Ask the Expert: Medical Cannabis

Over the past several years, cannabis (otherwise known as marijuana) has gained prominence, both in the public eye and in health care. And though it’s only been since 2013 that federal regulations have allowed Canadians with medical documentation to access herbal cannabis from licensed producers (LPs), cannabis has in fact been used for centuries as a medicine to treat many health conditions.
 
Currently, there is growing evidence that cannabis may help cancer patients manage the nausea, vomiting and neuropathic pain (i.e. pins and needles) caused by chemotherapy and radiation. Cannabis may also help improve some patients’ appetites during treatment.
 
As medical cannabis continues to gain exposure, interest has increased around re-exploring the plant’s other health benefits, including the possible role of cannabis as a cancer treatment, especially for malignant brain tumours. There has been one study in Spain that explored what happens when cannabis is injected into the tumour of individuals with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). The tumours were seen to shrink in this small study. A clinical trial is underway in the UK that examines the effect of using cannabis alongside the standard-of-care temozolomide chemotherapy for GBM. Further research is needed to determine whether cannabis is an effective and safe treatment for brain tumours.
 
Like any medical treatment, it’s important to remember that cannabis can come with side effects that must be balanced against its potential benefits. The psychoactive effect or “high” often associated with cannabis may cause paranoia, panic, mania or hallucinations. There is higher risk for those with mental health issues, especially with schizophrenia. In addition, cannabis can cause physical side effects, including dry mouth, increased appetite, heart and blood pressure problems, nausea and vomiting, headaches, and dry/red eyes.
 
To learn more about whether cannabis is right for you, speak to your physician or another member of your health care team about the benefits and risks associated with medical cannabis. 
 
Please visit the Northey Library section on Medicinal Cannabis to learn more about medical cannabis and Health Canada’s Licensed Producers or see FAQs on Medical Cannabis.
 
 
A special thank you to Dr. Lynda Balneaves and Rielle Capler, MHA, PhD(c) for providing this article.
Dr. Lynda Balneaves also gave a webinar on the topic: "Where There's Smoke: The Role of Cannabis in Brain Tumours" on June 20, 2017 which can be found in Online Learning.

This information is provided for information purposes only, and does not represent advice, an endorsement or a recommendation, with respect to any product, service or business, and/or the claims and properties thereof, by Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. Always consult your health care team if you have questions about your medical care and treatments options.

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