Patients in the more advanced stages of cancer are increasingly turning to cannabis and cannabinoids to help treat their symptoms and to help them cope with the aftermath of life-saving surgery and radiation treatments.
It is well-documented that cannabis has the potential to help those suffering from nausea, issues with sleep and a lack of appetite but it is believed that there is a distinct possibility that individual patients may discover a much greater range of benefits.
When you consider mankind’s long history with cannabis, it’s ironic that we are in a position where we are essentially ‘rediscovering’ our connection with this incredible plant.
Slowly but surely we are seeing the incredibly restrictive walls of prohibition continue to crumble and this means that the shackles and restraints of the past century or so are loosening their grip. Over the past few years we have seen much more of a swing towards alternative medicines and this is due in part to the concerns relating to the increasing prevalence of opioids and the associated risks of addiction.
It’s almost impossible to imagine what it is like to actually be given a cancer diagnosis and to then go through the complex and extensive process of treatment, so anything which can offer patients some form of relief in their time of need is never a bad thing. As restrictions begin to ease, and cannabis is rescheduled in more locations, there is more opportunity for exploration and research in the hope of offering a better range of supporting therapies for cancer patients around the world.
Clinical trials have investigated the impact of medical cannabis and cannabinoids on chronic pain (in both cancer and non-cancer related cases) and found that many patients indicated that they experienced the greatest benefit when cannabis was inhaled as opposed to ingested. While this is not a conclusive finding, it is to be expected in some ways as the onset of the effects of cannabis is much more rapid when it is inhaled.
The delay of benefit through ingestion or other methods may give the perception of a lessened impact but reports indicate that people can experience a longer-lasting benefit from these methods. As is so often the case with cannabis, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and patients are often given the chance to trial a number of methods before finding what benefits them the most.
For many cancer sufferers some of the most challenging times come in the wake of chemotherapy sessions that leave the body exhausted, nauseous and weak. I remember speaking with a member of my family during their fight against cancer and they expressed that they wouldn’t wish these effects on anyone. Endlessly uncomfortable, exhausted but unable to sleep properly, hungry but unable to eat and feeling nauseous to the point of vomiting whenever they managed to muster the energy to finally eat something – they likened it to feeling trapped in a body that was not your own. Their doctor offered them a range of painkillers and anti-nausea tablets but nothing really seemed to work. Their treatment and recovery lasted almost four years with this cycle being repeated each time they went for chemo.
Throughout this difficult time, we spoke about using cannabis but they were apprehensive because of the stigma surrounding its use and their concerns relating to the possible ramifications of self-medicating in the UK.
At this stage there are various theories in relation to how different combinations of CBD and THC can offer a plethora of benefits to cancer patients. For some sufferers, the consumption of cannabis can give them a sense of feeling more ‘normal’ by reducing the severity of their pain and thereby allowing them to focus on the things they enjoy or to improve their overall mood so that they can interact with others in a more engaged manner. Quality of life is something which is so often undervalued, or at least not truly appreciated, when we are healthy but many people report that they long for a sense of normality whilst they are on the long road to recovery.
What many people are also hoping to see develop further is the idea of cannabis and cannabinoids being used as a direct treatment for cancer itself. There have been some very promising findings in relation to the way that cannabinoids interact with cancer cells, with some studies indicating that cannabinoids can kill cancer cells and ‘switch off’ the internal systems that lead to oncogenesis of normal cells in the first place. It is not beyond the realms of impossibility to imagine that we could eventually get to the stage where people are recommended to use cannabinoids regularly as a preventative measure but, for now at least, that is a long way over the horizon.
As is so often the case, the biggest hindrance continues to be a sense of reluctance and a lack of pre-existing knowledge in relation to cannabis within the medical community. Doctors often feel much less confident offering a patient some form of cannabis than they would in offering them a prescribed pharmaceutical (even with the known risks of opioids) and this is something which will hopefully continue to improve over time.
Larger scale clinical trials are needed to further explore the true potential for cannabis in the treatment of cancer and its associated symptoms. Many researchers have indicated that their initial findings show some level of promise but the small scale and limited avenues of research mean that nothing can be seen as conclusive at this time. Hopefully this is a good indication of what the future might hold but many patients around the world are likely to find themselves having to walk a thin line if they want to include cannabis in their regime of treatment.
Written and Published by Psy-23 in Weed World Magazine Issue 159
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