A Case for Cancer Care Providers to Consider Cannabis: 5 Points for Your Consideration

For a few minutes, allow yourself to put old ideas and former thoughts aside. A year ago after attending a medical oncology meeting, I decided to begin my “cannabis in cancer” education. I was energized after meeting and speaking with an amazing nurse who has been researching the biology of cannabis, the genetics of cancer tumors, speaking with experts around the world and working with other medical clinicians who are trying to decipher the specifics of how to use cannabis in the treatment of many types of cancer. I can tell you there is a lot out there! I have been reading journal articles in American Association for Cancer Research, Cancer, Cell, the Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics and more. I have learned a lot from the pre-clinical and increasing clinical research and from the citizen scientist as well. Research is increasing in the area of cannabis medicine but yes, we still need more. As an oncology care provider, nurse, doctor, and perhaps pharmacist, you might find it amazing to know the number of hours patients and their caregivers have spent researching, conferring, and educating themselves and others about medical cannabis. As of now, over half of the states in the US have medical cannabis laws, an additional 16 have CBD only laws and 6 states are in the process of starting programs reflecting changes in their medical cannabis laws (http://norml.org/legal/medical-marijuana-2).  There are many social media sites that help and support people with illness considering the use of cannabis in their treatment.

In a recent article by Steven Pergam, MD and colleagues, patients discuss their desire to be able to discuss medical cannabis with their oncology team.  In an effort to foster this conversation, I would have you consider these 5 facts.

“Cannabis is not a panacea. It’s science. It’s a beautiful amazing plant and I’m so grateful that we have it, but I don’t pray to the cannabis plant any more than I pray to my thyroid medication. It’s all chemistry.”
 - Mara Gordon, Aunt Zelda’s

1)  There are many issues around cannabis! The history, the politics, the understanding of how the endocannabinoid system works, the challenges with research, the plant and it’s genetics and variety of strains, and much more. Will you take some time to start “tabla raza” and consider the science, the chemistry and the potential patient benefits?

2)  If there was a substance that demonstrated capacities to limit inflammation, cell proliferation, cell survival, invasion, metastasis, angiogenesis and the stem-like potential of cancer stem cells would you find out more?

3)  If there was a substance that in pre-clinical research and increasingly clinical research that offered hope to patients with bladder cancer, brain tumors, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and blood cancers would you investigate?

4)  If you knew that there are thousands and thousands of patients and their loved ones, in this country and around the world, trying to find out more about how cannabis might or might not be helpful to their specific cancer, where to go to for information and guidance, trying to figure out dosing, many wanting to experience benefit of cannabis without the psychoactive effects, would you be interested in advocating for more research? For rescheduling cannabis?

5)  While there is research demonstrating the efficacy of cannabis in symptom management for the side effects of cancer therapies (American Cancer Society statement), if there was a substance that might also provide neuroprotective effects and relief from the suffering from GVHD, bone pain related to treatments or metastatic disease, aid in sleep and perhaps even well-being would you want to know more?

Oncology professionals are constantly called to remain up to date on the research and what might be serve their patients. Over the last few years we have witnessed new and amazing therapies that impact cancer progression and growth. I know that oncology professionals want to provide their patients and their patients’ caregivers with the best care possible and to advocate for on-going research and improved clinical outcomes. I know that oncology providers are so very busy and there is always so much to learn. As a health care professional and patient advocate, please consider educating yourself about medical cannabis. Consider finding some medical professionals who might serve as a resource or as a consultant. Consider participating in requesting the rescheduling of cannabis – the FDA is receiving comments until April 23. You might find that patients from many walks of life are requesting the conversation.

I have included resources below that I hope you find useful. This is an area that will be changing quickly and I feel grateful for the scientist and citizen researchers that are helping to define what may be possible, and what is not advisable, for the use of cannabis in cancer care as well as other medical conditions. Feel free to contact me for more information.

Always welcoming curiosity and wishing you the same,