Both marijuana and cannabidiol (CBD) oil are derived from the cannabis plant, and both are being proven through research to be useful for patients with cancer, even those with aggressive, often terminal cancers like mesothelioma.
This terrible type of cancer and the treatments for it cause side effects like pain and nausea that can be debilitating. Many patients have benefited from using cannabis-based products, and ongoing research even indicates that compounds from the cannabis plant have anti-tumor effects.
What is Mesothelioma?
Most often caused by workplace exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium. This is a thin, double-layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs, abdominal organs, and the heart. The most common type affects the lung tissue, known as the pleura.
This is called pleural mesothelioma and it results from inhaling fibers of asbestos, which then get lodged in tissue and cause damage over years.
Less common is peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the tissue in the abdomen, and pericardial mesothelioma, which attacks the pericardium around the heart.
While there may be other causes or contributing factors, mesothelioma is overwhelmingly the result of asbestos exposure.
The damage caused by the carcinogenic fibers of this mineral leads to cancer in some individuals. It can take decades to develop and is difficult to diagnose. The result is that most people only receive a diagnosis and begin treatment once the cancer is in later stages.
Pleural mesothelioma causes chest pains, difficulty breathing, coughing, and ultimately fatigue and serious pain. Treatment options depend on the stage of the cancer and individual patient health, but it is often some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Many patients are not eligible for surgery because the cancer has spread and because mesothelioma grows as multiple, smaller tumors that are difficult to excise.
For these reasons, chemotherapy is often the main treatment course for mesothelioma, and that causes additional symptoms: nausea, pain, vomiting, hair loss, and fatigue, among others.
Overall the life expectancy after a diagnosis of mesothelioma is usually five years or less. Treatment strategies usually aim to extend life expectancy and to make the patient more comfortable.
Medical Marijuana vs. CBD Oil
It is becoming increasingly clear from research that both medical marijuana and CBD oil can benefit cancer patients, including those with mesothelioma, in a number of ways.
Medical marijuana refers to any cannabis product that comes directly from the plant and includes the psychoactive compounds, specifically THC. THC is the main cannabinoid, or natural compound in marijuana, that causes the “high” for which the drug is known.
Medical marijuana comes in several forms and can be smoked and inhaled or consumed. It is essentially the same product as recreational marijuana, but it is used for medical reasons only.
Using medical marijuana can provide relief from symptoms like pain, nausea, and anxiety, but it can also have unwanted psychoactive side effects in some people.
CBD oil is an extract from the cannabis plant. It is an extract of cannabidiol, a natural compound found in the plant. CBD does not cause psychoactive effects that THC does. It can provide relief from some of the same symptoms as medical marijuana but with fewer side effects and with no high.
Medical Marijuana for Mesothelioma
There are now only a handful of states that allow no form of medical marijuana use. Most states allow medical marijuana use to some degree, even if there are restrictions.
For mesothelioma patients there are a few reasons to use medical marijuana or drugs that contain THC. A couple of these medications are even approved by some government agencies:
- Dronabinol is a prescription drug that can be used in the U.S. to manage the nausea and vomiting that is triggered by chemotherapy. It is derived from cannabis and includes THC.
- Nabilone, also approved in the U.S. contains a substance similar to THC and is also used for nausea and vomiting when other drugs have failed to help.
- In Europe and Canada cancer patients may be prescribed Nabiximols for related pain. It contains both THC and CBD and is currently under investigation for approval in the U.S.
States that allow medical marijuana, patients with mesothelioma may use it for several reasons, and pain is an important one.
Mesothelioma can cause significant pain, especially in the later stages. The treatments used to manage the cancer, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, can also cause pain.
Medical marijuana can be a useful alternative to other pain medications. The severe and persistent kind of pain that mesothelioma patients experience often necessitates the use of opioid drugs. These can cause serious side effects and are highly habit-forming, though.
The opioid epidemic that is killing hundreds of thousands of people from overdoses is rooted in the drugs’ addictive properties. Some patients may get better results, experience fewer side effects, and eliminate the addiction and overdose risk when using marijuana or cannabis products to manage pain.
Another important use for cannabis is for relief of nausea and vomiting. These are often debilitating side effects of chemotherapy, a common treatment for mesothelioma. These side effects can significantly decrease quality of life and other drugs may not provide relief.
Medical marijuana is proven to relieve nausea and vomiting, which is why there are two THC-related prescriptions approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Although it is more difficult to quantify, to measure, and to manage, patients with mesothelioma can also suffer from anxiety, stress, fear, and depression.
These mental health symptoms may be just as detrimental to quality of life as physical symptoms. Patients with cancer can benefit from medical marijuana to ease anxiety, manage stress, and promote relaxation.
CBD Oil for Mesothelioma
Patients who don’t benefit from products with THC, who don’t like the effects it produces, or who can’t access them because of state laws, CBD oil holds great promise. That it is non-psychoactive is one of the biggest benefits of CBD over marijuana, and it makes it more available to patients who need it.
Like products that contain THC, CBD can be used to manage pain, nausea, vomiting, and mental health symptoms like anxiety in patients with mesothelioma. It may also help patients who have lost their appetites eat more and put on weight, which benefits overall health.
Some studies have found that CBD can be even more effective than medical marijuana with THC for some uses in cancer patients. These include pain relief. CBD oil is simply an extract in oil, and just a few drops can be adequate to manage symptoms like pain.
While CBD oil is a popular form for taking cannabidiol, it is not the only option. CBD is ingested but it can be in various forms, including gummies, capsules, water infused with CBD, and a powder that can be dissolved in drinks. The oil is common and it is easy to use by applying it under the tongue or adding it to foods.
The Potential for Cannabis to Slow or Shrink Tumors
Most current mesothelioma patients benefit from cannabis products for the immediate relief of symptoms and side effects. These products can improve quality of life for people living with a painful, uncomfortable, and most often terminal cancer.
But there may also be some evidence from research that cannabinoids could have anti-tumor effects. More research needs to be done, but there have already been some promising findings.
While none of the studies yet have been specific to mesothelioma, research with laboratory animals has shown that CBD can slow tumor growth in cases of breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
Another study using animals found that use of CBD extract actually extended the lives of laboratory mice with pancreatic cancer as compared to those that were not given the extract.
More research needs to be done to test the anti-cancer properties of THC, CBD, and other marijuana products on human patients. Human studies have been difficult for researchers to do in the U.S. because marijuana remains illegal under federal law and is classified as a schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Side Effects of CBD Oil and Medical Marijuana
Mesothelioma and other cancer patients that use CBD oil or medical marijuana may experience some unpleasant side effects. These are most often less severe and much more bearable than the side effects and symptoms the cannabis products are being used to relieve.
For instance, CBD oil can provide great relief from pain, nausea, and anxiety, but it may also trigger some fatigue, weight changes, and diarrhea.
The potential for experiencing side effects is less for CBD than for products that contain THC. Medical marijuana with THC can cause psychoactive effects, for instance.
These may include euphoria, sensory changes, changes in perception, poor coordination, relaxation, and in some cases anxiety, fear, hallucinations, paranoia, panic attacks, and delusions.
THC can also cause low blood pressure, dizziness, and increased heart rate. If smoked, there are also risks that marijuana will cause lung damage or irritation.
Overall, the evidence from research into how CBD and marijuana can impact mesothelioma and other types of cancer patients is strong and positive.
Much more research needs to be done, but it is already well known that these medications can help patients right now. The pain relief, the relief of nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation, and the relaxation that CBD and medical marijuana can provide are powerful.
Using these natural products with fewer side effects and that don’t carry the same risks as opioids is a great help to people living with this devastating cancer.