If You Have Cancer, Can You use Cannabis?

To be clear, Dr. Incent Maida is not some “hippie pothead.” But the Toronto-based palliative care doctor began to take cannabis seriously approximately 20 years ago. Cannabis, popularly known as marijuana, was illegal in Canada at the time (or the United States). However, he noticed that his patients were confiding in him more and more about using it.

“”I’ve been to my oncologist, they’ve given me all the [legal] medications, but I’m still in pain, nauseous, and vomiting,” they would add. My friend bought certain items for me from the neighbourhood drug dealer, and they helped me feel better “explains Dr. Maida, a palliative medicine associate professor at the University of Toronto. I have heard the tale countless times.

Cannabis may have a variety of medical applications, but according to Maida, cancer sufferers should include marijuana in their treatment plan because of its specific benefits. Many Western MDs who had previously been dubious about his ideas have now begun to change their minds. For instance, a May 2019 study revealed that the vast majority of questioned oncology professionals think that medical marijuana can benefit cancer patients at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

The problem: Only about half of them feel qualified to prescribe it.

Most states in the US currently allow the use of medical cannabis, yet the majority of healthcare professionals are uninformed about it. There is not much uniformity in the interim. You may buy a bottle of Advil in any pharmacy and be sure of what you’re getting. The names of cannabis strains, however, are not standardised and might vary from dispensary to dispensary. Additionally, the potency and specific effects of strains vary (e.g., energetic versus relaxing), and it may be challenging to calculate an exact dose based on your desired administration technique.

Cannabis still has many benefits despite these drawbacks, especially when compared to the existing FDA-approved treatments for treating cancer-related symptoms. According to Jessie Gill, RN, a trained cannabis nurse, it’s generally safe — significant bad effects are incredibly rare — and it may alleviate nausea, pain, loss of appetite, and insomnia. She adds that some of the nerve damage that is frequently linked to chemotherapy and radiation can be prevented with cannabis. Because there is only one medication, as opposed to multiple (one for pain, one for insomnia, etc.), there may be fewer interactions and side effects.

Related: The Cleveland Clinic’s Opposition to the Use of Medical Marijuana

The Workings of Medical Marijuana


You will have a difficult time locating concrete evidence that cannabis actually helps if that is what you’re looking for. Cannabis is incredibly challenging to study because of its lengthy history of prohibition and current federal limitations; as a result, the majority of studies that focus on its usage in cancer have been small or performed on animals. The best proof at the moment is anecdotal, but that could alter when the laws change.


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However, Maida advises that you not dismiss it: “Since ancient times, people have used cannabinoids and other [cannabis] extracts. A piece of evidence that has survived the test of time is the best kind of proof.”

Cannabis isn’t a panacea, but it does appear to have the ability to treat a lot of conditions that don’t seem to be related to one another. According to Donald Abrams, MD, a professor of clinical medicine and integrative oncologist at the University of California in San Francisco, while it may appear suspicious, it is far from the only chemical that has a variety of effects.

He says that aspirin “is useful for pain, inflammation, fever, and some individuals appreciate it for sleep.” Because people have cannabinoid receptors all over their bodies, cannabis has far-reaching effects that can be explained by this fact.


Related: Are Cannibidiol (CBD) and Medical Marijuana Legal in the US?

Medical Marijuana: Beginner’s Guide

Gill notes that every person’s response to cannabis is unique, but if you have cancer and cannabis is legal in your state, trying it out can make sense. Uncertain of where to begin or what to anticipate? Here are some helpful hints.

Think of it as a supplement, not a cure.  Although research on tumour cells in test tubes and on animals suggests that cannabis may have an influence, Dr. Abrams advises against counting on it to treat your illness. Don’t give up on your oncologist and the standard of care; it is best used as an adjuvant to relieve symptoms rather than a cure for cancer.

Choose the entire plant.THC and CBD, often known as cannabidiol, are the two most well-known cannabis compounds (tetrahydrocannabinol). Although not the only active component, CBD is an anti-inflammatory and appears to be substantially responsible for a number of health effects. According to Gill, a range of aromatic oils (terpenes) may also be crucial. THC, meanwhile, is most recognised for giving you a “high,” although it also has some positive effects on your health. In fact, two THC-synthesized medications with FDA approval, Cesamet (nabilone) and Marinol (dronabinol), have been demonstrated to reduce nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. Nevertheless, according to Abrams, it’s preferable to use the entire plant since if you isolate one chemical, you probably miss out on others as well.

As Ashley Glode, PharmD, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences points out, CBD tends to counteract the psychoactive effects of THC, which is why some patients who try THC-rich strains or FDA-approved medications like Cesamet and Marinol frequently experience lightheadedness and drowsiness. She claims that all products sold for health reasons in Canada, where marijuana is now legal for both recreational and therapeutic uses, contain a one-to-one ratio of CBD to THC.


The fastest delivery method is vaping.While there are several ways to consume cannabis, smoking the whole flower is frequently a wise choice (as opposed to concentrated oils, which are more potent). The quickest method of delivery is by vaping or smoking, but as a doctor, Maida advises against smoking because it emits toxins during combustion. If you require relief from intense nausea, vomiting, or pain, vaping should start working in 5 to 10 minutes. According to Glode, tinctures placed under the tongue are likewise swiftly absorbed. Edibles could take up to an hour or more to take action, thus they should only be used for severe pain or insomnia (take an hour or so before bed).

Expect to make some mistakes.If you don’t drive or engage in any other potentially hazardous activities while using the medication, you shouldn’t worry too much about making a big mistake. It could take some time to figure out which doses, strains, and delivery techniques are best for you. According to Abrams, “I don’t think a boxed insert is necessary for this medicine.” I believe that the majority of individuals can learn how to take advantage of it.

Slow down.Gill advises beginning with a single puff of a low-THC flower if you’re vaping and waiting at least 20 minutes to observe how you feel. If you choose an edible, check that the THC content is no more than 2 mg or 2.5 mg, and wait two hours to evaluate the effects. According to Maida, some people who are new to cannabis experience no effects during the first 24 hours. ‘Start low, move slow, and be patient,’ he counselled.


Include the oncology team.They may be able to direct you to a physician, nurse, or pharmacist who is educated about cannabis, if you’re lucky. It’s still a good idea to let them know that you’re utilising this drug even if that’s not the case. According to Glode, cannabis doesn’t interfere with the majority of medications used to treat cancer, although using it with the chemotherapy medicines etopocide and paxlitaxel may cause issues. Ask your oncologist if you plan to use these medications, at the very least. If so, marijuana should be avoided. Glode adds that using cannabis along with a blood thinner like warfarin may raise your risk of bleeding, so avoid doing so.

Perform your homework.Make sure you have more knowledge of the fundamentals before you enter a dispensary. According to Gill, the websites Leafly.com and Healer.com are reliable sources of knowledge for those new to cannabis. A useful resource is also found on her own website, MarijuanaMommy.com, particularly the in-depth FAQ section. Additionally, you must research the legislation of your state.

Do thorough research about your dispensary. Ideally, a trustworthy dispensary will be recommended to you by your doctor or a knowledgeable neighbour in your region. Pharmacists are actually employed by dispensaries in several states. Others can be well-versed professionals with a background in health care, or they might be utterly illiterate. Before deciding if it’s a good fit for you, feel free to inquire about an employee’s level of familiarity with utilising cannabis for cancer patients. Tell them about your symptoms and ask them to suggest particular strains and products if you feel at ease with them and the business.

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