(Last Updated On: June 10, 2015)

Even though a cancer diagnosis doesn’t always mean a death sentence, the treatments for it (radiation and chemotherapy) can often feel deadly. Fortunately, marijuana can help ease the symptoms from either of these treatments.

Of course, while many recognize that medical marijuana can offer a wide range of benefits to cancer patients, the fact that marijuana is illegal in many countries has prevented researchers from providing thorough evidence of these benefits. Instead, scientists are limited to studying the effects of chemicals isolated from marijuana (called cannabinoids), which doesn’t allow for the full picture to be seen.

Photo credit: Dank Depot

Thankfully, cannabis research is taking off in Israel, where medical marijuana is legal. Just this year, a study involving 200 cancer patients found medical marijuana use led to “significant improvements” across cancer and cancer treatment-related symptoms.

There have been some early clinical trials of cannabinoids in treating cancer in humans with more studies in the wings. Of course, relying on marijuana alone as a form of cancer treatment while avoiding professional medical care can have serious health consequences. The American Cancer Society says that they support scientific research on cannabinoids for cancer patients and recognize the need for more effective therapies that can overcome the debilitating side effects of cancer and its treatment.

Let’s examine some different ways that marijuana can benefit a cancer patient.

Nausea and Vomiting

Photo credit: Oscar Diaz

Marijuana may be best known for its ability to reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. It’s so effective that a pill form of THC (Marinol) has been approved by the FDA for treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Pain

Another well-known effect of marijuana is pain relief. While its benefits seem to span a range of chronic pain issues, studies show that marijuana can help reduce pain in cancer as well.

Mood

Photo credit: Nena B.

Cancer patients often suffer from mood disorders such as depression. We know that marijuana makes users feel good, but research seems to explain why. As many studies have found, chemicals in marijuana appear to have significant anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects.

Sleep

Photo credit: kris krüg

Patients with cancer often suffer from sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep. On the other hand, sleepiness is one of marijuana’s most commonly reported side effects. THC has also been shown to improve sleep in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Cancer

Perhaps the most promising (and controversial) benefit of marijuana in cancer is the treatment of cancer itself. While preclinical studies have long supported the ability of marijuana to kill cancer cells and stop the disease from spreading, the medical community points out that human research is lacking.

Written by Deborah Walker