Regardless of its legal status, cancer patients have self-medicated with cannabis for a long time. We likely know someone, or are someone, who has experienced the relief that cannabis can provide from the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy and overall pain and discomfort caused by the illness.

However, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government and that has delayed the research that could accelerate product development and more empirical knowledge of dosing and effects.

It also means that many oncologists still aren’t well informed about the plant medicine, including how to advise on appropriate dosages, the best form an individual should take and whether it might help symptoms in general.

The Journal of Clinical Oncology released a study in 2018 that revealed oncologists’ beliefs, knowledge and practices about cannabis use. While only 30 percent of 237 oncologists felt sufficiently informed to make recommendations regarding medical marijuana, 80 percent had discussions about medical marijuana with patients and 46 percent recommended medical marijuana clinically.

The American Cancer Society addresses the use of cannabis in aiding individuals with cancer on their website, acknowledging the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug “imposes numerous conditions on researchers and deters scientific study of cannabinoids.” The organization “supports the need for more scientific research on cannabinoids for cancer patients and recognizes the need for better and more effective therapies that can overcome the side effects of cancer.”

Now, more than half of the states have legalized medical marijuana and 11 states have legalized it for recreational use as well. Doctors in states where adult use is legal have had a leg up on seeing results from the patients they are treating.

Speaking to breastcancer.org, Dr. Virginia F. Borges, professor of medicine and director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at the University of Colorado Cancer Center said, “I’ve mainly seen it used in conjunction with prescription drugs to control pain and other side effects in patients living with metastatic disease.”

By prescribing medical marijuana, Dr. Borges says it allows her to cut back on pain prescriptions.

The good news is that following public trends and undeniable personal experiences, there has been bi-partisan support at the Justice Department to expand permission to research medical cannabis. The National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research, recently publicly acknowledged that cancer cells have been killed by cannabis in a lab, and the medicine has proven to stimulate appetites, relieve pain, nausea and vomiting, treat anxiety and improve sleep quality.


By Liz Gold on behalf of Wellness Connection
A version of this article originally appeared on the Wellness Connection blog.