Marijuana and the Cancer Community
- Mississippi legislators have sent the governor a bill that could legalize marijuana use for people with severe medical conditions.
- Now, it’s up to the state’s Republican Governor, Tate Reeves, to sign it, veto it, or let the bill become law without a signature. Governor Reeves publicly said on Tuesday that he is unsure if he will sign it, but lawmakers passed the bill with enough votes to overturn a veto.
- The law would enable people with serious medical conditions to purchase up to 3.5 grams of marijuana a day, up to six days a week.
On Wednesday, the Mississippi House and Senate both passed a final version of Senate Bill 2095. Now, it’s up to the state’s Republican Governor, Tate Reeves, to sign it, veto it, or let the bill become law without a signature. As of Tuesday, Governor Reeves has publicly said he is unsure if he will sign it. Even still, the bill is expected to become law because lawmakers passed it with enough votes to overturn a veto.Read More
Can smoking marijuana cause people to develop lung cancer?
In November 2020, most Mississippi voters approved an initiative that would have allowed people meeting certain medical requirements to buy up to 5 ounces of marijuana a month. That state Supreme Court later invalidated the initiative. In the time that has passed since that ruling, lawmakers have been drafting another initiative that would enable people with cancer, AIDS, sickle cell disease, and other conditions to purchase weed from state-approved marijuana dispensaries. The state Senate and House initially passed different versions of the bill, but they later collaborated on one bill to send to the governor with bipartisan support.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a total of 36 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have approved comprehensive, publicly available medical marijuana/cannabis programs.
How Can Marijuana Help People with Cancer?
Marijuana can be a helpful option for pain relief during cancer treatment, but SurvivorNet experts encourage patients to consult their doctors before using it because it can cause complications with some traditional treatments. Our doctors warn that marijuana is never a substitute for traditional cancer treatment, but may be used as part of an “integrative therapy,” meaning coupled with traditional treatment with approval from the patient’s oncologist.
“I have no problem with patients getting marijuana from a reputable, licensed source as long as patients are open with their physician about what they’re taking, and making sure it doesn’t interact with any clinical trial drug that they’re taking or any standard therapy,” says Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. While open to her patients using marijuana, edibles are probably the preferred method, since Dr. Comen does have concerns about possible damage to the lungs from smoking marijuana.
Medical marijuana can help alleviate pain and decrease inflammation for people with cancer, but how?
Dr. Junella Chin, an integrative cannabis physician at MedLeafRX, describes her practice as a way to help with the pain and discomfort that can result from certain parts of cancer treatment. For example, sometimes she treats patients who are experiencing pain due to chemotherapy. “A chemotherapy patient usually comes to see me if they have nausea, if they have decreased appetite, if they have pain, if they have insomnia, and if they’re depressed,” she tells SurvivorNet.
“Medical cannabis if you think about it, it’s the only botanical medicine, it’s the only plant-based medicine that can help nausea, increase appetite, decrease pain, and elevate mood,” Dr. Chin continues. “So I could in essence write four or five different prescription medications which a lot of physicians do, a lot of oncologists do, or we can try having the patient take one plant-based medicine first.”
When we’re talking about using cannabis for relief during cancer treatment, it’s important to acknowledge that each patient is different based on their age, size, medical history, and the other treatments they are undergoing. Some alternative therapies can even get in the way of ongoing conventional treatments, causing them not to work or to work less effectively. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your oncologist before looking for any integrative therapies, including cannabis.
At Dr. Chin’s office, assessing each patient as an individual is the first step. “When a patient comes sees me through a referral through their oncologist or from a friend, word of mouth, the first step is to look at their medical records, do a full history and physical exam. You’re still assessing the patient as a regular physician’s visit,” says Dr. Chin.
“Then we talk about different medications that they’re on that might’ve worked, different medications that they’re on that might not have worked. Their lifestyle. Whether they’re still working, or whether they’re at home,” Dr. Chin continues. “We look at the patient’s medication list. We look at the patient’s lifestyle, and we decide and recommend a medical cannabis formulation that will work well for them.”
Researchers have been able to get some impressively specific data on marijuana substances and best practices for using the plant. “In a state like New York where it’s very highly regulated, we are measuring patient results and patient data through the milligrams of cannabis that they’re taking, and we know exactly what the composition of the medical cannabis plant has in these New York dispensaries,” said Dr. Chin. “We know percentages of cannabinoids, percentages of terpenes, and how each patient might react differently.”