The beneficial effects of cannabis seem to be never ending, and as new research comes out, its often offering pot-based solutions for all kinds of physical and mental discomforts. The latest, as reported on by Leafly, is on the relationship between cannabis use for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
The idea that cannabis can go hand in hand with cancer treatments to alleviate a patient’s discomfort has been around for a while; This idea is backed up by modern scientific research— a growing body of evidence supports the use of cannabis for the treatment of cancer and associated symptoms such as pain, nausea, and loss of appetite.
The problem, however, is the lack of cannabis education for physicians which, paired up with the mostly illegal status of cannabis, makes many oncologists reluctant to recommend cannabis to their patients. Because of this, patients often use cannabis without informing their doctors. According to a 2018 survey of cancer patients, one in eight patients reported using cannabis to treat cancer symptoms. In the same study, only 15% of patients agreed with the statement “Cannabis interferes with other medications.”
Leafly interviewed Dr. Joseph Rosado, who’s treated over 400 cancer patients with cannabis. The main issue in conjoining chemotherapy with weed consumption is that cannabis interacts with every medication that is processed through the liver, including all chemotherapy drugs. Therefore, if administered incorrectly, cannabis could potentially increase be a toxic combination.
This happens because chemotherapy drugs are cytotoxic, which means that they are toxic to all living cells. The goal of chemotherapy is to kill as many cancer cells as possible while minimizing the death of healthy cells. Because of the CYP interaction, patients who use cannabis medicine in conjunction with chemotherapy run the risk of having a different concentration of toxic chemicals in their blood than expected—making cannabis and chemotherapy a potentially dangerous combination.
The good news? Cannabis can be used safely during chemotherapy, one just needs to be aware of the right way to administer it. The interactions in the liver can be easily avoided by changing the way you administer your cannabis medicine. CYP enzyme interactions in the liver mostly occur with oral (pills, edibles, and tinctures) and sublingual administration. “The liver can be bypassed if the mode of administration is changed, for example, using inhalation (vaping, smoking, inhalers),topical patches and creams, or intra-rectal or intra-vaginal routes (suppositories, ovules),” says Dr. Rosado.
Of these methods, Dr. Rosado recommends inhalation. “It’s a matter of absorption,” he said. “When you inhale cannabis, 100% of the medicine is absorbed within three to five minutes through an exchange of gasses in the lungs. The cannabinoids bind directly to red blood cells, making their way into the bloodstream immediately. Because of this, patients get more bang for their buck with inhalation.”
As is becoming more increasingly public knowledge, if prescribed and used correctly, cannabis has an enormous amount of benefits that, in conjunction with health problems, can significantly better people’s lives. This is a victory for cannabis advocates everywhere, just as much as it is for needy patients.