Cannabis has the potential to modulate some of the most common and debilitating symptoms of cancer and its treatments, including nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain. However, the dearth of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of cannabis in treating these symptoms in patients with cancer poses a challenge to clinicians in discussing this option with their patients.
A review was performed using keywords related to cannabis and important symptoms of cancer and its treatments. Literature was qualitatively reviewed from preclinical models to clinical trials in the fields of cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others, to prudently inform the use of cannabis in supportive and palliative care in cancer.
There is a reasonable amount of evidence to consider cannabis for nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain as a supplement to first-line treatments. There is promising evidence to treat chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, gastrointestinal distress, and sleep disorders, but the literature is thus far too limited to recommend cannabis for these symptoms. Scant, yet more controversial, evidence exists in regard to cannabis for cancer– and treatment-related cognitive impairment, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
Adverse effects of cannabis are documented but tend to be mild. Cannabis has multifaceted potential bioactive benefits that appear to outweigh its risks in many situations. Further research is required to elucidate its mechanisms of action and efficacy and to optimize cannabis preparations and doses for specific populations affected by cancer.