Posted on: March 3, 2020 at 11:03 pm
Last updated: April 20, 2020 at 2:35 pm

Before it was made illegal, marijuana has been used for medical purposes for thousands of years. As countries and states around the world are beginning to legalize the drug, medical professionals, as well as the general population, are asking how the drug can be used to help with various health issues.

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The main use of medical marijuana is to treat pain. This could be from headaches or a more long-term condition like glaucoma or nerve pain. A doctor may also prescribe medical marijuana to treat muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, nausea from cancer treatment, poor appetite and weight loss due to chronic illness, seizures, or Crohn’s Disease [1].

As its popularity grows, more and more people are starting to ask for medical marijuana prescriptions, and there is mounting anecdotal evidence to suggest that the drug could be effective for even very serious medical conditions like cancer.

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Olivia Newton-John’s Story

The singer and actress known for her iconic role as Sandra D. in the classic 1978 film, Grease, is now 71 years old and is battling breast cancer for the third time.

She has beaten cancer twice before– once in 1992 and again in 2003. In 2017 Olivia was forced to cancel some shows due to back pain, which turned out to be stage-4 breast cancer that metastasized to the sacrum in her lower back [2].

Since she announced her diagnosis, she has been very open about her treatment plan, specifically her use of medical marijuana to treat her pain and other symptoms. According to the actress, cannabis has effectively shrunk her cancer tumours.

“My tumours are receding or they’re going away or they’re staying the same,” she said. “On a stage four metastatic breast cancer that’s pretty amazing. I don’t see it as a battle. I am winning.” [3]

Now, the actress and singer is pushing for wider use of cannabis as a medicine. She addressed a crowd at the annual Wellness Walk and Research Run in Melbourne in October, speaking very candidly about her experience.

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“[This time last year] I was flat on my back in the centre [the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre],” she said. “This year, through treatment and medicinal cannabis, I am feeling fantastic.” [4

Her dream is that everyone will have access to medical marijuana the way she has. 

She has been using hormone suppression therapy along with other herbs, marijuana, and mindfulness/meditation therapy to treat her cancer. Her pain was originally treated with morphine, which she gradually replaced with cannabis oil.

Many of the herbs and marijuana that she has used is grown by her husband, John Easterling, in a greenhouse in the backyard of their home in California.

“I really believe the cannabis has made a huge difference. If I don’t take the drops, I can feel the pain, so I know it’s working.” [2]

Newton-John is thrilled at the recent decision by the Australian government to provide three million dollars of funding toward research into medical marijuana and its use for cancer patients [5].

Related: Mum Who Took Illegal Cannabis Oil to Battle Terminal Cancer Claims it Helped Give Her the All-Clear

Medical Cannabis- What Science Says

Clinical trials conducted on the medical use of marijuana have been limited due to the illicit status of the drug, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved its use for any medical condition [6].

At the moment, most physicians who are prescribing cannabis to their patients with cancer are doing so not in an attempt to cure the cancer, but to help manage the symptoms that accompany it [7].

It appears that cannabis can provide relief for cancer patients from nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, can help stimulate their appetite, relieve pain, and improve sleep [8].

There have been some animal studies that have shown cannabis to be an effective anti-cancer treatment, and more and more anecdotal evidence from cancer patients has begun to circulate throughout the medical community. More human clinical trials need to be conducted, however, before marijuana can be considered an effective cancer treatment [8].

Related: Cannabis Might Help Curb Chronic Pain, Reducing the Need for Opioids

How Does Marijuana Help Manage Symptoms?

Cannabinoids are the active component in the marijuana plant, also known as Cannabis sativa. Humans actually have endogenous cannabinoids, meaning we produce them naturally in our bodies. These chemicals appear to play an important role in regulating our bodies’ inflammation processes [9].

The cannabinoids found in marijuana mimic our endogenous cannabinoids and activate specific receptors known as CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found primarily in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors in the cells involved in immune function [10].

Laura Borgelt, PharmD, of the University of Colorado, explains that the main cannabinoid found in marijuana, delta-9-THC might work by improving the function of the natural cannabinoids in our bodies [1].

What is the Future of Medicinal Marijuana?

Cannabis could at some point possibly be used to treat cancer as either a primary treatment or as an adjunct therapy with the purpose of alleviating symptoms of the disease or the side effects of treatment. At this point, it’s the latter that is employed as the evidence just isn’t there yet. The legalities surrounding the drug have made it very difficult for scientists and medical researchers to study the drug and its possible uses, particularly as a primary cancer treatment.

The lack of proper research makes it impossible as of now to say definitively how cannabis can be used, or whether it can actually be an effective treatment for people with cancer.

As public opinion on the drug changes, and as more states begin to adjust the laws surrounding marijuana, it may become easier for researchers to study it, and one day cannabis may become a more widely available treatment option for cancer patients.

Keep Reading: Nearly Century-Old Research Shows, Even Then, Cannabis’ Potential in Battling Epilepsy, Migraines, Asthma, Spasms

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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