Marijuana, Chemotherapy, and Nausea

Jul 17, 2008

cancer, cannabinoids, Medical Marijuana

A new article in the European Journal of Cancer Care answers medical marijuana opponents who claim that cancer patients don't need marijuana to relieve the nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. Opponents claim that while studies in the past showed THC to be roughly comparable to other anti-nausea drugs, it wasn't substantially better. Since those studies, they argue, better anti-nausea drugs have come into use, making medical marijuana irrelevant. In any case, they add, THC is available in pill form as Marinol.

Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo conducted a systematic review of studies of cannabinoid drugs for relief of chemo-induced nausea. Alas, the studies all involved oral THC or other cannabinoids, not whole marijuana, so the pill-vs.-plant issue isn't addressed, but many of the other distortions put out by opponents are firmly debunked.

First, the analysis found clear advantages for cannabinoids over the other tested. In some cases there were statistically significant differences in efficacy, and with amazing consistency, patients preferred the cannabinoids.

Most important, the Sao Paulo researchers demolish the claim that we don't need marijuana because we  now have better anti-nausea drugs. They note that these newer drugs still fail some patients, and "this cannot be corrected by an increase in dosage or frequency of administration," adding that when the nausea hits a day or more after chemo treatment, the "gold standard" drug combination "rarely obtains 50% of the desired effect."

And the coup de grace: "Cannabinoids seem to act through different mechanisms [than standard drugs] and can be effective for people who respond in an unsatisfactory way to the antiemetic drugs used today."

That's what some of us have been saying for years.