Cannabis as a Treatment for Chemotherapy Induced Nausea

Cannabis has several uses in the treatment of cancer. As an apetite stimulant, it can help to slow weight loss in cancer patients. It may also act as a mood elevator. But the most common use is the prevention of nausea and vomiting of cancer chemotherapy. About half of the patients treated with anticancer drugs suffer from severe nausea and vomiting, which are not only unpleasant but a a threat to the effectiveness of the therapy. Retching can cause tears of the esophagus and rib fractures, prevent adequate nutrition, and lead to fluid loss. Some patients find the nausea so intolerable that they say they would rather die than go on...
The suggestion that cannabis might be useful arose in the early 1970s when some young patients receiving cancer chemotherapy found that marihuana smoking reduced their nausea and vomiting. In one study of 56 patients who got no relief from standard antiemetic agents, 78% became symptom-free when they smoked marihuana. Oral tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has proven effective where the standard drugs were not but smoking generates faster and more predictable results because it raises THC concentration in the blood more easily to the needed level. Also, it may be hard for a nauseated patient to take oral medicine. In fact, there is strong evidence that most patients suffering from nausea and vomiting prefer smoked marihuana to oral THC.
Oncologists maybe ahead of other physicians in recognizing the therapeutic potential of cannabis. In the spring of 1990, two investigators randomly selected more than 2,000 members of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (one-third of the membership) and mailed them an anonymous questionnaire to learn their views on the use of cannabis in cancer chemotherapy. Almost half of the recipients responded. Although the investigators acknowledged that this group was self-selected and that there might be a response bias, their results provided a rough estimate of the views of specialists on the use of Marinol (dronabinol, oral synthetic THC) and smoked marihuana.
Only 43% said the available legal antiemetic drugs (including Marinol) provided adequate relief to all or most of teir patients, and only 46% said the side effects of these drugs were rarely a serious problem. Forty- four percent had recommended the illegal use of marihuana to at least one patient, and half would prescribe it to some patients if it were legal. On average, they considered smoked marihuana more effective than Marinol and roughly as safe.

p. 96, Medical Marijuana Referenda Movement in America: Congressional Hearing, October 1, 1997

Medical Marijuana Referenda Movement in America: Congressional Hearing (October 1, 1997)