Cancer: Medical Marijuana’s Many Benefits

According to medical surveys, an estimated 30 percent of Americans will develop cancer in their lifetimes. About one third will be able to live, even with cancer, for years. This is the primary reason that researchers and scientists are on a quest for medicines to avert and treat the disease and to discover drugs that would make life more comfortable and convenient for patients suffering from cancer.

Whether or not marijuana is the answer needs to be further explored. Several patients and their relatives, most of whom do not have previous experience with marijuana, have attested that medical marijuana is indeed the answer. The author of a 1992 medical marijuana proposal that became the basis for California’s Proposition 215 said that though she herself has no experience using the drug, she was prompted by her husband’s battle with cancer to take supportive action. She has shared his story with the IOM team, below.

When her husband started chemotherapy, it seemed the chemotherapy made him more sick than the actual disease. Only three months was given for him to live. When the oncologist approved his use of marijuana, she had to go through back alleys in order to acquire some. The first marijuana she got was not very effective; she had to find some of better quality. Two puffs of  quality marijuana would send her husband into chemotherapy with a smile on his face and return home still happy. Her husband died of cancer as expected but she knows that using marijuana – a drug that he never thought of trying – made his latter months bearable.

Cancer patients who are marijuana users claim that the drug helps them in a number of ways, including suppressing vomiting, increasing appetite, quelling nausea, soothing anxiety, and relieving pain. Clinical studies show that marijuana possesses an evident benefit of simultaneously treating most cancer symptoms and the disease itself. Medicines that are produced with specific chemicals in marijuana may be taken advantage of in order to supplement standard medications or to cure people with the disease who experienced failure in other therapies.

Considerable evidence appears that the drug could compete with a range of helpful medicines particularly for vomiting, appetite stimulation, and nausea. The component THC, in Marinol (dronabinol) form, has been utilized for over a decade already to reduce symptoms in patients with cancer or AIDS. However, other forms of cannabinoids or combinations of the same may be proven more effective than that of THC alone, which means that any medicine that would be the result from these findings would benefit both AIDS and cancer patients.

For people with cancer, vomiting and nausea happen when one of many sensory centers situated in the digestive tract or the brain is stimulated. It is probable for patients to feel nauseated without having to vomit, or to vomit without becoming nauseated prior to that. Vomiting, which is also referred to as emesis, takes a complex coordination of the respiratory muscles, posture, and digestive tract. Since all the action can be measured, scientists have been able to recreate the chain of physiological activities that lead to vomiting.

Researchers who study the origins of nausea are limited by their dependence on the subjective descriptions of patients on their own feelings because little is known about the actual mechanisms that trigger the symptom, which seems to result from brain activity alone. A majority of recent clinical studies being conducted have been aimed at alleviating the side effects of chemo, concentrating on the capability of candidate compounds to curtail or prevent vomiting as a result of such limitations.

Researchers suppose that the drugs and/or their digestive by-products rouse receptors in main sensory cells, although they do not completely understand how chemotherapy agents cause vomiting. There are other agents, including cisplatin, that cause almost every patient to vomit repeatedly. Some agents like methotrexate have this effect on a small margin of patients going through chemotherapy. With the drug mustine, vomiting can start soon after treatment or up to an hour after going through chemotherapy. Often, trials of antiemetics (drugs which prevent vomiting) are administered to patients who are treated with cisplatin. This is because medicines that can reduce vomiting following cisplatin treatment tend to work the least. Unfortunately, the same is also true with other chemotherapy agents.

Medical scientists have been able to test a number of cannabinoids for their capability in suppressing vomiting. These drugs include two forms of THC, delta-9 and the less numerous delta-8. Likewise, two artificial cannabinoids (levonantradol and nabilone) that activate the receptors same as THC have also been assessed as possible antiemetics. These four compounds are proven to be effective in preventing vomiting after chemotherapy to a mild degree. Two other clinical researches also showed that to a limited degree, marijuana smoking aids in suppressing emesis (vomiting) that is chemotherapy-induced. Additional studies that are less rigorous came to identical conclusions that THC decreases the possibility of vomiting after chemotherapy to a limited extent. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the medicine in Marinol for cases when chemotherapy-induced vomiting and nausea are not alleviated by other antiemetic medications.

Some participants reported unfavourable side effects, which included low blood pressure, dry mouth, and sedation. But medical marijuana advocates take a strong stand that when patients receive advanced guidance on marijuana’s effects, they rarely experience an undesirable psychological response their first time using the drug. This claim may actually equally apply to the consequences of THC as marijuana’s chief psychoactive constituent.

Another study that examined smoked marijuana in patients with cancer who were not aided by conventional antiemetic drugs showed that almost 80 percent of the 56 participants considered marijuana “moderately effective” or “highly effective” compared to some antiemetics that they had previously used. These results must be considered approximate at best since the cluster of patients differed tremendously in their chemotherapeutic regimen; thus, with their experience with marijuana.

Breathing in THC through smoked marijuana is more effective in preventing vomiting than swallowing a pill. This is because if severe vomiting started right after chemotherapy, oral THC is not able stay down long enough to start taking effect. Smoking on the other hand, lets patients take only the medicine they prefer, puffing one at a time, reducing the risk of undesirable side effects.

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