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Medical Marijuana for Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive, relentless form of cancer that attacks the lining of the mesothelium. The invasion can occur in the lining of one’s lungs, abdomen, or heart. The mesothelial tumors may either be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. When an individual inhales or swallows tiny asbestos fibers, they stick to the linings and could progress into a tumorous growth causing serious health issues.

Medical Marijuana has gained respect and popularity over the years as an alternative treatment to mesothelioma. It aims to provide relief to the debilitating side effects of the other standard treatments for the disease. 

Traditional Treatment Options for Mesothelioma 

There are three traditional routes of treatment for mesothelioma. However, the cancer virtually resistant to most conventional forms of treatment.  

  • Chemotherapy: This mode of treatment attacks cancer cells. It is commonly used in conjunction with surgery to target the mesothelioma cells the surgeon could not physically remove. 
  • Radiation Therapy: This form of treatment utilizes specific radiation aimed to shrink cancerous tumors. Depending on the location of the growth, the physician can deliver the radiation internally or externally. This assists the surgeon in removing all of the tumor(s) during surgery. 
  • Surgery: This method of treatment is usually paired with either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If the cancer is detected in an earlier stage, the surgeon may be able to successfully remove the entire tumor.

In most cases, doctors take a multi-faceted approach to treat mesothelioma. They use a combination of the three routine treatments. Over the last decade, other treatment options have been studied through research projects and clinical trials. Some are more controversial than others, but a variety of studies continue to find the best treatment for the deadly cancer.

An alternate avenue of treatment can be found in medical marijuana. Even though the use of medicinal marijuana remains illegal under federal law, several states have legalized it. To date, 28 states, along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico, have officially legalized marijuana for medical treatment. Marijuana, including CBD oil, continues to provide cancer patients comfort and relief.  

Is Marijuana an Effective Treatment for Mesothelioma?

Medical marijuana has been the center of controversy for years. Studies have been performed to see if medical marijuana can provide an effective treatment for mesothelioma. Patients who have tried this treatment have claimed that it has helped with their pain. 

However, in 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a press release warning consumer of potential false claims that Cannabidiol oil, better known as CBD oil, could stop the growth of cancer cells. The FDA insisted that there has not been a conclusive study that indicates CBD oil, halts, or slows the growth of cancer cells. 

Commissioner of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, M.D., expressed his concern at the increasing number of products claiming they could cure cancers. He stated, “[s]ubstances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors. We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer, and we’re not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products.” 

The FDA sent warning letters to four different companies who marketed false claims about their products. The commissioner acknowledged that there are a number of effective therapies to treat cancers. However, allowing companies to illegally market products that have not been established to actually cure cancer could lead patients in the wrong direction, taking them away from the treatments that have been studied and proven to be effective. 

Dr. Gottlieb added, “[w]e recognize that there’s interest in developing therapies from marijuana and its components, but the safest way for this to occur is through the drug approval process – not through unsubstantiated claims made on a website. We support sound, scientifically-based research using components derived from marijuana, and we’ll continue to work with product developers who are interested in bringing safe, effective, and quality products to market.”

Ways Marijuana Can Ease Symptoms Associated Mesothelioma Treatments

Marijuana contains several different cannabinoid compounds that serve a medicinal purpose. The main psychoactive cannabinoid is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). THC has some pretty profound medical benefits. It not only relieves cancer symptoms, but the CBD oil has been used to treat seizures. As mentioned above, there has not been any substantive research that has shown marijuana to stop or slow the growth of cancer, but research has proven that CBD oil can treat other symptoms associated with cancer.

CBD oil has been effective in the management of nausea, pain, and anxiety. Some patients use CBD oil along with chemotherapy or radiation therapy to combat the adverse side effects like nausea. Other patients use the CBD by itself to assist with pain associated with mesothelioma. 

Medical marijuana treats other symptoms associated with treatments for mesothelioma like chest pain, vomiting, and unexplained weight loss. Marijuana can help restore one’s appetite, allowing for a healthy weight gain. Sometimes the side effects of chemotherapy can be so harsh that a patient declines further treatment. The medicinal marijuana simply brings relief of the ugly side effects of other treatments.  

CBD oil also treats patients living with mesothelioma who suffer severe emotional distress as a result of the cancer. It treats conditions like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Research provides that cannabinoids can reverse such symptoms. Animal studies have shown CBD oil to have an anti-anxiety effect. Other smaller-scale studies have shown that the inhalation of cannabis reduced an individual’s anxiety and improved their mood. 

Cannabinoids Prescription Drugs for Cancer Patients

There are two prescription drugs that are available to cancer patients:

  • Dronabinol – this cannabinoid drug holds THC and is prescribed to treat symptoms experienced by patients undergoing chemotherapy (nausea and vomiting). 
  • Nabilone – this cannabinoid does not contain THC, but it does contain a similar substance that is also used to treat gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and nausea when other drugs have not helped. 

Both drugs have been reported to promote a healthy appetite and can help a patient either gain or maintain a healthy weight. Other drugs have been released in Canada and Europe that come in the form of a THC-containing mouth spray to treat cancer patients. 

There are certain strains of cannabis that have helped patients’ symptoms. Different strains aim to help different groups of symptoms, from pain relief to gastrointestinal issues, to adverse mood changes. 

Cannabis and Tumor Activity

There has been limited research in the study between cannabis and cancer in humans. There is nothing definitive, but some have indicated that cannabis may have more use than just curbing cancer symptoms. A 2015 study performed by California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute found, “[u]sing animal models, CBD has been shown to inhibit the progression of many types of cancer including glioblastoma (GBM), breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer.” Even though the studies are limited and none of which are conclusive on the effects of cannabis and tumor growth, there are hundreds of patients who swear by their use of medical marijuana and claim it cured their cancer.

What are the Side Effects of Cannabis? 

Side effects come with every medication. The side effects depend on an individual’s predisposition, sensitivity, and much more. The side effects may vary on the method by which it is administered. Studies have shown that marijuana smoke contains the same cancer-causing toxins as cigarette smoke. According to a study, “[t]he confirmation of the presence, in both mainstream and sidestream smoke of marijuana cigarettes, of known carcinogens and other chemicals implicated in respiratory diseases is important information for public health and communication of the risk related to exposure to such materials.” Therefore, research supports that smoking marijuana can damage the linings of the airway, causing a chronic cough or acute bronchitis.

CBD oil, even though it is not administered via smoke, can still pose side effects for some of its users. It is important to note that the potential side effects of CBD oil are significantly lower than for THC. Some side effects include diarrhea, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, changes in eating habits, and fatigue. 

Future of Medical Marijuana and Mesothelioma Treatment 

A recent study published in November of 2019 displayed a hopeful result of a 64-year-old man who was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. He declined the traditional form of treatment and enrolled in a patient program of IMM-101. Several years later, his condition progressed, requiring local radiation therapy, and he later developed peritoneal disease. The study concluded that in 2018, “he obtained the cannabinoids CBD and THC, which slowed down the disease and a CT scan after he had been on this for six months, showed that his disease was fairly stable with marginal progression.” 

There are several research studies currently being conducted across the globe to determine whether marijuana can actually serve as an alternative treatment to cancer, including mesothelioma. A notable study is being funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The project has been awarded nearly 3 million dollars to investigate the possible pain-relieving properties and complex mechanisms in cannabis. The goal is to produce strong evidence that the components of cannabis either can or cannot have real roles in pain management. 

The NCCIH issued a press release on September 19, 2019, announcing their investigation into minor cannabinoids and terpenes. Deputy director of the NCCIH, David Shurtleff, Ph.D., commented, “THC may help relieve pain, but its value as an analgesic is limited by its psychoactive effects and abuse potential…These new projects will investigate substances from cannabis that don’t have THC’s disadvantages, looking at their basic biological activity and their potential mechanisms of action as pain relievers.”

In conclusion, the intervention of medical marijuana and treatment of mesothelioma is still new and ongoing. Mesothelioma is a debilitating cancer. Patients endure an unfathomable amount of pain, discomfort, and mental distress. Medical marijuana could be a potential form of relief to ease some of the symptoms commonly associated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other types of treatment. This alternative form of therapy provides many mesothelioma patients with hope when there may not have been one before. 

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