemotherapy treatment, as well as from synthetic drugs that they were prescribed to relieve these pains and other diseases.

What Can Cannabis Help With?

In mid-2013, one of the largest and most complex studies of cannabis use among cancer patients was published so far. Israeli doctors at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa have been studying the effects of cannabinoids on suppressing health problems that patients experience during chemotherapy and radiation and the side effects of prescription drugs that usually help with these diseases.

The eight-week study included 156 patients who, before starting cannabis therapy, filled out a questionnaire listing the most common problems, scoring on a scale of 0 to 4 the intensity of various complications associated with their cancer.

The authors state that “in the list of problems associated with cancer and possible side effects of chemotherapy treatment or radiation (and possibly synthetic drugs designed to suppress the side effects of such treatment), insomnia, pain, itching, constipation, loss of appetite, excessive weight loss , dizziness, frequent mood swings, nausea and vomiting.”

cannabis treatment

Based on the results of the completed questionnaires, patients received a predetermined amount of cannabis, which they had to use over the next eight weeks in order to enjoy and record changes in observed problems. After a probationary period, they were invited to the hospital, where again filled the same questionnaire as before the start of cannabis therapy. Twenty-five patients discontinued treatment during the first week of therapy.

The results of the 131 patients who completed the study were perfectly clear, we read in conclusion: “From the second interview, it became clear that there was a significant improvement in all measured traits. At the same time, there were no side effects other than a slightly impaired short-term memory in a few patients … Although there are no controlled group studies yet, the positive effects of cannabis in this study are sufficient to warrant the use of cannabis in the course of palliative care for cancer patients ” .

natural vs synthetic

Cannabis exposure may also promote mental health, which is important in cancer treatment, both for the patient and those around them. In addition to the well-known psychotropic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), relief from anxiety and depression can provide and other cannabinoids – for example, CBD, which, among other things, interferes with the psychoactivity of THC.

In contrast, many of the common drugs prescribed to cancer patients, such as the sedatives haloperidol and droperidol, can have unwanted side effects such as emotional dryness, frequent mood swings, lowering blood pressure, or impaired extrapyramidal motility (the body’s ability to coordinate movements), and many others. .

A report from the American Institute of Medicine Research (Institute of Medicine) from 1999 states: “For patients suffering from severe nausea and vomiting, drugs in the form of tablets are usually not suitable, because they cannot swallow them or keep them in stomach. The time delay between the use of the powder and when it begins to act is also undesirable. Thus, in the management of nausea due to chemotherapy, inhalation of cannabinoids (but ideally not directly smoking, but, for example, evaporation (vaporization)) appears as the preferred method of application.

Would you like a hemp pill?

Patients can also get relief with synthetic THC, sold under the name Marinol, taken orally in capsule form. However, recently published research results from GW Pharmaceuticals in the UK have shown that Marinol is no match for the hemp plant when it comes to pain relief. Also the synergy of cannabinoids is important, because different cannabinoids – mainly CBC (cannabichromene) and CBD with THC: only the synergy of these cannabis active ingredients helps patients the most. Therefore, marinol is given only to support appetite and eliminate symptoms of nausea, but not to control pain. And inbreathing cannabis is recognized as the preferred method due to the difficulties mentioned above in patients with swallowing pills.

In a report prepared for the British House of Lords in 1998, among other things, he states: “For patients who have tried both methods, marinol usually does not help, and natural hemp is considered a more effective drug.”

There is enough evidence supporting the use of cannabis for palliative care in oncology, all that is needed now is for officials from the Czech Ministry of Health and SÚKL to start doing their job and allow more patients to have access to this highly effective and non-toxic drug.