What are the Effects of Medical Marijuana on Cancer?

Cancer remains a formidable challenge in the medical world. Despite advancements in treatments, the quest for more effective therapies persists.

In recent years, medical marijuana has emerged as a subject of interest in the realm of cancer treatment. If you want to know the effects of medical marijuana on cancer and explore its potential benefits and the scientific evidence supporting its use, this article is for you.

Read on!

What is Medical Marijuana?

Medical marijuana refers to the use of the cannabis plant or its chemicals, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), for medicinal purposes. THC is known for its psychoactive properties, while CBD is non-psychoactive and often associated with therapeutic effects.

Both compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates various physiological processes, including appetite, pain sensation, mood, and immune function.

There have already been various studies that link the use of medical marijuana to dealing with cancer. Let’s look at what those studies have to say about it:

Pain Management

Cancer-related pain is a multifaceted challenge that can significantly impair patients’ quality of life. Conventional pain management strategies, such as opioids, may be associated with adverse effects and the risk of dependence.

Medical marijuana, however, offers a promising alternative or adjunct therapy for pain relief.

THC, which is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, acts on cannabinoid receptors in the brain and peripheral nervous system, modulating pain perception. A meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that cannabinoids, including medical marijuana, were associated with a greater reduction in chronic pain compared to placebo.

Additionally, medical marijuana’s analgesic effects may synergize with other pain medications, allowing for lower doses and potentially reducing the risk of side effects.

Nausea and Vomiting Relief

Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) are distressing side effects that can compromise patients’ adherence to cancer treatment regimens. Traditional antiemetic medications, such as serotonin receptor antagonists and corticosteroids, are often effective but may cause adverse reactions like sedation and constipation.

Medical marijuana, particularly THC, exerts antiemetic properties by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the brainstem, thereby suppressing the emetic reflex.

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that cannabinoids, including THC, were more effective than placebo in reducing CINV.

Furthermore, medical marijuana’s ability to alleviate nausea and vomiting may enhance patients’ overall well-being. This allows them to tolerate chemotherapy and maintain their nutritional status.

Appetite Stimulation

Cancer cachexia, which is characterized by involuntary weight loss, muscle wasting, and anorexia, is a prevalent and debilitating syndrome among cancer patients. It not only diminishes patients’ quality of life but also compromises their ability to tolerate treatment and contributes to poor clinical outcomes.

Medical marijuana has been shown to stimulate appetite and increase food intake through its interaction with cannabinoid receptors in the hypothalamus and limbic system.

A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management demonstrated that cancer patients treated with oral THC experienced a significant improvement in appetite and weight gain compared to placebo.

Additionally, medical marijuana’s appetite-stimulating effects may have broader implications for managing other appetite-related disorders, such as HIV/AIDS-associated wasting syndrome and anorexia nervosa.

Anti-tumor Effects

Beyond alleviating symptoms, emerging evidence suggests that cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, may exhibit direct anti-tumor effects.

Preclinical studies have demonstrated that cannabinoids can modulate various signaling pathways involved in cancer cell proliferation, survival, angiogenesis, and metastasis. For instance, research published in Cancer Research reported that THC inhibited the growth and metastasis of lung cancer cells in animal models by inducing apoptosis and impairing tumor vasculature.

Moreover, CBD has shown promise in enhancing the sensitivity of cancer cells to conventional therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, while mitigating their adverse effects on normal tissues.

Clinical trials investigating the anticancer properties of cannabinoids in humans are ongoing, underscoring the need for further research to elucidate their mechanisms of action and therapeutic potential.

Challenges and Considerations

While the potential benefits of medical marijuana in cancer treatment are promising, several challenges and considerations exist:

Regulation and Legalization

The legal status of medical marijuana varies across jurisdictions, posing barriers to access for patients and hindering research efforts.

Standardization of Products

The variability in the composition and potency of medical marijuana products makes it challenging to establish standardized dosing regimens and ensure consistency in therapeutic outcomes.

Side Effects and Safety Concerns

Medical marijuana may cause side effects such as dizziness, fatigue, and cognitive impairment, which can impact patients’ daily functioning. Long-term safety data are lacking which requires further research.


Medical marijuana holds promise as a complementary therapy for managing cancer-related symptoms and potentially exerting anti-tumor effects.

While scientific evidence supporting its use continues to accumulate, further research is warranted to elucidate its mechanisms of action, optimize dosing strategies, and address safety concerns.

Collaborative efforts between researchers, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and patients are essential to harnessing the full potential of medical marijuana in the fight against cancer.