Medical cannabis and cannabinoids in raw or dried flowers, oils, capsules, powders, edibles, and topicals may reduce pain, and some evidence shows benefit with nausea, vomiting, and sleep, but little evidence of treating cancer.

Cannabis and cannabinoids at a glance

Cannabis is a flowering plant with many species including Cannabis sativa L., Cannabis indica and hybrid plant varieties. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemicals found in cannabis. The two most abundant cannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabinoids can be extracted from cannabis plants and processed into various preparations, including oils, capsules, powders, and topicals. Many cannabinoids are at least somewhat psychoactive, but THC is considered the only cannabinoid that causes intoxication. Other cannabinoids mentioned on this page are CBD, THCV, THCA, and CBDA. Dronabinol and nabilone are synthetic (man-made) pharmaceutical cannabinoids.

Despite claims of cancer cures with cannabis use, evidence of anticancer activity and tumor response is weak. Modest evidence supports the use of cannabis and cannabinoids to treat pain, or the use of pharmaceutical THC but not cannabis to treat anxiety. Evidence for treating nausea and vomiting or sleep disturbances is less strong, and good evidence shows that cannabis or cannabinoids have no evidence of an effect on appetite. 

CancerChoices ratings for cannabis and cannabinoids

We rate cannabis and cannabinoids on seven attributes, with 0 the lowest rating and 5 the highest.

See how we evaluate and rate complementary therapies ›

 

1

Treating cancer

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2

Optimizing your body terrain

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3

Managing side effects and promoting wellness

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0

Reducing cancer risk

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2

Use by integrative oncology experts

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3

Safety

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3

Affordability and access

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Personal story

Ruth Hennig, a CancerChoices colleague and friend, shares part of her story:

When I developed breast cancer for the first time in 1999, it never occurred to me that cannabis could have therapeutic value. Considering marijuana as a complement to chemotherapy was not an option that my oncologist suggested to me. I wish I’d known as I endured six months of chemotherapy that cannabis could have helped with side effects like nausea, poor appetite, and low energy.

I’ve taken advantage of the excellent strains (THC—psychoactive, CBD—non-psychoactive, and hybrids) and the wide variety of delivery methods (flower, edibles, capsules and tinctures). Each can be useful depending on what part of your cancer experience you are treating and on the social environment you are in when you are treating yourself.

Read Ruth’s story ›

Keep reading about cannabis and cannabinoids

Authors

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Reviewer

Teresa Martin

Integrative patient advocate
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Teresa Martin, founder of Options Patient Advocacy, is an integrative patient advocate that helps patients find specialists and integrative healthcare professionals close to where they live. Scientifically educated, and passionate about patient-centered care, Teresa’s focus areas include integrative oncology, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and condition-specific applications of medical cannabis.

Teresa Martin Integrative patient advocate

Last update: August 7, 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.