Cannabis — also known as marijuana — has gained popularity in recent years for easing both the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment. But how can it help, or sometimes hurt, those living with blood cancers such as multiple myeloma? It’s a topic many MyMyelomaTeam members are curious about.
“Has anyone used medical marijuana for pain with multiple myeloma? Do you still use it, and what does it cost you?” asked one member.
Someone else wrote, “I’m trying medical marijuana. Anyone have any luck with it taking away pain?”
If you’re considering marijuana for myeloma symptoms or the side effects of treatment, here are some things to know about the benefits and risks associated with cannabis.
|Cannabis for Blood Cancer Symptoms or Side Effects|
|Potential Benefits||Potential Risks|
|May help with pain relief||May decrease the effectiveness of some cancer drugs|
|May help with nausea||May increase anxiety or cause paranoia|
|May help with insomnia||Can worsen dizziness and affect blood pressure|
|May help with fatigue||Can impair daily functioning|
Medical Marijuana and Cancer: The Basics
Medical marijuana, also known as medical cannabis, is marijuana used for medicinal purposes. Medical marijuana is usually derived from the cannabis sativa plant. Cannabis indica is the other main strain of marijuana.
Marijuana has two main active compounds — or cannabinoids — delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive compound that causes intoxication or euphoria, the feeling of being high.
THC and CBD have been studied for different medical uses, including cancer symptom management. However, research specifically on marijuana and myeloma symptoms is limited.
Some research indicates THC has anti-inflammatory properties that may help regulate the immune system and inhibit tumors from growing. A recent review of preclinical laboratory studies (early studies that don’t involve human volunteers) on the effects of cannabinoids — THC and CBD — found evidence that cannabinoids can promote cancer cell death in bone marrow. Although the study suggested the potential for developing effective cannabinoid therapy in combination with chemotherapy, it’s still early days, and no standards for treatment of myeloma with cannabis have been established.
According to the American Cancer Society, people with cancer who choose to use medical cannabis are advised to also maintain their prescribed cancer treatment plans. Marijuana is not considered a cure for cancer.
In states where it’s legal, medical marijuana is available in a variety of forms. Cannabis products include edible forms such as lozenges, gummies, and capsules. Cartridge and plant forms can be vaporized (vaped) or smoked. Tinctures, topicals, and patches allow active ingredients to be absorbed through the skin.
If you’re interested in using marijuana for myeloma symptom relief or if you have questions about it, talk to your oncologist. They can help you determine if it’s appropriate, given the specifics of your health condition.
“I’ve got an appointment with a pain doctor team to talk about medical marijuana, so I’ll see what happens,” one MyMyelomaTeam member shared.
Here are some ways marijuana may help relieve myeloma symptoms or side effects of myeloma treatment and potentially boost quality of life.
Research indicates cannabis can help reduce chronic pain for some people with various types of cancer. People with multiple myeloma commonly experience bone pain from bone lesions and damage due to cancerous tumors. In one oncology study of 184 participants, more than 48 percent of those who used at least one dose of medical marijuana experienced a decrease in cancer-related pain, and almost 50 percent reduced their use of opioid painkillers. Reported adverse events of medical marijuana were low, experienced by less than 4 percent of participants.
“I asked my oncologist what else I can do for pain, and he suggested medical marijuana as well as seeing a pain management specialist,” one MyMyelomaTeam member said.
In a case series on patients at cancer centers in California and Minnesota, topical cannabis products were found to decrease neuropathy from chemotherapy. Peripheral neuropathy, nerve pain that can affect hands, feet, and legs, is a common symptom of myeloma and a potential chemotherapy side effect.
“I’m using CBD and I'm using medical marijuana for the neuropathy. Doesn’t take it all away, but it’s so much better,” a team member wrote.
“My neuropathy is very severe,” another member said. “Topical medical marijuana creams with higher THC/CBD really help for a few hours.”
People with myeloma frequently have insomnia and sleep disturbances. These are due to uncomfortable symptoms and anxious feelings that are common in people living with cancer. In one small study, 71 percent of participants with a range of health conditions reported cannabis improved their sleep.
“Slept well without Valium, which may have been contributing to long-term fatigue. Just used medical marijuana meant for sleep,” said a MyMyelomaTeam member.
It’s important to note that research results have been mixed. In one study on adult cannabis users published in the journal Addictive Behavior, sleep quality decreased with increasing use of marijuana. However in the same study, CBD, rather than THC, was found to improve sleep.
Although marijuana may cause drowsiness and help some people sleep, it has also been found to relieve symptoms of fatigue — a common and debilitating symptom of myeloma due to factors such as anemia, pain, or medication side effects.
In a study of 1,224 people who experienced fatigue, almost 92 percent experienced significant relief and felt more energetic after using cannabis. The study indicated that smoking cannabis joints (rolled marijuana cigarettes) was more effective for relieving fatigue than vaping or smoking it in a pipe.
Marijuana, particularly cannabis sativa, has been shown to effectively relieve nausea. In a study with 886 participants, people who used marijuana for nausea began to feel better within five minutes, and symptom relief increased over time. Within one hour of use, more than 96 percent of participants experienced a significant reduction in nausea.
Nausea, weight loss, and loss of appetite are common and debilitating symptoms of both myeloma and myeloma treatment. Some research has shown that cannabis may also help stimulate appetite in people with cancer.
“I’m using marijuana for appetite and to ease pain. I usually smoke three puffs before dinner. I don’t get loopy or dizzy,” wrote a MyMyelomaTeam member.
Although marijuana may help some people with myeloma symptoms, it’s important to know it can affect individuals differently. Many people may experience unwanted side effects from using cannabis. Here are some of the risks linked to marijuana that may be detrimental to people with multiple myeloma.
Marijuana, and THC in particular, are associated with an increase in anxiety. Intoxication from medical marijuana may be disorienting for some people and contribute to anxiety.
People with multiple myeloma commonly experience anxiety and fear. If you‘re prone to high levels of anxiety, marijuana may aggravate that symptom and should probably be avoided.
“I tried using medical marijuana. It definitely helps, but it causes paranoia. … It’s such a pity because I always wanted to try it,” a MyMyelomaTeam member shared.
The use of marijuana increases the risk of orthostatic hypotension — dizziness with standing up from a seated or lying position — which can result in fainting or falling for some people due to a drop in blood pressure. People with myeloma commonly experience dizziness, and cannabis may worsen this symptom.
Marijuana has been associated with both increases and decreases in blood pressure. If you have a history of heart disease, be sure to talk to your doctor before using medical marijuana.
A common side effect of marijuana is slower response and poor functioning, which can negatively affect many daily activities. Some risks include:
“Marijuana has been legal in our state for three months,” a MyMyelomaTeam member wrote. “It did help my back pain, but I wasn’t thrilled with the ‘spacey’ feeling I had.”
Marijuana has been linked to a significant decrease in the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs for late-stage cancer. If you’re taking immunotherapy drugs, you may want to discuss medical marijuana with your oncologist.
Marijuana may also interact poorly with other prescription drugs. Always discuss potential drug interactions with your health care providers if you’re using cannabis.
Many, but not all, states in the U.S. have legalized medical marijuana. In these states, cannabis may be distributed by state-certified dispensaries that require official medical marijuana identification cards you get after consultation with a doctor. Some states allow individuals to grow their own medical marijuana. State cannabis laws can vary considerably and typically have a limit on how much marijuana can be legally possessed, sold, or grown.
Your doctor can advise you on your state’s regulation of medical marijuana if it has been legalized. You can find more information about marijuana laws in your state through the Marijuana Policy Project.
MyMyelomaTeam is the social network for people with myeloma and their loved ones. On MyMyelomaTeam, more than 20,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with myeloma.
Have you tried marijuana for your myeloma symptoms or side effects of myeloma treatments? What has worked for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.