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 improving treatment outcomes.
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. Some 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 cannabis or cannabinoids have no evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. 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. We rate the strength of the evidence supporting the use of cannabis or cannabinoids for a medical benefit, such as improving treatment outcomes or managing side effects.
See how we evaluate and rate complementary therapies ›
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 full story.