Number of medicinal cannabis prescriptions in Australia - how many prescribers

Oncology | Cannabis Medications for Treating Cancer Pain and Nausea

Oncology and Cannabis Medications | Potential Treatment Benefits

There’s a frequently referenced Oncology article from Dr Donald I. Adams that discusses using Cannabis Medications to treat cancer symptoms. The article reviews whether Oncologists should prescribe medicinal cannabis to their cancer patients.

Integrative Oncology: Integrating cannabis into clinical cancer care (Should Oncologists Recommend Cannabis?), was published in the Current Oncology Journal in 2016 (Volume 23). The article was authored by Donald I. Abrams, MD, of the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, and explored the potential benefits of prescribing cannabinoid and THC medications to cancer patients for pain, nausea, sleep disturbances and weight loss.

  • This blog reviews some of the highlights of Dr Abram’s insightful article on medicinal cannabis in Oncology settings, including the history of approved cannabis medications for cancer patients (USA).
  • This article is recommended for reading by Oncologists, GPs and cancer patients.
  • Reading time: 2 minutes

Potential symptoms that might benefit from botanical pharmaceutical treatment (such as THC or cannabinoid medications) include:

  • loss of appetite and/or anorexia
  • chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
  • pain
  • insomnia
  • depression

Cannabis Medications for Nausea:  Antiemetic Benefits

Nausea is one of the more distressing symptoms for patients undergoing chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. It leads to frequent vomiting and/or a loss of appetite; and subsequently wasting and/or weight loss.

Cannabis, for some patients, has proven effective for reducing nausea and improving appetite. For some patients, it seems, it’s the only drug that offers adequate relief.

Excerpt: “Cannabis might be less potent than other available antiemetics, but for some patients, it is the only agent that works, and it is the only antiemetic that also increases appetite.” Abrams (2016).

SOURCE: Current Oncology (A Canadian Cancer Research Journal) 

Curing Cancer Debates: Can medicinal cannabis mediate the progression of cancer(s)?

  • The evidence about cannabis’s effect on cancer itself, such as on tumors, is conflicting.
  • Some case studies support that it can help mediate cancer progression and other studies suggest some components might have the opposite effect.

However, as Abrams points out in his article, there is reason to explore the potential of cannabis-based medications in treating cancers.

Excerpt: “…an increasing body of in vitro and animal-model studies supports a possible direct anticancer effect of cannabinoids by way of a number of different mechanisms involving apoptosis, angiogenesis, and inhibition of metastasis. Despite an absence of clinical trials, abundant anecdotal reports that describe patients having remarkable responses to cannabis as an anticancer agent, especially when taken as a high-potency orally ingested concentrate, are circulating. Human studies should be conducted to address critical questions related to the foregoing effects.” Abrams, 2016

The article also notes that cannabis may be beneficial for chemotherapy-induced neuropathy that is minimally responsive to other pain-relieving medications.

Professor Abrams article on Oncology and Cannabis Medications is a must-read article about antiemetic and pain management strategies for cancer patients in view of research into new cannabinoid or THC medications for treating cancer.

He also highlights the fact that cannabinoid receptors and endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) in humans likely developed to “help modulate responses to noxious stimuli.”

Research into THC and CBD treatments for cancer patients is ongoing.

But cannabis medications (THC or CBD) appear to have positive benefits for cancer patients in terms of treating:

  • sleep disturbances
  • mood
  • anxiety
  • break-through cancer pain / neuropathic pains that are less responsive to opioids
  • illness progression

Summary of this Oncology article (highlights):

The analgesic and antiemetics effects of using medicinal cannabis to treat cancer pains (neuropathic pain), nausea, sleep disturbances and anxiety disorders, suggests cannabis medications definitely have a place in Oncology treatment settings.  More research, however, is required to fully assess patient safety considerations and risk profiles, medical indications, potential benefits and number needed to treat (NNT), side effects and cannabis formulations.

With additional countries legalising cannabis, and worldwide medicinal cannabis cancer research studies in the works, we shall soon know more about the potential benefits of this botanical pharmaceutical for treating cancer pains.

Brief history of cannabis medicines used in Oncology

Excerpt: In 1986, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (thc), the most psychoactive cannabinoid in the plant, was approved as a licensed drug, dronabinol (Marinol: AbbVie, North Chicago, IL, U.S.A.), for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Hence, oncologists probably have the longest record of using a cannabis-based medicine. In 1992, the dronabinol indication was expanded to include treatment of the anorexia associated with aids wasting syndrome. In 2006, nabilone (Cesamet: Meda Pharmaceuticals, Somerset, NJ, U.S.A.) another synthetic thc that had long been available in Europe and elsewhere became available in the United States as well.  Source: Dr. Donald I Abrams 2016 article in Cannabis in Oncology

Please read Donald I. Abrams’ Cannabis in Oncology article in full:

His article has been referenced over 66 times.

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Sources:  Should Oncologists Recommend Cannabis? Donald I. Abrams, MD.  Hematology-Oncology, Zuckerberg San Francisco General, Integrative Oncology,  UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Professor of Clinical Medicine, University
of California San Francisco, Ward 84, 995 Potrero, San Francisco, CA,  94110, USA    Author’s email:

Further Reading | Journal Publications on the topic of Oncology and Medicinal Cannabis Treatments

Journal: . 2013 Feb; 75(2): 303–312.

Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug.

Authors: Paola Massi,1 Marta Solinas,2 Valentina Cinquina,2 and Daniela Parolaro2

Published online 2012 Apr 17. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04298.x
PMCID: PMC3579246 PMID: 22506672
Accessed online on 2 July 2019.

Journal: 2017    Jul (175):133-150. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2017.02.041. 

Epub 2017 Feb 22.  PMID:  28232276   DOI:  10.1016/j.pharmthera.2017.02.041

Cannabidiol: State of the art and new challenges for therapeutic applications.

Accessed online on 2 July 2019

Topics: Cancer; Cannabidiol; Cannabis; Endocannabinoid system; Neurological diseases; Oncology Treatments using THC or Cannabinoid (CBD) medications