Marijuana, also referred to as cannabis and many other names, is a plant that has been in existence for years and cultivated across the world for use in herbal remedies and recreational purposes. Marijuana contains a number of active compounds, called cannabinoids, of which 2 are the most popular of all: Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC and Cannabidiol, CBD.
While THC is known to be psychoactive, CBD on the other hand does not have any psychoactive effect and many people diagnosed with cancer have claimed the use of CBD in the management of pains, is highly effective.
Use of Marijuana
Under Federal law, Cannabis is illegal in the United States of America, but use of medical marijuana has been legalized in about 50 states in the country.
In a 2013 survey by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, NSDUH, about 20 million people reported their usage of marijuana in the month before the survey.
People smoke marijuana, brew it as tea, vaporize and inhale it, use it as balm, chew it and even as edibles in candies. The substance has also been used extensively by some people in the treatment of pains associated with cancer, nausea, sleep disturbances and other common ailments.
Marijuana and Cancer
A number of studies have reported that individuals undergoing treatment for cancer can benefit from the use of marijuana in managing some common symptoms. A certain study by the National Institute of Drug Abuse also identifies some benefits of the use of marijuana.
However, scientists are of the belief that the limitations on the research on marijuana implies that there are bigger questions to answer on the medical properties of the substance. Apart from THC and CBD, there are as much as 400 chemical compounds in marijuana, of which 60 are cannabinoids. Most of these compounds could have medical value. Owing to the limitation on research carried out on the substance, there may be limited knowledge on the importance or value of these compounds.
How Marijuana Can Help Cancer
Marijuana can help in the alleviation of some certain cancer symptoms and also in the treatment of the side effects of some other medications.
- Nausea: Some studies have reported that marijuana could ease the side effects of undergoing chemotherapy. In fact, the FDA reportedly approved certain drugs, which are man-made cannabinoids to treat nausea in cancer patients.
- Pain: Studies also have it that marijuana can alleviate pains related to cancer. The compound in the substance when ingested, will bind to cannabinoid receptors present in the brain and other parts of the body. Marijuana may also be effective in easing inflammation.Nerve pain like neuropathy, which is the numbness, weakness and pains caused by damage to the nerve, as a result of chemotherapy, can also be eased with the use of marijuana
- Anorexia and Cachexia: Anorexia is the medical term for loss of appetite, while Cachexia is a phenomenon of undeliberate loss of weight, specifically loss of fat and lean muscle. These symptoms are often accompanied by fatigue. The FDA-approved Cannabinoid, Dronabinol has been used in the treatment of anorexia associated with AIDS, though not specifically meant for cancer. The studies on the efficacy of medical marijuana in the treatment of these symptoms are limited; however marijuana can improve the appetite of cancer patients.
- Anti-Neoplastic: Studies also have it that marijuana may be effective in the halting the growth of certain tumors.
The classification of marijuana as an illegal drug has set a limit on the research of its application in the medical world. However, the interest in this field has been on the increase in the past few years. There is the need for more studies to have a full understanding of the potential benefits of the substance in the treatment of the symptoms associated with cancer.
What to expect during use of medical marijuana
Medical marijuana is available in different strains, and every strain has different levels of potency as well as the active compounds. What this implies is that the effect of the substance will vary depending on the user and this can be quite difficult to predict.
Medical marijuana products can come in many forms which include:
- Edibles such as candy, cookies, brownies and mints
- Dried leaf or bud for smoking
- Oils for adding to tea, food and honey
- Tinctures that can be used sublingually
Many doctors will however prefer that the patient does not smoke anything. So the use of oils, sprays and other edibles could still be the best option for consumption.
The Side Effects of Taking Marijuana
Even though medical marijuana may have some of its benefits in the treatment of symptoms associated with cancer, it can also lead to some side effects when used for a very long time or abused by the user.
Below are some pointers that demonstrate some of the side effects that can be arise from consuming the substance:
- Judgement Impairment: A study reported in the BMJ showed that there is every likeness that an individual will crash their car if they drive within 3 hours of taking marijuana.
- Reproductive Issues: According to the report of a study in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the use of cannabis in men can lead to sexual dysfunction.
- Immune Response: Consuming marijuana can eventually suppress the immune system, which can expose the user to more susceptible types of infections and cancer.
- Psychosis: A report on Jama Journal Network has it that the long-term use of marijuana could increase the risk of psychosis development in young adults.
- Memory Loss: Reports have it that users of potent strains of cannabis may be at risk of developing acute memory loss.
Addiction to Marijuana
Cannabis, just like every other pain reliever used in the treatment of symptoms associated with cancer, can lead to over-dependence and addiction. With time, the persistent stimulation of the neurotransmitters which bind to the cannabinoid receptors may cause some changes in the brain that result in addiction to marijuana.