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Understanding the Efficacy of Medical Cannabis for Terminal Care

On top of overwhelming struggles or feelings, patients who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness can face a broad range of both physical and psychological effects. As a devastating diagnosis, patients with a terminal illness must not only learn to cope with this information about their health but find restorative ways to alleviate the most common symptoms and effects. 

Conventional medication methods such as opiates may help terminal patients focus on more palliative treatment options and goals in order to better one’s comfort and overall quality of life during this time. However, many of these pharmaceutical medications can just induce more unpleasant, debilitating effects on those who are ill. 

Natural plant therapy, and cannabis specifically, has been studied for its effectiveness in alleviating and treating many of these physiological and emotional symptoms that come into play with a terminal illness. With the information and scientific evidence we know today, a medical marijuana prescription can be deeply beneficial to terminally ill patients and their remaining quality of life. 

In this blog, gain a better understanding of what a terminal illness diagnosis means and how  medical cannabis  can help patients buffer the side effects from other medications. 

Understanding a Terminal Illness Diagnosis 

Known as a broad term to describe any kind of incurable or untreatable sickness, those diagnosed with a terminal illness have been told by their medical physician that they have a certain remaining life expectancy. It is a diagnosis that comes when all other options or resorts have been exhausted, or oftentimes when the illness is too advanced or prolonged to be fully cured – such as illnesses like cancer: 

  • The Pew Research Center reported that 42% of Americans know a friend or relative who is facing or has faced a terminal illness. 

As one can imagine, aside from the physical pain one may experience from a terminal illness, there can also be a great amount of psychological trauma. Some patients diagnosed with a terminal illness may begin to feel depressed or physically and mentally lethargic from the effects and symptoms of their disease. Other symptoms or diseases may appear in addition to their primary illness.. 

Depending on the type of terminal illness diagnosed by the doctor, there are numerous pharmaceutical and conventional medications provided for patients to treat the symptoms that come with a terminal illness. This may include opiates for chronic pain, anti-nausea medication, and even antidepressants. 

Symptoms of Terminal Illnesses 

The exact effects and symptoms of a terminal illness may differ depending on the specific disease or illness at hand. However, when patients with a terminal illness are suffering advanced stages of their disease, there are common physical symptoms that can be experienced. These symptoms include: 

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Fatigue or insomnia 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation 
  • Difficulty Breathing 
  • Chronic pain 
  • Weight loss
  • General weakness of muscle 

A terminal illness diagnosis can immensely impact a patient and their family. On top of the debilitating physical symptoms that can be experienced with a terminal illness, there are also emotional and psychological symptoms that can negatively impact or disable one’s quality of life. This may include: 

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Helplessness
  • Mood shifts 
  • Fear
  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Blame

With these projected symptoms related to  terminal illness, there are many reasons for  patients turning to medical cannabis for alleviating the these effects. 

Alleviating Symptoms with Cannabinoids 

As more states  legalize medical cannabis, many researchers and clinicians are studying the efficacy of cannabinoids like THC and CBD for alleviating these symptoms. As the cannabis landscape continues evolving, there are a few notable studies that have shown medical cannabis to ease the symptoms of terminal illnesses. 

Palliative Care and Symptom Management

Referred to as palliative care, this medical caregiving approach helps to maximize the quality of life for patients and mitigate any physical or emotional suffering among people with serious and complex terminal illnesses. 

One study supporting the  efficacy of cannabinoids is in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, titled, “Multicenter, Double-Blind, Randomized, Parallel-Group Study of the Efficacy, Safety, and Tolerability of THC:CBD Extract in Patients with Intractable Cancer-Related Pain.” 

This study examined the combination of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) extracts in cancer patients who were experiencing intolerable chronic pain. 

  • The results suggested that a ratio of the THC and CBD extracts was more effective than the placebo given to some patients to reduce pain and improve sleep.
  • In all, the study found these cancer patients to experience an improved remaining quality of life through the therapeutic and symptom-alleviating effects of medical cannabis. 

Nausea and Vomiting Control

One of the most common physical symptoms of terminally ill patients is nausea and vomiting. Patients undergoing chemotherapy or dealing with intense medications or radiation may often experience nausea or illness after treatment. 

A study titled, “Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids” by the British Journal of Pharmacology explored the potential of cannabinoids in managing these symptoms. 

  • This study looked at major cannabinoids such as THC and their accuracy and effectiveness in treating the effects of nausea and vomiting. When consumed orally, THC and other cannabinoids from medical cannabis bind and interact with the CB1 receptors in our endocannabinoid system. 
  • This connection is made throughout the body and sends signals to the brain to block out the effects of pain or nausea, while bringing on a better sense of homeostasis, or balance, in the process. 

Appetite Stimulation

Aside from nausea or vomiting, an overall loss of appetite is also a commonly associated symptom for patients with a terminal illness. Considering how some medications and treatments will suppress one’s appetite, a patient’s quality of life can also be impacted by one’s lack of hunger.  

One study from the Journal of Clinical Oncology examined the efficacy of cannabinoids in appetite stimulation. The study was titled, “Dronabinol Versus Megestrol Acetate Versus Combination Therapy for Cancer-Associated Anorexia: A North Central Cancer Treatment Group Study.” 

  • In this clinical trial, the efficacy of a synthetic THC compound (dronabinol) was found to improve appetite and weight gain in patients experiencing lack of appetite.. This is largely due to the way THC interacts and binds with endocannabinoids in our ECS. 
  • This research found THC to be greatly effective in stimulating appetite and hunger in patients while increasing a patient’s food intake and overall body weight during their terminal care. 

How Has Medical Cannabis Helped Those Who Are Terminally Ill? 

Despite pain or nausea being a common reason patients choose medical cannabis for their terminal disease, recent studies are showing numerous other ways this natural form of medication can help. 

A UCSF study showed that terminally ill patients experiencing chronic pain felt a 95% decrease in symptoms when using inhaled medical marijuana with opiates such as morphine. It even showed that the dosages of opiates are often decreased when used in conjunction with cannabinoids and medical cannabis. 

Additionally, an Israeli medical marijuana clinical study with over 3,000 cancer patients showed a significant improvement and control in other common symptoms, such as: 

On top of that, 36% of those cancer patients studied stopped using opiates or pain medications altogether in replacement of cannabis. 

As suggested by the research, and with the support of your physician, medical marijuana can bring  comfort and help with symptom management for patients experiencing a terminal illness. 

Get Medical Cannabis Care at Canna Care Docs 

Clinical trials and research studies continue to show how medical cannabis can be effective in treating specific symptoms associated with a terminal illness. The use of medical cannabis is a safe remedy for maintaining the relief and comfort needed during these end-of-life difficulties for patients. 

Patients experiencing a terminal illness and its associated effects can choose the option of medical cannabis treatments. This could be in the medical marijuana product form of inhalable flower or vape cartridges, edibles, topicals, cannabis tinctures, or transdermal patches. 

With the language and landscape of medical cannabis constantly changing, it’s crucial to speak with your designated physician or cannabis doctor before implementing medical marijuana as a form of symptom management for a terminal illness. 

CannaCare extends our compassion to anyone undergoing care for a terminal condition and would like to provide assistance in any manner that we can. If you are interested in learning more about how cannabis could help alleviate issues brought on by a terminal condition, you can find greater details about CannaCare’s licensed providers in your area here.

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