Traditionally, patients are given drugs called antiemetics (a drug that prevents or reduces nausea and vomiting) in tandem with their chemotherapy in order to reduce nausea and increase appetite. But not all people respond adequately to these medications. That's where marijuana comes in. It has been know for years that THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main chemical component of marijuana, tends to stimulate one's appetite. In fact, THC has been available since the mid-1980s for cancer patients in a synthetically engineered capsule form. This medication, known as dronabinol in the medical world, has been shown to reduce nausea, increase appetite, and help patients gain weight. Right now there is a study under way, supported by the NCI, which is designed to measure the impact THC therapy, as dronabinol, has on the management of these symptoms in cancer patients.
Interestingly, some people feel that this form of THC is not as effective as marijuana would be in its natural, plant form. This might be because one of the chemical components of marijuana, cannabidiol, is not contained in the prescription pills, and this compound has anti-anxiety effects that some patients find helpful. Therefore, there are those doctors, patients, and others who contend that the marijuana plant should be available for medical purposes. Others don't think so, arguing that smoking marijuana can have a negative effect on lung function, and that the chemicals released may contain carcinogens. While experts note marijuana's active ingredients can help some cancer patients alleviate nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite from chemotherapy, they caution that it must be weighed against the cancer risks of smoking the drug, especially in light of the availability of other, less risky alternatives. But research aimed at getting the benefits of marijuana's therapeutic ingredients while eliminating its cancer-causing potential and other undesirable effects should proceed, they add.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) is deeply concerned about the quality of life of cancer patients, and supports carefully controlled, legal clinical studies of marijuana and research to see if it can be delivered through a transdermal THC skin patch. I don't wish cancer on anyone, but if those against medical marijuana ever had chemo, I'd bet they'd understand!