As medical cannabis becomes legal in more states, cancer patients are increasingly interested in the potential utility of the ancient botanical in their treatment regimen.
Although eager to discuss cannabis use with their oncologist, patients often find that their provider reports that they do not have adequate information to be helpful. Oncologists, so dependent on evidence-based data to guide their treatment plans, are dismayed by the lack of published literature on the benefits of medical cannabis. This results largely from the significant barriers that have existed to effectively thwart the ability to conduct trials investigating the potential therapeutic efficacy of the plant.
This is a narrative review aimed at clinicians, summarizing cannabis phytochemistry, trials in the areas of nausea and vomiting, appetite, pain and anticancer activity, including assessment of case reports of antitumor use, with reflective assessments of the quality and quantity of evidence. Despite preclinical evidence and social media claims, the utility of cannabis, cannabinoids or cannabis-based medicines in the treatment of cancer remains to be convincingly demonstrated.
With an acceptable safety profile, cannabis and its congeners may be useful in managing symptoms related to cancer or its treatment. Further clinical trials should be conducted to evaluate whether the preclinical antitumor effects translate into benefit for cancer patients. Oncologists should familiarize themselves with the available database to be able to better advise their patients on the potential uses of this complementary botanical therapy.