A new study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, says that people with cancer are now more likely to use marijuana than the people without cancer.
The study looked at data collected by the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2014, and 800 adults with cancer, compared with 1,650 adults without cancer.Read More
SurvivorNet’s doctors agree that that marijuana can be helpful for pain relief during cancer treatment, but that patients should talk to their doctors before using it, as it can also cause complications with some traditional treatments. Our doctors also agree 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 pot, edibles are probably the preferred method, since Dr. Comen does note her concerns about possible damage to the lungs from smoking weed.
Dr. Junella Chin, 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.
Cannabis physician Dr. Junella Chin on using marijuana during chemotherapy treatment.
"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 cannabis for relief during cancer treatment, it's important to know that each patient is different based on their age, size, and medical history, and based on the other treatments they've undergone or are undergoing. Some alternative therapies can even come 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 the individual patient 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, whether they're at home, and we can recommend," 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."
And researchers have been able to get some pretty specific data on marijuana substances and best practices 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," Dr. Chin.
"We know percentages of cannabinoids, percentages of terpenes, and how each patient might react differently," Dr. Chin continues. "If I'm treating a child with cancer, versus treating a middle-aged man who is still working during chemotherapy and radiation, or an elderly patient that's towards the end of their life and is at home resting."