Medical marijuana is used for various conditions. Hawaii has issued a complete list of debilitating medical conditions that can be relieved through the use of medical cannabis.
Keep in mind that only the conditions in this document qualify a patient for medical marijuana. For instance, the list contains lupus, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
You can find cancer on the list as well. That's because cancer and its treatments cause numerous symptoms that could be managed with the use of medical marijuana. The potential relief provided by cannabis targets loss of appetite, pain, and other side effects.
Now, we are going to further explore the use of medical marijuana to counter symptoms associated with cancer. You'll learn the benefits, along with the potential side effects, in the process.
The Starting Point: Cancer
Cancer is a term that covers numerous related diseases. The unifying factor for different types of cancers is that the cell division goes out of control, and dividing cells spread into nearby tissues.
When the cells continue dividing without stopping, tumors can start to form. Not all types of cancers result in solid tumors. For instance, cancers of the blood will usually have different mechanisms for causing medical issues.
Cancer is an enormously complex medical topic. Today, we know of over a hundred types of cancer. What complicates matters even further is the fact that each individual cancer comes with a unique set of genetic changes.
The symptoms will depend upon the particular type of cancer. There are considerable individual variations as well. But when we talk about cancer symptoms in the context of medical marijuana, the focus is on common symptoms for people undergoing cancer treatment.
Common side effects of cancer and its treatment include the following:
- Aches and pain
- Weight loss or gain
- Sleeping problems
- Hair loss
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Bleeding and clotting issues
- Appetite loss
- Skin conditions
How can medical marijuana help people with cancer?
Not all of the major symptoms experienced by people undergoing cancer treatment could be alleviated by medical marijuana. However, there are some common symptoms that can be eased by using cannabis.
- Loss of appetite and weight loss. Limited studies have shown that medical marijuana could play a role in aiding loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss. The latter is medically known as cachexia or "wasting syndrome" when it's targeting lean muscle and fat.
In the list of eligible medical conditions in Hawaii, there is a separate mention of cachexia or wasting syndrome. When cancer or any other chronic or debilitating disease causes extreme weight loss, you can obtain medical marijuana for this.
- Aches and pain. Severe pain is often associated with cancer and its treatment. Cancer patients are often given opioids, as these are currently the strongest pain relievers around, but medical marijuana is an option too.
Medical cannabis may have a considerable effect against severe pain issues that cancer patients experience.
- Nausea and vomiting. Common side effects of chemotherapy are persistent feelings of nausea that may lead to vomiting. Medical marijuana could be effective against these symptoms.
The FDA has even approved a synthetic cannabinoid called dronabinol exactly for these issues. There is sound evidence that cannabinoids can be more effective than antihistamines and phenothiazines.
- Peripheral neuropathy. Another regular side effect of chemotherapy is neuropathy. This is essentially nerve damage that is characterized by tingling, numbness, and general weakness in the hands and feet. Medical cannabis may be effective in countering these symptoms.
What are the risks and side effects of medical cannabis for cancer patients?
If you have cancer and want to benefit from medical marijuana, it's important to set reasonable expectations. The studies have shown that medical cannabis could alleviate some symptoms, but other problems may need a different medical approach.
Depending on your unique circumstances, including your age, sex, and genetic predisposition, marijuana may help you to a greater or narrower extent. The same applies to side effects: some people will have more pronounced or an increased number of side effects.
These are the potential side effects of medical marijuana:
- Mood instability
- Feeling dizzy
- Red eyes
- Faster heartbeat than normal (tachycardia)
- Lower blood pressure
- Unable to focus
- Urinary retention
- Dry feeling in the mouth
Keep in mind that individual people respond to medical cannabis in various ways. When you hear about a success story or a bad experience, this may not hold any relevance to your treatment plan.
What to remember about medical marijuana use for cancer in Hawaii
Did you know that Hawaii is the first state to legalize medical marijuana legislatively instead of through a ballot initiative process? The state's legislature has changed quite a bit over time. The most important change was in 2015 with the introduction of a dispensary and cultivation system.
States that have legalized medical marijuana have distinct laws and regulations regarding its use. Now, we are going over the main principles for medical cannabis use in Hawaii that you should know:
At any given time, you can possess a maximum of four ounces of processed marijuana. You may cultivate ten plants at most.
Whenever you transport your medical marijuana for cancer, the product needs to be kept in a sealed container. You are not allowed to remove marijuana from the sealed container while spending your time in a public place.
As a patient or caregiver, you are not allowed to transport medical marijuana between the islands.
Remember that all the “smoke-free” laws regulate the use of medical cannabis as well.
The Bottom Line: Medical Marijuana and Cancer
Cancer and its treatment have plenty of health implications. Most cancer patients suffer from a multitude of symptoms, including pain, weight loss, fatigue, nausea, and hair loss.
Medical marijuana has shown potential in alleviating some of these symptoms. Among other things, medical cannabis may relieve pain, nausea, neuropathy, and loss of appetite.
As a cancer patient or caregiver, you should set realistic expectations regarding the effects of medical marijuana. The benefits of using cannabis are dependent on many factors such as age, genetic makeup, weight, and sex.