Can cannabis help cancer patients?
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Can cannabis help cancer patients?

February 4, 2021 Nancy Riveong

Cannabis also known as marijuana is an herb that grows in warm and tropical climates throughout the world. It goes by numerous names like pot, grass, cannabis, weed, hemp, hash, marihuana, ganja, and dozens of others. Cannabis has psychoactive properties and has been used for medicinal purposes since thousands of years. However, the west was introduced to this mysterious herb in 1839, by a surgeon named W.B. O’Shaughnessy. W.B. O’Shaughnessy learned of its medicinal properties as an analgesic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and anticonvulsant while working in India for the British East India Company.

Cannabis, often seen as an indigenous psychotic drug has long been investigated for its mysterious psychoactive effects. Cannabis, in addition to terpenes and flavonoids, contains a very special component known as cannabinoids which activate specific receptors throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system. The main psychoactive constituent of cannabis, cannabinoids is 21-carbon terpenophenolic compound. Although, Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid present in cannabis, but over 100 other cannabinoids have also been reported to be present in the plant. A number of cannabinoids namely cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) are being investigated for potential medical benefits.

In 1986, an isomer of synthetic delta-9-THC in sesame oil was licensed and approved for the treatment of chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting under the name dronabinol. Since then, many countries have been using cannabis extracts for management of cancer. For example, Nabiximols (Sativex), a cannabis extract with a 1:1 ratio of THC:CBD, is approved in Canada (under the Notice of Compliance with Conditions) for symptomatic relief of pain in advanced cancer and multiple sclerosis. Moreover, a growing number of states, territories in the United States have enacted laws to legalize the medical use of cannabinoids. Moreover, commercially available form of cannabinoids namely, dronabinol and nabilone, are approved drugs for the treatment of cancer-related side effects in USA. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved cannabis as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition, although both isolated THC and CBD pharmaceuticals are licensed and approved.

Hence, currently two chemically pure drugs based on cannabis compounds that have been approved in the U.S. for medical use.

1. Dronabinol (Marinol®) is a gelatin capsule containing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy as well as weight loss and poor appetite in patients with AIDS.

2. Nabilone (Cesamet®), a synthetic cannabinoid that acts much like THC and can be taken by mouth has been approved to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy when other drugs have not worked.

Furthermore, due to renowned ability of cannabis to stimulate the appetite, it has been known to help induce appetite in cancer patients and stop wasting and appetite loss. Moreover, clinical trials determined that dronabinol was as effective as or better than other antiemetic agents available at the time. Furthermore, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) have been identified and appear to have a role in pain modulation, control of movement, feeding behaviour, mood, bone growth, inflammation, neuroprotection, and memory. A number of small studies of smoked marijuana found that it can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy. The Grease star, Olivia Newton-John claims cannabis oil has helped her in management pain, anxiety and sleep as a result of her stage 4 breast cancer.

Some recent studies suggest that, THC and other cannabinoids such as CBD slow growth and/or cause death in certain types of cancer cells growing in lab dishes. Moreover, some studies conducted on animals also suggest that certain cannabinoids may slow growth and reduce spread of some forms of cancer.

However, like many other drugs, the prescription cannabinoids, dronabinol and nabilone, can cause side effects and may have serious health consequences if taken without medical supervision. Moreover, smoked marijuana also delivers harmful substances similar to those present in tobacco smoke to users and those close by in. Some common symptoms are increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure (especially when standing up), dizziness or light-headedness, and fainting. It can cause mood changes or a feeling of being “high” which some people find uncomfortable. Furthermore, consuming cannabis when having some mental illness can worsen the symptoms of illness. Some patients taking nabilone in the studies have reported hallucinations. Moreover, some patients have also reported problems with dry mouth and trouble with recent memory. Furthermore, older patients may have more problems with side effects and should usually start with lower doses.

However, the American Cancer Society supports the need for more scientific research on cannabinoids for cancer patients, and recognizes the need for better and more effective therapies that can overcome the side effects of cancer and its

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