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The health benefits of cannabis are ever-growing. One of the most significant medical benefits being its potential to fight cancer. Besides, there is a lot of evidence that shows compounds present in cannabis (cannabinoids) can help fight cancer symptoms. In recent years, global research efforts have increased due to the growing interest in cannabis’s potential role of cannabis in cancer care. Findings depict that cannabis serves to minimize cancer symptoms and treatment side-effects and as an anti-cancer therapy.

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Considering the growing support for the legalization of cannabis, many experts may promote cancer research in the future. Currently, many studies have included Indica weed strains for their ability to cure cancer and its symptoms. Besides, cannabis works wonders in managing the side-effects caused by the first line of cancer treatment. One can use it and other cancer treatment options like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or hormone therapy.

Let us know more about the role and benefits of cannabis in the treatment of cancer.

Cannabis as an Antiemetic

Two of the most common side-effects of cancer treatment are nausea and vomiting. Chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin cause nausea. It is believed that the excess amount of serotonin in the GI tract can lead to nausea and vomiting. The excess serotonin irritates the GI tract’s mucosal lining and stimulates the 5-HT receptor of the vagus nerve. This nerve then sends stimuli to the vomiting center within the medulla oblongata, which causes nausea and vomiting.

The compounds in cannabis, known as cannabinoids, mainly CBD and THC, can reduce nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. While CBD (cannabidiol) binds to the 5-HT (1A) receptors and blocks the action of serotonin, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) directly suppresses nausea and vomiting through its agonist activity on the CB (1) receptors. Both CBD and THC are clinically effective for treating nausea and vomiting by antagonizing (CBD) and agonizing (THC) receptors to block serotonin’s action.

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Cannabis for Pain Relief

Often, patients undergoing chemotherapy report pain in the form of muscle soreness, headaches, nerve pain, or stomach pain. Since chemotherapy gives rise to inflammation caused by the formation of ulcers or lesions in the mucous membranes, the treatment may lead to severe pain. Another reason for pain in cancer patients is the tumor growth, exerting pressure on bones, organs, or nerves. It can also damage the peripheral nerves and cause neuropathic pain and hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain).

Currently, cannabis is extensively used to manage pain from a wide range of health conditions, including cancer-related pain. It plays a significant role in managing pain in cancer patients by reducing inflammation caused by chemotherapy. Additionally, cannabinoids present in cannabis can control tumor-induced neuropathic pain and hyperalgesia. The agonist activity of THC on the pain-sensing neurons reduces hyperalgesia in deep tissues.

Cannabis for Appetite Stimulation

One of the well-known side-effects of chemotherapy drugs is anorexia, which is appetite loss. This is partly due to the effects of these drugs on the serotonin signaling system. For example, cisplatin (a chemotherapy drug) causes serotonin’s excess production, leading to a reduction in the hunger hormone – ghrelin. So, even though the stomach is empty, the brain does not receive any stimuli that produce hunger sensations.

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Fortunately, cannabis offers appetite restoration properties to help cancer patients regain hunger sensations. Cannabinoid agonists such as THC can increase the production of the AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) enzyme. AMPK plays a significant role in metabolic processes, including regulation of energy homeostasis (energy balance) in the body and mediation of appetite-inducing effects of ghrelin and cannabinoids.

Cannabis as an Antidepressant

Depression is one of the most unnoticed symptoms in cancer patients. The majority of the patients are silent sufferers of depression that severely damage their overall quality of life. If left untreated, this mental health condition can lead to a wide range of complications that can deteriorate the cancer patient’s treatment journey. For instance, depression can significantly increase appetite loss associated with chemotherapy, sleep quality, pain, fatigue, stress, and anxiety.

The undisputed potential of cannabis to treat depression has helped many cancer patients to manage the condition successfully during their treatment. THC and other cannabinoids in cannabis exert antidepressant effects. They help in mood elevation by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system and restore its normal function to alleviate the symptoms of depression. This, in turn, can also provide relief from anxiety, fatigue, and pain.

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Conclusion

For patients and families who are contemplating adding cannabis products to their treatment regimen, make sure to inform your healthcare provider. Remember, cannabis should be used in conjunction with your medical regimen and is not a cure for your condition. Cannabis comes in different forms and can be used in several different ways, but vaping is often a good option. One can also opt for tinctures and edibles. Any form you opt for, ensure the product you buy is free from contaminants, and the quality is tested. 

References:

  1. Linda A Parker, Erin M Rock, et al. Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids, 2011 Aug;163(7):1411-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.01176.x.
  2. Ethan B Russo. Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain, 2008 Feb. doi: 10.2147/tcrm.s1928
  3. Chung ThongLim, BlerinaKola, et al. Ghrelin and cannabinoids require the ghrelin receptor to affect cellular energy metabolism, 20 November 2012. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mce.2012.11.007
  4. Abir T.El-Alfy,  KellyIvey, et al. Antidepressant-like effect of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and other cannabinoids isolated from Cannabis sativa L., 21 March 2010. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbb.2010.03.004