Dealing with cancer is an incredibly challenging journey, not only for patients but for their loved ones too. Chemotherapy, while effective in targeting cancer cells, often brings along a slew of daunting side effects that can make treatment even more difficult. Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and rashes, or diarrhoea are just a few of the additional issues that chemotherapy patients face.
Chemotherapy-induced side effects are notoriously challenging to manage. Standard medications used to reduce them don’t always provide effective relief, and can even create additional complications. In recent years, studies have shown that medicinal cannabis (historically known as medical weed or medical marijuana, learn more about the importance of language here), has emerged as a promising alternative that holds potential in mitigating some of the adverse effects of chemotherapy.
This natural approach to symptom management has been gaining recognition within both the patient community and the medical field. Under the supervision of a medical professional, the therapeutic cannabinoids in medicinal cannabis may offer relief from nausea, vomiting, pain, and other debilitating symptoms associated with chemotherapy for some patients.
If you or a loved one are undergoing chemotherapy and have not found effective relief through conventional therapies, doctors who are experienced in the prescription of medicinal cannabis are here to guide you through this therapeutic option, ensuring that you receive the care and support you need throughout your journey towards better health and quality of life.
What are chemotherapy side effects?
Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are effective in targeting cancerous cells in many types of cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, leukaemia, and many others. However, chemotherapy can also cause a range of short term and long term side effects due to its impact on healthy cells and tissues in the body.
These side effects can vary in severity from person to person and depend on the specific chemotherapy drugs used. Some common chemotherapy side effects include:
- Nausea and Vomiting: Chemotherapy is often designed to be toxic to cancer cells, this can trigger nausea nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can be acute (occurring shortly after treatment) or delayed (occurring days after treatment). Anti-nausea medications are often prescribed to manage these symptoms.
- Fatigue: Chemotherapy-induced fatigue is a common side effect that can have a debilitating effect on a patient’s quality of life. It’s more than just “feeling tired”, Chemotherapy-induced fatigue can feel mentally and physically exhausted. This fatigue can persist for weeks or even months after treatment.
- Hair Loss: Many chemotherapy drugs can cause hair loss, including hair on the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Hair usually grows back after treatment ends.
- Loss of Appetite and Weight Changes: Chemotherapy can affect the sense of taste and appetite, leading to weight loss or gain.
- Mouth Sores: Chemotherapy can cause mouth sores and mucositis, making it painful to eat or drink.
- Digestive Issues: Patients may experience diarrhoea, constipation, or other gastrointestinal problems during chemotherapy.
- Skin Changes: Skin may become dry, itchy, or sensitive to sunlight. Some chemotherapy drugs can cause rashes or skin discolouration.
- Cognitive Changes: Some people undergoing chemotherapy report cognitive changes often referred to as "chemo brain." This can involve memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and mental fogginess./
- Peripheral Neuropathy: Some chemotherapy drugs can damage peripheral nerves, causing symptoms like tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet.
- Emotional and Psychological Effects: Coping with cancer and its treatment can lead to emotional distress, stress and anxiety, depression, and changes in mood.
How Can Medical cannabis Potentially Help Manage Chemotherapy Side Effects?
Medical cannabis has shown promise in alleviating several chemotherapy-induced side effects. The potential benefits of medical cannabis in managing these side effects are mostly attributed to its active compounds called cannabinoids, primarily delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system.
Here's how medical cannabis may help some patients with chemotherapy side effects:
- Nausea and Vomiting: Medical cannabis, particularly THC, has antiemetic properties that may help reduce nausea and vomiting in some patients. It can potentially support patients who do not respond well to traditional anti-nausea medications.
- Appetite Stimulation: Medical cannabis may help stimulate appetite, addressing chemotherapy-induced loss of appetite and weight loss. This can be particularly important for maintaining nutritional status during cancer treatment.
- Pain Management: Medical cannabis has analgesic (pain-relieving) properties and may be effective in managing chemotherapy-related pain for some patients, including nerve pain (neuropathy) and bone pain.
- Anxiety and Stress: Chemotherapy can cause anxiety and emotional distress. CBD, a non-psychoactive component of medicinal cannabis, has anxiolytic properties and may help reduce anxiety and improve mood for some patients.
- Sleep Improvement: Medical cannabis may aid in improving sleep quality for some patients experiencing insomnia or sleep disturbances due to chemotherapy.
- Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Medical cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties that may potentially reduce inflammation for some patients and alleviate symptoms related to chemotherapy-induced mucositis and skin issues.
- Neuropathy Relief: Some patients develop peripheral neuropathy as a side effect of chemotherapy. Medicinal cannabis may help manage neuropathic pain and discomfort.
- Reduced Use of Opioids: By providing effective pain relief for some patients, medical cannabis may reduce the need for opioid medications, which can have significant side effects and risks of dependence.
- Anti-Spasticity: In cases where chemotherapy-related muscle spasms or spasticity occur, medical cannabis may provide relief. By relaxing muscle contractions and reducing the intensity and frequency of spasms, medical cannabis may improve comfort and mobility for some individuals undergoing cancer treatment.
- Combination Therapy: Medical cannabis may be used in conjunction with other medications to manage side effects. This can lead to a more well-rounded and personalised treatment approach.
Remember: the use of medical cannabis in cancer care is a topic of ongoing research, and its effectiveness and potential risks and side effects can vary from person to person. Medicinal cannabis is not a primary treatment for cancer and cannot cure cancer.
Additionally, the choice of cannabis products, dosages, and administration methods should be carefully considered and discussed with a healthcare provider experienced in medical cannabis use to ensure safety and optimal results.
Possible Risks of Medical Cannabis for Chemotherapy Side- Effects
While medical cannabis shows promise in managing some chemotherapy side effects, it is important to understand potential risks and side effects associated with its use.
The impact of medical cannabis can vary depending on individual factors, the specific cannabis products employed, and the method of consumption. Here are some possible risks to consider when using medical cannabis for chemotherapy side effects:
- Psychological Effects: Medicinal cannabis products with high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the intoxicating compound in cannabis, can induce psychological side effects. These may include anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and impaired cognitive function. Individuals with a history of mental health conditions, such as anxiety or schizophrenia, may be at greater risk of experiencing these side effects.
- Dependency and Withdrawal: Long-term, consistent use of medical cannabis, particularly those with high THC content, can lead to dependence. Attempting to reduce or cease medical cannabis use may result in withdrawal symptoms, including irritability, mood swings, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
- Impaired Cognitive Function: Medical cannabis can impair cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and decision-making. This may raise concerns, particularly for individuals needing mental sharpness for tasks like driving or operating heavy machinery.
- Interaction with Medications: Medical cannabis has the potential to interact with certain medications, either by enhancing or diminishing their efficacy. Individuals using medications should consult healthcare professionals to assess potential interactions before incorporating medical cannabis into their regimen.
- Potential Adverse Effects on Chemotherapy Side Effects: While medical cannabis may offer relief to some chemotherapy patients, it may not be suitable for everyone. In some cases, it might exacerbate side effects such as nausea, vomiting, or underlying digestive issues.
When considering medical cannabis as a complementary therapy for chemotherapy side effects, remember to talk to a about the risks and benefits before starting a course of treatment.
A specialty practitioner can provide guidance on whether medical cannabis is an appropriate option, assist in selecting the right dosage and strain, and closely monitor for potential side effects or interactions with existing medications.
The Wrap Up
Cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy, can be incredibly challenging and is often accompanied by many distressing side effects that can affect patients and their loved ones. Nausea, vomiting, pain, and the many other issues that come with chemotherapy can be overwhelming. Conventional treatments may not always provide sufficient relief and can even introduce new complications.
While there is still much more research to be done, medicinal cannabis may provide some people with a natural alternative for chemotherapy side-effect management. By harnessing cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, medicinal cannabis may offer relief from a wide range of symptoms, helping make cancer treatment more bearable for some patients.
If you or a loved one is navigating chemotherapy, expert doctors are available to help you, discussing the potential benefits of this therapeutic option.
Chemotherapy Side Effects FAQ
How to minimise chemotherapy side effects?
There are many ways to minimise chemotherapy side effects. Firstly, open communication with your treatment team and oncologist is essential, as they can tailor your treatment plan and prescribe different natural and conventional medications to manage symptoms effectively.
In recent years, medicinal cannabis has emerged as a promising addition to potentially help alleviate various chemotherapy side effects, including nausea, vomiting, pain, and loss of appetite. Consulting with a healthcare provider experienced in medical cannabis can help you explore its potential benefits while ensuring safe and effective use alongside traditional treatments.
Maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, managing pain, and incorporating supportive therapies like exercise, psychological support, and complementary therapies can further enhance your ability to cope with chemotherapy side effects.
How to help chemo nausea?
Managing chemotherapy-induced nausea can be a challenging aspect of cancer treatment, but there are several strategies to help alleviate this discomfort. Your treatment team and oncologist can prescribe anti-nausea medications (antiemetics) tailored to your specific needs.
Additionally, you may want to consider discussing the use of medicinal cannabis with a healthcare provider experienced in its administration. Some patients find that cannabis, particularly formulations with THC, can be helpful in reducing nausea. However, it's essential to ensure legal and safe access and consult a healthcare professional for guidance.
Incorporating complementary approaches like acupressure wristbands, ginger, dietary adjustments, and mind-body techniques can also provide relief. These methods, combined with staying hydrated, avoiding triggers, and staying informed about your treatment plan, can help you cope with nausea and improve your overall quality of life.
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The information on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Polln is not promoting the use of medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis in Australia is scheduled medication and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Details about medicinal cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website. If you would like to explore medicinal cannabis for your chronic condition, please consult with a doctor.
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