Cannabis is becoming more widely used than ever in patients with cancer, though it is important to find reliable information, says an expert from the American Cannabis Nurses Association.
Cannabis can help manage side effects from cancer treatments, though it is important for patients to discuss marijuana use with their health care team – and even seek out the advice from specialists, said Eloise Theisen, president of the American Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA).
Theisen has been involved in cannabis care since 2013, and said that attitudes have drastically changed regarding cannabis, though stigma still exists.
“There are still some that really struggle with the stigma; they're afraid that their health care provider will judge them or potentially no longer treat them if they are using it or want to use it. And we've found that, in some states, oncology providers are more favorable to their patients using cannabis, but many of them are unsure of dosages or side effects, or even different profiles to recommend to their patient,” Theisen said in an interview with Oncology Nursing News, a sister publication of CURE®.
Theisen advocated that instead of turning to “Dr. Google” or friends or family first, patients should start the discussion about cannabis use with their health care teams. If their current care team feels unqualified to help guide patients in their use of marijuana, patients can also seek out the help of experts, like those associated with the ACNA, or even from verified online resources, Theisen said.
“Look for qualified health care professionals in their area that are knowledgeable in cannabis and the endocannabinoid system,” she said. “I would really discourage them from using the internet to try to figure out what they need. There are some trusted sources out there, some nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to helping patients specifically like leaf411.org, and projectcbd.org. These are organizations that are consumer-facing that are trying to help patients navigate the space, and they do it free of charge.”
Where legal, cannabis can offer relief from multiple side effects that are associated with cancer treatment. It may help with nausea, vomiting, appetite loss and sleep issues. Theisen also said that she is seeing more research come out stating that cannabis can help with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy as well.
A 2017 study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine analyzed more than 10,000 studies and found that cannabinoids – the compound in marijuana/cannabis that interact with the body’s cannabinoid receptors – are effective in relieving chronic pain.
Theisen said that she is excited for more studies to come out once the laws allow for more widespread use of marijuana.
“I'm most excited to see the evolution of research. We are anticipating in the next few years, either for decriminalization or legalization at the federal level, which will really open up our ability to research. We did see the DEA come out and say that they will start allowing researchers to use cannabis that is sold in dispensaries versus the cannabis that's grown by the government because there's a huge difference in the potency and the quality. So, we're going to start to really see, when patients are using these products from dispensaries, what the risks and benefits are of those products,” Theisen said.
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