Medical marijuana has been regulated by the Canadian federal government since 2001. It’s been used to treat chronic pain and a variety of other conditions. Researchers are now studying its benefits for cancer patients, including pain and nausea relief.We all know someone who has had to endure pain, perhaps pain associated with a chronic illness such as cancer. Often, conventional treatments fail to bring relief. This is where federal medical marijuana regulations can open up opportunity.
Medical marijuana regulations
Though newly legitimized in federal medical marijuana regulations, marijuana (or cannabis as it’s also called) as medication is far from being a new concept. Before its prohibition in the 1920s, marijuana had a long history of cultural and medicinal use. As early as the mid-19th century, scientists were researching the medicinal and therapeutic components of the cannabis plant.
Sadly, with prohibition, research into the therapeutic properties of cannabis and its constituents became a problem, both here and in the US, since possessing marijuana was illegal. With new regulations in Canada, adopted in 2001, marijuana for medical purposes was no longer prohibited. Under certain conditions, users, with authorization from Health Canada, were permitted to access or cultivate their own.
These regulations were superseded in 2013 by the current Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations that clearly set out by whom (licensed, commercial suppliers), and under what conditions (with a “medical document provided by a health care practitioner”), marijuana can be accessed for medicinal use.
The new regulations made it impossible to continue to possess and cultivate medical marijuana that is not purchased from a licensed commercial medical marijuana producer. A constitutional challenge was launched against these new regulations and, during deliberations, an injunction on enforcement was ordered to allow those previously authorized to continue growing their own medical marijuana.
The injunction was extended for a further six months following a federal court decision in late February striking down the 2013 regulations and giving the federal government six months to enact new rules.
What makes hemp different?
Though hemp is derived from the same plant as marijuana—Cannibis sativa—hemp oil, hemp hearts, and hemp protein powder are made from plants that have been bred over decades to contain almost none of the psychoactive component (THC) of marijuana (no more than 0.3 percent, according to Health Canada regulations).
The benefits of hemp seeds and their products are based on their excellent nutritional profile. Every 3 Tbsp (28 g) contain 10 g of protein, 179 mg of magnesium, and 3.5 mg of zinc. As well, hemp seed oil contains 30 percent of its weight in essential fatty acids (EFA) in an ideal combination of omega-3 seed and -6 fatty acids. According to Health Canada, hemp seed oil may have benefits for diabetes, cancer, lupus, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and hypertension.
Medical marijuana for cancer
When it comes to cancer and its treatment, pain is often accompanied by other symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and anxiety. These are all symptoms that many cancer patients are successfully reducing with the use of medical marijuana.
Cancer patients often experience nerve damage and resulting numbness, tingling, and pain which can be caused by the cancer itself or by its treatment. The cannabinoids in marijuana act as central nervous system depressants, diminishing pain perception and increasing pain tolerance.
Inhaled marijuana has been studied for its use in treating cancer pain. A cannabinoid conventional drug called nabiximols, in the form of a mouth spray, is available in Canada for the treatment of pain linked to cancer.
Nausea and vomiting
The use of marijuana to quell nausea and vomiting dates back to ancient history. Traditional Indian medicine used marijuana for its “sedative, relaxant, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), and anticonvulsant actions and for its analgesia, appetite stimulation, and antipyretic (fever prevention or reduction) and antibacterial effects.”
Two approved conventional drugs similar to marijuana cannabinoids, dronabinol and nabilone, have been shown in clinical trials to relieve nausea and vomiting. A number of small studies of smoked marijuana have demonstrated a positive effect for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Loss of appetite
Marijuana was used centuries ago in traditional Indian medicine to stimulate appetite, which remains today a commonly known outcome of marijuana smoking. To combat the loss of appetite that often accompanies chemotherapy treatment, patients find that smoking marijuana not only helps quell nausea, but it also promotes the desire to eat.
Clinical studies using the conventional drug nabilone, a synthetic drug that mimics the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), to promote appetite have also demonstrated effectiveness.
Also a well-known effect of marijuana smoking is the feeling of relaxation and decreased anxiety. The role of cannabidiol (CBD) in reducing anxiety has been used to good effect for cancer patients with anxiety or distress.
Observational studies have shown cancer pain, along with anxiety, nausea, and distress, are relieved with the use of the conventional drug nabilone.
The role of marijuana and its constituents in the therapeutic treatment of cancer is garnering great interest as more is learned about the mechanisms behind the broad range of cannabinoids and other compounds.
At this time, studies have focused at the cellular level using cell lines from a range of cancers including breast, glioma, prostate, endothelial, liver, and lung. Though this research is still very much preliminary, researchers are holding out promise for their utility for cancer therapy.