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Most recognize medical marijuana to be helpful for cancer patients in some way or another.
Yet marijuana’s legal status has prevented researchers in many countries from providing thorough evidence. Instead, scientists are limited to studying the effects of chemicals isolated from marijuana (called cannabinoids), which misses the full picture.
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 “all” cancer and cancer treatment-related symptoms.
Here’s a list of 10 ways that marijuana helped patients in the study:
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 since 1985.
Along with nausea, patients undergoing chemotherapy often find it hard to maintain normal weight. Thankfully, marijuana has been shown to not only relieve nausea, but stimulate appetite as well. For patients with cancer, marijuana can help improve food intake and prevent unhealthy loss of weight.
Cancer patients often suffer from mood disorders such as depression. While it’s no secret that marijuana makes users feel good, research seems to explain why. As many studies have found, chemicals in marijuana appear to have significant anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects.
Another well-known effect of marijuana is pain relief. And while its benefits seem to span a range of chronic pain disorders, studies show that marijuana can help reduce pain in cancer as well.
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-related fatigue can also cause patients to feel sleepy during the day. Interestingly, marijuana seems to help patients combat daytime fatigue, while at the same time helping patients get to sleep at night. It’s multi-faceted effect on sleep may depend on the strain of marijuana and the balance of cannabinoids that they contain.
Sexual dysfunction is a common, yet lesser known effect of cancer and cancer therapies. While findings are inconsistent, marijuana has a long history of use as an aphrodisiac, dating back at least 3,000 years to ancient India.
Chemicals in marijuana help regulate the digestive system and have been suggested as a treatment for a wide range of bowel disorders. While marijuana seems to help by reducing bowel movements in inflammatory bowel disorders, it appears to have an opposite effect in constipation.
Itching can be a side effect of various cancers as well as various cancer treatments. While the underlying causes of itching in cancer patients vary, marijuana seems to help some patients deal with this irritating symptom.
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.
Still, studies in cell culture and animal models continue to show evidence of a cancer-fighting effect. So much so that major cancer organizations — including the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Cancer Research UK — now have large sections of their website dedicated to the role of cannabis and cannabinoids in fighting cancer.