Combining Cannabis with Chemo and Radiation. Is It Possible?

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Many patients have heard that cannabis can help navigate the side effects of chemotherapy. Most hear from friends or relatives that it can help. They are willing to try almost anything to help deal with the nausea, pain, and insomnia. But patients who are already immuno-compromised and going through chemo have a lot of questions. And their doctors seem to have more questions than answers themselves.

In my years of experience and interactions with oncologists, we have had only positive results for our patients. We do advise patients to let their oncologist know that they are using medical cannabis during chemo/radiation. We prefer to work with the oncologist, so they are aware of what products the patients are using, and what effects to expect.

Most oncologists are very hesitant to let patients smoke. Especially if the patient has a lung cancer or other lung conditions. However, I have also spoken to oncologists who feel that lung cancer patients should smoke because the cannabinoids would be absorbed directly at the site they are needed. —-This difference of opinions can be due to experience with patients using cannabis, level of cannabinoid education, and the legality of cannabis in that state.

Cannabis is a bronchodilator. This means that it expands the lungs and does not constrict them. Vaporizing flower is a much healthier delivery method than smoking. The flower after being vaped still has cannabinoids remaining and could then also be used to make edibles. When smoking you can burn off 50-60% of the medication along with inhaling the combusted materials.

Inhaling is not the only way that cannabis can be consumed. There are many other options for patients that may be easier to dose, and more comfortable for the patients to use. There are different

types of products that can be used orally or sublingually. Sublingually is when the patient lets the medication absorb under the tongue. This typically gives a little faster onset of effects than edibles (ingestibles) and not as long. Edibles (anything swallowed) can take much longer for the onset of effects and longer duration of effects. The problem with these dosing forms are that we need to be very careful. If the dose is too much, it can be a long bumpy ride you are not prepared to be on. A combination of delivery methods can be best for overall results.

Many patients who are new to cannabis are concerned with “getting high”. “Getting high” from cannabis is a side effect of the THC content in cannabis. There are plenty of ways to consume cannabis that can help prevent this side effect. There are also many different cannabinoids that can be beneficial in treating nausea, pain, and insomnia. Cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN, CBG and THCa are great examples. Of these cannabinoids, CBN has the most side effects (drowsiness, sedation, and very mildly psychoactive) and should primarily be used at night. CBD and THCa are great for daytime use for nausea, vomiting, inflammation, muscle spasms, and anxiety.

Cannabis can be an overwhelming medication to use in conjunction with other medications when going through a very tough time mentally and physically. There is a lot of new information to digest. I will leave you with a few good pointers for patients who are new to cannabis.

  1. Start low and go slow.
  2. You can always use more, you CANNOT use less.
  3. Do not use too many different products, or delivery methods. It is important for you to know what is working, and what isn’t. Along with what delivery methods and products you prefer.
  4. Cannabis has the safest drug profile of any medication. There has never been a documented case of overdose from cannabis itself that has caused death or serious harm.
  5. Make sure your doctors are aware that you are using medical cannabis. They may not agree, but they should at least know. We do not want them to think something else is what is actually helping, when it may not be.

About the author:

Now working in cannabis, his years of pharmaceutical knowledge, drug to drug interactions and his quest for learning revealed the startling truth about this remarkable plant. Brian is one of only a handful of a growing number of pharmacists who are lending their knowledge of chemistry, drugs to cannabis therapeutics while satisfying his yearning to be more involved in the health of his patients!

Brian Essenter, Registered Pharmacist (RPh)

Business Owner – MM Consult CT

Brian was recently featured on United Patients Group’s Podcast – Be Informed. Be Well. with John Malanca

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