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.

How do experts use cannabis and cannabinoids (marijuana)?

Both medical groups and integrative experts have evaluated cannabis and cannabinoids for treating people with cancer. Learn more about the approaches and meanings of recommendations.

Clinical practice guidelines

These guidelines for nausea and vomiting includes the synthetic cannabinoids dronabinol and nabilone among the list of common anti-nausea and vomiting drugs.

Society for Integrative Oncology

This set of guidelines has been endorsed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).1Lyman GH, Greenlee H et al. Integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment: ASCO endorsement of the SIO clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2018 Sep 1;36(25):2647-2655.

Clinical practice guidelines on the evidence-based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment

These guidelines regarding breast cancer patients state that insufficient evidence is available for recommending cannabis to improve quality of life.

Published protocols, programs, and approaches

Cannabis and cannabinoids are used in programs, approaches and protocolsa package of therapies combining and preferably integrating various therapies and practices into a cohesive design for care from these integrative oncologists, drawing from both scientific research and observations from years or even decades of treating people with cancer.

Keith Block, MD

Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Care. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.

The integrative Block Program has recommendations to people who are at different places along the cancer continuum:

  • Those who’ve been recently diagnosed
  • Those in treatment
  • Those who’ve concluded treatment and need to remain vigilant to prevent recurrence

Mentions use of Marinol (dronabinol).

Neil McKinney, BSc, ND

McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, Fourth Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2020.

This book includes descriptions and uses of many natural and complementary protocols for cancer in general and for specific cancers. It also includes information on integrative support during conventional cancer treatment.

Uses of cannabis and cannabinoids:

  • Brain/nerve cancer
  • Carcinoid/neuroendocrine cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Melanoma
  • Skin cancer
  • Uterine cancer

Other recommendations

“On 2nd December 2020, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the drug policy making body of the UN re-classified cannabis and cannabis resin under an international listing that recognizes its medical value.”

The World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) ”recommended that preparations considered to be pure cannabidiol (CBD) not be placed under international drug control as the substance was not found to have psychoactive properties, and presents no potential for abuse or dependence.”

The American Heart Association recommends that cannabis be removed from Schedule 1 of the US Controlled Substances Act so that it can be better researched. AHA notes, however, that cannabis is associated with adverse cardiovascular events.

Integrative oncology review

Abrams DI, Weil A, editors. Integrative Oncology, Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 2014.

This book by integrative medicine experts and CancerChoices advisors Donald Abrams, MD, and Andrew Weil, MD, desribes a wide variety of complementary interventions to conventional cancer care, including a chapter from the perspective of a cancer patient.

Abrams & Weil list cannabinoids as being beneficial in reducing pain and chemotherapy-related neuropathy.

Expert commentary

CancerChoices staff October 9, 2021, from Donald Abrams’ article Integrating cannabis into clinical cancer care › “One of the more distressing situations that oncologists increasingly face is trying to counsel the patient who has a curable diagnosis, but who seeks to forego conventional cancer treatment in favor of depending on cannabis oil to eradicate their malignancy because of the large number of online testimonials from people claiming such results. Given my long practice in San Francisco, I can assume that a large proportion of my patients have used cannabis during their journey. If cannabis cured cancer, I would have a lot more survivors in my practice today.”

CancerChoices advisor Brian Bouch, MD, advocates for the use of CBD in cancer care.
CancerChoices advisor, hospice and palliative care physician and author BJ Miller, MD, discusses the use of cannabis for pain control.

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: July 5, 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.

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