Medical Use of Marijuana by Patients Undergoing Cancer Chemotherapy or afflicted with AIDS

“Cancer chemotherapy can often prolong the patient’s life by several years. In some instances, a complete “cure” can be obtained. Unfortunately, these drugs also have severe side-effects, most notably nausea and vomiting. Patients sometimes find these effects so distressing they abandon chemotherapy entirely.

People with AIDS (Acquired Immune Disease) also experience these problems. Powerful anti-viral drugs such as AZT and the new protease inhibitors can induce severe nausea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal effects. Similarly, AIDS “wasting syndrome” can literally starve an individual to death.

Investigations with cannabis have revealed its ability to reduce (or eliminate) the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy while also providing an appetite stimulus. The benefits are thus twofold: 1) the patient is able to retain food and maintain body strength, and 2) he or she can tolerate the life-prolonging chemotherapy treatments.

At least eight published studies have confirmed the ability of cannabis and its psychoactive ingredient delta-9-THC to reduce nausea and vomiting. The first appeared in 1975 in The New England Journal of Medicine. It concluded, “THC is an effective anti-emetic for patients receiving cancer chemotherapy.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in February, 1980 listed 33 studies of cannabis and nausea and vomiting. Most of these experiments involve efforts to determine the proper dosage of THC and several are comparative studies with other standard anti-emetics.

In New Mexico, a state sponsored study has shown the cannabis cigarette to be 30% more effective than THC in relieving nausea and vomiting. Another study, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), discovered that inhaled cannabis resulted in a 71% efficacy rate, as opposed to 44% with oral delta-9-THC. These controlled studies have been fortified by “anecdotal” accounts from individuals who have abandoned legal access to THC because they prefer marijuana obtained illegally. These patients report that smoking marijuana seems to bring an almost instantaneous relief.

This is not a new finding. As early as May 1978, researches at a symposium sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) concluded, “All in all, the cigarette may be the best means of administering the drug.”

In September 1988 the chief administrative law judge of the Drug Enforcement Administration ruled that marijuana has medical value in the treatment of side-effects caused by cancer chemotherapy. His decision was over-ruled by the administrator of the DEA and marijuana remains illegal for medical purposes.”

Cancer Bibliography


Cannabis in Medical Practice: A Legal, Historical and Pharmacological Overview of the Therapeutic Use of Marijuana, Mary Lynn Mathre, Ed., McFarland Press (1998).

Marijuana Medical Papers, Tod Mikuriya, M.D. (ed.) Medi-Comp Press, (1972).

Cannabinoids as Therapeutic Agents, Raphael Mechoulam (ed.) CRC Press, (1986).

Cancer Treatment & Marijuana Therapy, Robert C. Randall (ed.), Galen Press, (1990).

Marihuana, The Forbidden Medicine, Lester Grinspoon, M.D. and James B. Bakalar, Yale University Press, (1993).

Marijuana and AIDS: Pot, Politics & PWAs in America, Robert C. Randall, Galen Press, (1991).

Journal Articles

Cancer Treatment Reports, 566, 589-592 (1982).

“Cannabinoids for Nausea,” Lancet, January 31, 1981.

Carey, M.P., Burish, T.G., & Brenner, D.E., “Delta-9-THC in Cancer Chemotherapy: Research Problems and Issues,” Annals of Internal Medicine, 99, 106-114 (1983).

Chang, A.E. et al. “Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol as an Antiemetic in Cancer Patients Receiving High-dose Methotrexate,” Annals of Internal Medicine, 91, 819-824 (1979).

Frytek, S. & Moertel, C.G. “Management of Nausea and Vomiting in Cancer Patients,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 245:4, 393-396 (1981).

Harris, L., “Analgesic and Antitumor Potential of the Cannabinoids,” The Therapeutic Potential of Marijuana, Cohen & Stillman (eds.), 299-305 (1976).

Harris, L., Munson, A. & Carchman, R “Anti-tumor Properties of Cannabinoids,” The Pharmacology of Marihuana, Braude & Szara (eds.), 749-762 (1976).

Neidhart, J., Gagen, M., Wilson, H. & Young, D. “Comparative Trial of the Antiemetic Effects of THC and Haloperidol,” Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 21, 385-425 (1981).


Medical Marijuana and Cancer

Overview of CancerCancer therapy word cloud

Cancer occurs as the result of the growth of abnormal cells in your body. They say that everyone is born with some cancer cells, but in some individuals, the cells multiply and grow rapidly. When this happens they overtake the healthy cells and develop into masses or tumors that can cause illness and death. Some forms of cancer can be cured with chemotherapy, radiation or removal of the cancerous area if caught early.

There are various types of cancer. While we tend to describe them by the part of the body they effect, such as lung cancer, stomach cancer, brain tumor, etc., they are generally described in the following medical terms:

• Carcinoma – Accounting for 80% to 90% of all cancers, carcinoma is found in the tissues that line our glands, organs or body structures. Carcinoma often affects bodily organs or glands that involve secretions such as breasts.
• Sarcoma – Sarcoma is a malignant tumor stemming from connecting tissues. It’s most commonly found as a bone tumor, typically in young adults.
• Lymphoma – Lymphoma is a cancer originating from the lymph nodes or glands or in specific organs like the breasts or the brain.
• Leukemia – Leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow, is also known as blood cancer. There are several types of leukemia, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia.
• Myeloma – Myeloma develops in the plasma cells of the bone marrow. The cells may start in a bone and develop into a single tumor.

Symptoms of Cancer

While cancer often seems to come out of nowhere, knowing what symptoms may be problematic and indicative of cancer can help the patient seek early treatment. Although some types of cancer do not have symptoms, here are some symptoms that may be experienced by cancer patients.

• Anemia
• Bruising
• Persistent weakness and/or fatigue
• Pain in bones and joints
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Chest pains
• Breathing difficulties
• Coughs that don’t seem to go away
• Loss of weight
• Loss of appetite

Use of Medical Marijuana/Cannabis as an Alternative Treatment for Cancer

The human body produces endocannabinoids, which play an important role in keeping our bodies healthy. One way they do this is by generating and regenerating our immune systems, which is what prevents us from getting sick. Cannabis contains various cannabinoids; cannabidiol (CBD) is just one of more than 85 cannabinoids that can be found in cannabis. When used with cancer patients, CBD acts as a sedative, while also increasing alertness, unlike common prescription drugs.

Additionally, studies have indicated that CBD reduces the growth in breast cancers and also reduces the cancer’s invasiveness. Cannabis, in general, is known to actually shrink cancerous tumors. In addition to being used as a treatment for cancer, medical marijuana is often used to help some of the symptoms of cancer, such as nausea and pain. One of the major side effects of chemotherapy is vomiting and nausea. Cancer patients on medical marijuana don’t generally experience these side effects.

Benefits of Using Medical Marijuana As Alternatives to Prescription Drugs

We often hear of cancer patients who refuse treatment because they want to feel as normal as possible during their last days rather than feeling drugged, tired, in pain and nauseous. While it may be the cancer causing the pain, it’s generally the prescription drugs that are causing the other discomfort. Prescription drugs used in cancer patients often make the patient drowsy, tired and nauseous. Additionally, the patient is at high risk of becoming addicted to these drugs. Cancer patients can get relief through medical marijuana without experiencing all the unpleasant side effects of prescription drugs.

Cannabinoids encouraged cancer cell death, while decreasing growth, proliferation and metastasis of melanoma cells

Clinical Trials, Studies and Publications:

Cannabinoid receptors as novel targets for the treatment of melanoma

Inhibition of skin tumor growth and angiogenesis in vivo by activation of cannabinoid receptors

The endocannabinoid system of the skin in health and disease: novel perspectives and therapeutic opportunities