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Anecdotal Stories on Cannabis Oil And Cancer

Emily Robertson
Cancer patient receiving chemotherapy

More and more physicians are likely to recommend cannabis oil for cancer treatment.

While the jury is still out on whether or not doctors should recommend cannabis oil for cancer, most medical professionals seem to agree that it can at least treat chemotherapy side effects. According to a survey published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which included 237 oncologists across the US, “80% conducted discussions about [medical cannabis] with patients, and 46% recommended [medical cannabis] clinically. Sixty-seven percent viewed it as a helpful adjunct to standard pain management strategies, and 65% thought [medical cannabis] is equally or more effective than standard treatments for anorexia and cachexia.”

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30% Don’t Feel Qualified to Prescribe Cannabis Oil for Cancer

This is promising. Though these doctors are basing their opinions on the small number of studies conducted, they also recognize the need for more substantial studies. Randomized clinical trials in particular are crucial. And, to a large extent, they’re relying on anecdotal evidence.

Unfortunately, around 30% don’t feel qualified to recommend the treatment, even if they do discuss the possibility with their patients. Doctors simply do not have the education on dosing cannabis oil for cannabis to confidently provide prescriptions. This boils down to medical cannabis advancing faster than medical school curriculums. Even mid-career training conferences can’t keep up. Similarly, states with medical cannabis laws lack properly-fitted dispensaries and qualified budtenders to advise patients.

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Researchers, led by Dr Ilana Braun who works as a cancer psychiatrist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, sent the survey out to 400 physicians in the country. It questioned physicians about medical cannabis. The survey did not include questions regarding the use of synthetic cannabinoids like dronabinol (Marinol), a synthetic form of THC. Marinol has already been approved for chemotherapy side effects.

Patients Are Leading The Change

The results of the survey uncovered that it is often the patient who brings up the possibility of using medical cannabis to treat side effects of chemotherapy. This makes sense given the limited research around the treatment. Dr Braun explains that, “at this time, the evidence base to support medical marijuana’s efficacy in oncology is young. So, often oncologists are borrowing from clinical trials for other diseases, or extrapolating from evidence on pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoids.”

Dr Jerry Mitchell who sits for the Ohio medical cannabis advisory board and works as a medical oncologist at the Zangmeister Cancer Center in Columbus, Ohio, weighed in the Dr Braun’s findings. Patients often ask him about cannabis oil for cancer. But various state laws stop doctors from having the freedom to bring up cannabis for treatment. Dr Mitchell, for instance, works in Ohio. He can’t bring the conversation up to his patients until legal dispensaries open in September 2019. Before then, recommendation of cannabis oil for cancer counts as promotion of illegal behaviour.

That said, he sees patient initiative as a positive: “It’s a product cancer patients think will help them, and they’re going to ask their doctors about it, which is what they should be doing. They should be advocates for their own health.”

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Many Patients Figure it Out on Their Own

With the patchwork legislation and practice that shrouds medical cannabis, many patients are left to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Doctors simply don’t know what to prescribe.

One patient, Larry Lenkart (60), has been struggling to figure out the appropriate product and dose of medical cannabis. Lenkart was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in September 2018, and has since undergone 11 rounds of chemotherapy. He describes chemo as “like the worst flu you’ve ever had – just ongoing and ongoing” and has said how side effects like nausea, pain, and stomach cramps can last for up to 10 days following treatment.

Finally, his oncologist agreed to prescribe medical cannabis. But, they faced the same problems as other doctors: they couldn’t navigate doses and prescription. He spent nearly five months asking for tips and advice from the online community and from friends who are more familiar with the products. Despite this, he still hasn’t quite found a sweet spot. He says dosing is the hardest part. Even with these obstacles, cannabis “makes an unbearable situation bearable.”

Cannabis Oil For Cancer Treatment is the Best Option Available

Dr Mitchell says that with a lack of many other options, doctors are relying on anecdotes to recommend cannabis oil for cancer. She explained, “You’ve got opioids, which clearly have problems. You’ve got nonsteroidals, which can work but are sometimes not effective for substantial cancer pain. Well, that’s all we have in our toolbox. And if that’s the case, then you have to back up and say, ‘Well, perhaps I’m okay with anecdotal evidence.’”

Dr Braun’s survey backs this up. Around two thirds of the physicians in her survey reported that they’re comfortable recommending cannabis alongside conventional cancer treatments.

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Other somewhat bizarre findings came out. Reasonably, her survey discovered that physicians in states with medical cannabis laws feel more confident in their knowledge of cannabis. This has a lot to do with exposure to the products. However, she found unexpected regional disparities. For instance, oncologists in the west  are likely to discuss cannabis oil for cancer with their patients. On the other hand, southern oncologists were less likely. Furthermore, those working with out-patients in a larger practice were also more likely to recommend cannabis.

Dr Braun understands that lack of research is a serious concern. She knows that this influenced the opinions of the participating oncologists. She wants to study the use of cannabis oil for cancer and chemotherapy symptoms. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she’s hit roadblocks. Since cannabis is still federally a schedule 1 drug, she’s “in the process of installing an alarmed safe behind locked doors” just so she can work with the product.

These trials on cannabis oil for cancer are important. Mitchell and Braun, and numerous physicians across the globe can all agree on that. But until federal restrictions are lifted, there’s going to continue to be what Mitchell calls “a big knowledge gap.”

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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