3 Popular Questions About Marijuana & Chemotherapy Answered

by HelloMD

Some people claim that cannabis can cure cancer—but that isn’t true. What has been proven though, is that marijuana can help ease some of the symptoms caused by one of the most common treatments for cancer: chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy can be a single drug or combination of drugs that enters the bloodstream to prevent the cancerous cells from dividing. Some chemo drugs can also starve a tumor or otherwise cause malignant cells to die.

Unfortunately, chemo isn’t as targeted as we’d like, so healthy cells are often negatively affected by the drugs, too. This can result in a host of unwanted side effects including:

  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting, which often prevent patients from eating enough
  • A weakened immune system
  • Fatigue
  • Aches and pains

Fortunately, many chemotherapy patients have found relief in cannabis. Marijuana can stave off nausea so patients can eat, and it can relieve pain. Cannabis can be energizing, too. But what kind of cannabis should cancer patients consume? And is it safe to consume marijuana during chemo?

Here are our three of our most popular questions about how marijuana could help those going through chemotherapy. These questions were posted on our Answers page and answered by knowledgeable members of the HelloMD community. If you have an additional question about cannabis and chemo, post yours on the site, and you’ll receive a thorough and helpful answer.

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Q: Should I use cannabis before or after the chemo pill?

I’m starting radiation and an oral chemotherapy this week. If I was to use cannabis should I use before or after the chemo pill?

Answer: @drraisen I recommend to start using it at least a few hours before the chemo pill; and you may need to take repeat doses of medical marijuana before the dose wears off, in order to stave off nausea and vomiting.

You may have to experiment which dose and timing is right for you. A high-concentrate CBD (cannabidiol) oil has anti-nausea properties and can be vaped in a vape pen. Other ways to ingest medical marijuana are tinctures, teas and other forms sublingually. Your oncology doctor may be able to make a recommendation as well.

Q: Can marijuana help alleviate the side effects from chemotherapy?

I have ovarian cancer.

Answer: @Danielle Lim I think cannabis is definitely worth a shot. Many chemotherapy patients find that using cannabis helps alleviate nausea and stimulate appetite. In fact, I've known some patients undergoing chemotherapy who are using Marinol, which is a synthetic, isolated form of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). However, many of them find that use of the actual cannabis plant is better at relieving symptoms. Here is an article about nausea, chemotherapy and cannabis that may help: https://www.hellomd.com/health-wellness/55a5842c6636300006510000/marijuana-shows-promise-as-a-treatment-for-chemotherapy-induced-nausea

I have personally used cannabis to help nausea associated with PMS symptoms and car sickness (when I'm the passenger, of course). It is definitely my go-to when I'm feeling nauseous (that and ginger tea).

RELATED: 5 MARIJUANA STRAINS TO EASE NAUSEA

Q: I am undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

What type of cannabis will be the most helpful for pain, sleep, etc.?

Answer: @mark I am sorry to hear about your treatment. Cannabis can certainly be helpful for both pain and sleep. Rather than the type of cannabis, start first with a chosen method of application.

For sleep, I would recommend an edible product, and if you can, find one made with an indica cannabis strain. Edibles tend to come on slower and last longer, so may help to you stay asleep longer. There are several edible products designed specifically to assist with sleep. Your location will determine what’s available to you locally. I would suggest you find a good local dispensary and see what they carry.

Here are some good choices for edibles: https://www.hellomd.com/products?category=Edibles

For more information on how cannabis can help with sleep: https://www.hellomd.com/search?type=all&term=insomnia

For pain, you might want to try a combination of an edible, along with a vaporizer. Vaping cannabis has an immediate effect, and so this could be beneficial during waking hours.

Here are some options for vaporizer products: https://www.hellomd.com/products?category=Vaporizers

Hope this helps and best of luck with your treatment.

Photo credit: Janko Ferlick

If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.