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Post: Cannabis May Help Chemo Nausea, Not a Substitute for Cancer Treatment

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Cannabis May Help Chemo Nausea, Not a Substitute for Cancer Treatment
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Cannabis and cannabinoid access and use among patients with cancer “has outpaced the science supporting their clinical use,” according to the findings issued by an expert panel convened by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

“Clinicians should recommend against using cannabis or cannabinoids as a cancer-directed treatment unless within the context of a clinical trial,” experts wrote in the guidelines published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology . “Cannabis and/or cannabinoids may improve refractory, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting when added to guideline-concordant antiemetic regimens. Whether cannabis and/or cannabinoids can improve other supportive care outcomes remains uncertain.”

However, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is poised to reclassify the substance as a less dangerous drug and recognize its medical uses.

Dr. Ilana M. Braun of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, immediate past chief of the division of adult psychosocial oncology as well as co-leader and first author of the guideline working group, discussed some of the misconceptions that persist regarding cannabis and cancer and conversations patients should have with their care team regarding this issue. What are some of the major misconceptions about cannabis in cancer that persist these days? What would you like patients to know about these issues?

We know from survey and interview research that patients with cancer are turning to cannabis for the management of multiple symptoms and side effects — for instance, for cancer pain, to improve appetite, to help with nausea or mood, for an overall sense of wellbeing. We also know that not infrequently patients with cancer consume cannabis in an effort to treat cancer itself. Sometimes they do so as an adjunct — as an add-on to standard cancer therapies. Sometimes they even do it in lieu of standard cancer therapies. So that’s what’s happening empirically.

Of all the reasons people with cancer turn to cannabis, the one with the greatest scientific evidence to support it is cannabis to manage nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy — and then, only when standard treatments for nausea and vomiting have failed.

The ASCO panel that created the guidelines felt strongly that cancer […]

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