Marijuana for Cancer Care

Because cannabis is illegal, scientific research on the medical benefits for cancer and other serious illnesses is limited, and much of the evidence is anecdotal. However, there seems to be a growing body of data (and citizen demand) to support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

Healers have used Cannabis for medicinal purposes since at least 2700 B.C. You probably know Cannabis as pot, weed, or marijuana. The U.S. made marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance in the 1930s, even though the American Medical Association opposed federal laws making medical marijuana illegal.

Marijuana comes from the Cannabis Salva plant. It has about 450 active ingredients, including more than 60 cannabinoids, the active chemical in cannabis that causes drug-like effects.

Marijuana for Cancer

Marijuana seems to offer relief from pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and loss of appetite, which are common side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. The best available data supporting medical marijuana is for pain management. For example, studies show that adding cannabis to opioids (narcotic pain medications) may lead to greater pain relief at lower doses with fewer opioid-related adverse effects. It may also help reverse cancer-related loss of appetite, which leads to unwanted weight loss and wasting away.

There is some evidence, at least in laboratory studies, that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that produces the high recreational users enjoy, kills or damages some tumor cells, or inhibits their growth by causing cell death and blocking the growth and development of the blood vessels tumors need to grow. It may also reduce inflammation in some types of cancer.

Safety and Risks

In 1995, Dr. Lester Grinspoon at the Harvard Medical School wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "One of marihuana's [sic] greatest advantages as a medicine is its remarkable safety. It has little effect on major physiological far less addictive and far less subject to abuse than many drugs now used as muscle relaxants, hypnotics, and analgesics."

The risk of side effects with marijuana is low, especially compared to prescription drugs, and most side effects are mild. Users may experience rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, relaxed muscles, blood shot eyes, slowed digestion, dizziness, depression, hallucination, paranoia, and memory or learning defects. Marijuana may be addictive and patients may experience withdrawal symptoms. Administering medical marijuana through a vaporizer helps offset the potential harms from smoking it.

Fifteen states and Washington DC currently have laws that allow medical marijuana.

National Cancer Institute. "Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)." Web. 16 December 2101.

Brooks, Megan. "Cannabis Augments Analgesic Effect of Opioids." Medscape Medical News. Web. 13 December 2011.

Seamon, Matthew J. PharmD, JD. "Medical Marijuana: An Evolving Landscape." Medscape Medical News. Web. 22 February 2010.

Americans for Safe Access. "Cancer and Medical Marijuana." Web.

Mercola, Joseph, MD. "The Medical Miracle You'll Get Arrested for Using." Web. 26 November 2011.