Integrating cannabis in oncologic care

cannabis-2152604_1920Cannabis, though widely used for medicinal purposes around the world, remains controversial. However, the integration of cannabis in oncology and palliative care appears promising in terms of its therapeutic properties for cancer-related pain and physical discomfort, according to research published in the Oncology Nurse Advisor.

A patient's quality of life is often affected by neuropathy and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Clinically,  patients could use cannabis to manage pain and ease symptoms,  a technique that has often proved successful, says Donald Abrams, MD, a hematologist-oncologist at San Francisco General Hospital in California.

High doses of opiates administered by oncologists or palliative care clinicians can alter patients' cognition, leaving them unable to communicate with loved ones at the end of their life. Cannabis can help patients decrease or drop their opiate dose entirely.

Although opiates are effective in minimizing pain and discomfort, they result in many undesirable side effects. The use of cannabis with opioids may prove advantageous, o diminishing some of the side effects that impede a patient's quality of life. Further research is required, however, to determine the synergism of a cannabinoid-opioid interaction, and patients should proceed with caution before interpreting its use as a “front-line” defense for pain, says ONA.

ONA calls this approach to care "cannabinoid integrative medicine" (CIM), which better contextualizes cannabinoid use within the overarching trends in medicine today. Where integrative medicine blends conventional with complementary and alternative therapy such as botanicals, CIM emphasizes the integrated therapeutic use of the cannabinoid-rich botanical cannabis.

Cannabis can also help patients alleviate existential and spiritual suffering, abating anxiety and helping patients find a sense of peace. Medical marijuana may also be of benefit to terminally-ill patients in enabling them to remain engaged in their loved ones lives.

There is evidence that suggests that cannabis may be used as a potential chemotherapeutic treatment.Research proposes that cannabinoids can inhibit tumor growth, including increasing cellular apoptosis and suppressing cell proliferation. Although the research is encouraging, the results are preliminary and have been focused primarily on animal studies.

As legislative approval for the use of medical marijuana increases, studies continue to indicate the potential benefits of cannabinoid therapy for palliative and end-of-life care. The use of cannabis in oncology appears particularly promising as a viable treatment option in the alleviation of cancer related pain. Although further research is essential in determining the influence of CIM on symptom management, caution should be exercised, so as not to dissuade physicians from educating their patients on the potential benefits of medical marijuana.

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