Medical Marijuana - An Ideas Whose Time Has Come?

I attended a LUNGevity Lunch and Learn meeting yesterday. During the Survivor Stories session, a man I will call Jack began telling his story. He was diagnosed with advanced small cell lung cancer a year or two ago. His oncologist told him that he would likely live for 2 to 4 months if he did no treatments and that he would likely live 6 to 8 months if he underwent treatment.

Jack's testimony

Jack is a relatively young man, likely in his 50s, and wasn't quite ready to throw in the towel on life. While undergoing traditional treatments, he began researching the use of medical marijuana. He wanted to find a cure for his cancer more than he wanted to find a way to control his side effects, the use we hear of most frequently in relation to medical marijuana.

His research convinced him to try some oil he found available at a dispensary in Colorado. It has a high content of both THC and CBD. He began placing the oil under his tongue at night before he went to bed to avoid feeling like he was "high" during the day. His next scan, after using the oil for several months, showed his tumors had shrunk. A few scans later showed he has no evidence of disease at all.

Considering cannabis

This story would be remarkable in and of itself. But, he continued by saying that he moderates a support group for patients with metastatic disease. Because of the great success he has experienced, others in his support group were convinced they too wanted to try the oil he uses. He said that every person in his group who uses the oil has experienced shrinkage or disappearance of their tumors.

There are several support groups for survivors with metastatic disease where his group meets. Patients in the other groups do not use the oil. If this was a scientific study, they would be considered the control group. Of course, it is not a closely controlled trial at all, but according to Jack, the people in the other groups have experienced tumor growth or have even passed away from their cancer. It is enough evidence to make a person wonder if maybe cannabis oil might be worth a try, especially if traditional therapies are no longer working.

Doing my own research

Oddly, one day after hearing Jack's story, I ran across an article in the ASCO Post, a respected publication. Published in May 2018, the article is about a nationwide study conducted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute regarding oncologists' practices and beliefs about the use of medical marijuana. The survey did not ask how doctors felt about the idea that the drug might cure patients, but rather about its use to control side effects from treatment such as pain, insomnia, and nausea or vomiting.2

I was a little surprised to learn that 80% of the responding oncologists had had conversations with patients about the use of medical marijuana to control symptoms from treatments. In nearly all cases, patients or their loved ones brought the subject up.

Sadly, less than 30% of oncologists felt they have enough information to make recommendations for their patients. At the same time, nearly half of those responding had recommended the use of medical marijuana to their patients.

Perhaps most interesting of all were the following stats:

  • 67% of responding oncologists believe medical marijuana can be helpful in alleviating pain,
  • 75% believe it presents a lower risk than opioids for overdose death,
  • 52% believe it is less likely to be as addictive as opioids,
  • 65% believe medical marijuana is at least as effective as standard treatments for poor appetite and extreme weight loss,
  • Only 29% believe it is effective against nausea and vomiting, and
  • 45% believe it helps those who have sleeping difficulties.

Has the time come?

So, what about you? Have you used medical marijuana to try to get some relief from the side effects of treatment? Have you tried using the oil to shrink your tumors? If you approached your doctor about prescribing it, was s/he open to that discussion? (Mine was not.)

Despite the fact that our federal government remains steadfastly against its legalization, it appears that even mainstream doctors are beginning to recognize and embrace the use of medical marijuana in some cases. I personally hope that we will soon see the drug legalized for medical use on a federal level sooner rather than later.

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