04 Feb Cannabis viewed by some as better way to treat chemotherapy side effects
For most cancer patients, chemotherapy is an ordeal. The treatment, aimed at killing cancer cells, has a multitude of side effects, ranging from bone pain to lost sense of smell. “I didn’t feel like myself, I always felt sick, and low energy..,” one woman wrote of her experience last year. “There were times I really didn’t think I could go through with the next treatment.”
For years now, doctors have been prescribing an assortment of medications to treat side these problems. Among those are ondansetron and prochlorperazine, which help with nausea and vomiting, two of the most common side effects of chemotherapy, and lorazepam for anxiety and insomnia.
But these medications cause problems of their own. For example: Because anti-nausea drugs can cause gastrointestinal problems and headaches, patients sometimes end up taking over-the-counter medications for constipation and diarrhea as well as ibuprofen for pain.
It’s not unheard of for a chemotherapy patient to be taking more than a dozen prescription and non-prescription drugs at once. Needless to say, this cocktail makes many people feel unwell.
With each passing year, more physicians are seeing cannabis as better alternative.
“I could write six different prescriptions, all of which may interact with each other or the chemotherapy that the patient has been prescribed, Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology-oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, told Newsweek, “or I could just recommend trying one medicine.”
Marijuana is best-known for its ability to treat nausea and vomiting but it has other benefits as well. It has been shown to stimulate appetite, which prevents the unhealthy weight loss that many patients suffer, and to regulate the digestive system. Moreover, many chemotherapy patients report that marijuana helps reduce their anxiety and elevate their mood.
Four years ago, Israeli oncologist Dr. Gil Bar-Sela interviewed 131 people going through chemotherapy. Less than four per cent said their symptoms had worsened while using cannabis and the majority said it helped.
“All cancer or anti-cancer treatment-related symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, mood disorders, fatigue, weight loss, anorexia, constipation, sexual function, sleep disorders, itching, and pain had significant improvement,” Bar-Sela reported.
While there is not an across-the-board consensus among physicians and researchers that cannabis should be used to treat patients for the side effects of chemotherapy and other conditions, there is a growing number of cannabis advocates in medical and scientific circles — and they’re making inroads.
A Nova Scotia human rights board very recently determined that employee insurance plans should cover medical marijuana. The Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association hopes the ruling leads to wider coverage for patients who take marijuana. Says Deepak Anand, executive director of the CNMMA: “A human rights board has never taken this issue on in the past, at least not in Canada, so that’s huge.”