Medical marijuana and CBD oil provide some mesothelioma patients with relief from chemotherapy and other treatment side effects. Some patients living with mesothelioma turn to alternative therapies like these for relief from symptoms and to complement traditional treatments.
What Is Marijuana and Medical Marijuana?
Marijuana comes from the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). Although cannabis is originally native to Asia, it now grows worldwide. Resin from the cannabis plant contains psychoactive compounds called cannabinoids. These compounds act on the central nervous system, affecting consciousness and mood.
Medical marijuana is any product derived from cannabis for the purpose of treating a medical condition or symptoms.
People have long used the cannabis plant for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes. In the United States, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, making it illegal for use under federal law.
In spite of the federal prohibition, most states have legalized marijuana for medical use with some limitations or restrictions. Many states have also now legalized it for recreational use.
What Are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are compounds found in marijuana, many of which have medical applications. Although there has been a recent push to legalize the plant, it remains illegal under federal law.
Because of these strict federal regulations, medical research into cannabinoids is limited. While these substances could help people with mesothelioma and other types of cancer, getting permission for research is challenging.
Two primary cannabinoids have been studied and are used as part of medical marijuana products:
- THC. Marijuana contains over 100 different cannabinoids. The primary psychoactive cannabinoid is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is responsible for the drug high but may also have medical benefits. The primary medical benefits include reducing inflammation, pain, and nausea.
- CBD. Another cannabinoid of interest is cannabidiol (CBD), which is used to treat seizures. Cannabidiol may also help treat anxiety without causing a high. Cannabidiol oil may also have anti-cancer properties and is known to help relieve cancer symptoms and the side effects caused by traditional cancer treatments.
The FDA has approved both THC and CBD for a handful of limited medical uses.
What Is Medical Marijuana Used For?
How it can be used depends on the laws in each state. In general, medical marijuana can be used to manage symptoms and treatment side effects for these conditions:
- Cancer treatment side effects, particularly nausea and vomiting
- Chronic, severe pain
- Multiple sclerosis
- Crohn’s disease
- HIV and AIDS
- Alzheimer’s disease
- ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
Cannabinoid Drugs Available for Cancer Patients
Three available prescription drugs were developed based on cannabinoids:
- Marinol® (dronabinol) contains synthetic THC and is FDA approved to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. It can also be prescribed to HIV and AIDS patients to improve appetite and reverse weight loss.
- Cesamet® (nabilone) also contains a synthetic THC. This drug is approved to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy when other drugs have failed. Finally, Epidiolex® (cannabidiol) is approved to treat some severe and rare seizures.
- In Canada and many European countries, Sativex® (Nabiximols) has been approved to treat cancer pain. This medication comes in a mouth spray and contains a mixture of THC and cannabidiol. It is currently in phase III trials in the United States and could eventually be approved for pain relief.
How Does Marijuana Help with Mesothelioma?
Currently, medical marijuana is only used as a palliative treatment. It can help patients manage side effects caused by treatments and some of the symptoms of cancer.
Cannabis and Chemotherapy Side Effects
One effective use for cannabis in cancer patients is reducing nausea and vomiting triggered by chemotherapy. These side effects can sometimes be so severe that they prevent patients from continuing treatment; however, cannabis-related medications have been proven in clinical trials to help relieve these symptoms.
This is important not just for comfort but also because it allows patients to continue potentially life-saving treatments. Tested drugs for this use are nabilone and dronabinol. These medications could also help restore appetite and help patients maintain a healthy weight.
Managing Chronic Pain
For many patients with cancer, pain is a debilitating symptom. As cancer grows and spreads, it can lead to severe pain that can be difficult to control with traditional medications. Researchers have conducted limited studies on marijuana use for pain related to cancer.
Marijuana and Mental Health in Mesothelioma Patients
Living with mesothelioma puts patients at risk for emotional distress, including anxiety, depression, and insomnia; however, research suggests cannabinoids may help reverse these symptoms.
In a few human studies, inhaled cannabis reduced anxiety in cancer patients and improved mood and overall feelings of well-being, though researchers noted that the effect was different between strains of marijuana.
Cannabis and Antitumor Activity
Research regarding cannabinoids in humans with cancer has been limited, and studies investigating how these substances affect cancer cells are even more limited.
Still, some evidence indicates that compounds in cannabis could do more than treat symptoms. Small studies in laboratories and animals have found that these substances can kill cancer cells:
- One study showed that cannabinoids could slow and stop tumor growth in mice and rats.
- In another study that used laboratory cell cultures, cannabinoids killed breast cancer cells while not affecting healthy cells.
- Another laboratory study with mice found that cannabinoids given with chemotherapy may increase the effectiveness of traditional treatment.
While there are no studies on how cannabis affects tumors and cancer cells in living people, there are many anecdotal stories from people who claim marijuana cured their cancer.
Included in these anecdotal stories is a handful of people with mesothelioma. These people claim to have used cannabis oil to achieve remission, living years after a diagnosis.
Is Medical Marijuana and CBD the Same Thing?
CBD is just one of many cannabinoid compounds found naturally in cannabis and that can be used as part of medical marijuana treatment. Unlike THC, CBD does not cause a high. Because of this, CBD is a prime candidate for medical applications. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a non-psychoactive marijuana product.
As an oil, CBD is easily consumed and is currently used for various health conditions, although there is no direct evidence of its efficacy outside of seizures.
CBD Anti-Tumor Activity
No studies have specifically investigated CBD oil for treating mesothelioma; however, there is evidence it could have anti-tumor properties. In animal studies, CBD has slowed the growth of glioblastoma, breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
A study from the UK, where CBD extracts were administered to mice with pancreatic cancer, produced a longer life expectancy. This type of study is exciting for patients with challenging cancers like mesothelioma.
Although this evidence comes from laboratory animals, there is hope it could also apply to humans. If so, CBD oil could be a useful tool for increasing life expectancy for aggressive cancers.
CBD Oil for Cancer Symptoms
CBD oil is known to provide relief from cancer and cancer treatment symptoms. In one study, researchers compared the results of CBD and THC on patients.
These researchers discovered that patients given CBD experienced greater pain relief. CBD can manage other symptoms, including nausea and vomiting triggered by chemotherapy, stress and anxiety, and insomnia.
What Are the Side Effects of Cannabis and Medical Marijuana?
As with any medication, cannabis may cause several side effects. These side effects vary in type and severity, depending on dosage and method of administration. Possible adverse side effects may include:
- Low blood pressure
- Bloodshot eyes
- Rapid heartbeat
Cannabidiol (CBD oil) may produce fewer symptoms and be a safer alternative to smoking marijuana. While CBD is not psychoactive, it can cause side effects for some users. The most common side effects of CBD are:
- Changes in eating habits and weight
- Dry mouth
The potential for side effects with CBD is much lower than for THC. Most patients experience mild side effects or none at all.
Another area of concern is the potential damage caused by smoking marijuana. Studies have found limited evidence that moderate or light use increases the risk of lung cancer.
Nevertheless, smoking can cause damage to airways and create breathing difficulties, an important consideration for mesothelioma patients.
Who Should Not Use Medical Marijuana?
No mesothelioma patients should use medical marijuana without talking to their medical teams first. There might be good reasons you shouldn’t try these products.
Every patient is unique and will respond differently to cannabis. In general, people who should not use medical marijuana include:
- Anyone with heart disease
- Anyone with a history of psychosis
- Pregnant women
Marijuana might also be risky for someone with a history of substance abuse and dependence.
Despite amazing anecdotal stories, patients with mesothelioma and other cancers should not rely on cannabis products to actually treat their cancer.
How Can Mesothelioma Patients Access Medical Marijuana?
Your medical team can help you learn more about medical marijuana. If you can use it and how to access it depends on the laws in your state. As of November 2022, only three states do not have laws legalizing access to medical marijuana: Idaho, Kansas, and Nebraska.
All other states have legislated medical marijuana use. The laws vary by state and include restrictions based on medical condition, patient age, and the amount of THC in a medical product. Some states allow people from out of state to use medical marijuana, while others do not.
Talk to your medical team if you have mesothelioma and live in a state with legal options for medical marijuana and CBD oil. You may find relief from symptoms like nausea or weight loss; however, never try a new medication or natural product without guidance from your doctor, and never use alternatives as a substitute for a physician’s recommended treatment.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Kyle J. Becker, PharmD, MBA, BCOP
Kyle J. Becker, PharmD is certified by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties in Oncology Pharmacy. Dr. Becker earned his pharmacy degree from Shenandoah University and he currently serves as an oncology pharmacist at Parkview Cancer Institute.