Opioid Reduction in Cancer Patients Using Medical Marijuana

Cancer patients undergo many complications that affect their quality of life. Cancer and cancer treatments can cause a wide array of side effects including pain, nausea, appetite loss and insomnia. Opioids have been prescribed for decades to primarily treat pain caused by cancer but have undesirable side effects of their own including nausea, drowsiness and constipation. Opioids are known to have the potential to be highly addictive which led to the opioid crisis in America.

Medical marijuana has provided cancer patients with an alternative to traditional medications to help treat the side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. 

Medical Marijuana and Reduced Opioid Use

According to a 2020 report released by cannabis consultancy Nucleus One, four of the top 25 US cities for opioid abuse are in the state of Texas—namely Texarkana, Amarillo, Odessa, and Longview. From 2000-2018 there were 19,497 opioid-related deaths in the state. The Texas opioid crisis has a negative economic impact as well, costing the state an estimated $20 billion annually.

The report also noted a 14.4% reduction in prescribed opioids in states with access to medical cannabis with 41% of opioid users reporting a decrease in use due to cannabis. In Colorado, there has been a 7% decrease in mortality. 

Several studies have shown that marijuana use has significantly reduced the negative outcomes of opioid use. In states with legal access to cannabis, there are reports of reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-induced hospitalizations and opioid-related overdose deaths. 

One study of patients with stage IV cancer required prescription opioids to treat pain. Patients were prescribed a daily dose of THC and CBD after meeting with a licensed pharmacist. Throughout the study, patients performed routine surveys on their pain levels, opioid and cannabis use, side effects and overall satisfaction. A large percentage of patients reported a reduction in opioid consumption and had improved pain control with cannabis use.

“I lost my childhood to cancer and I lost my teenage years to opioids because there wasn’t any other option presented to me. Having cannabis as an alternative would have immediately altered the direction of my life and dramatically improved it - no one should be forced to use opioids when cannabis is a viable and legal option.” Mike T., five-time cancer survivor who endured 60+ surgeries

Medical Marijuana as a Palliative Treatment for Cancer

Medical marijuana has been found to reduce side effects of cancer and cancer treatment while improving quality of life. The medical marijuana program in Minnesota regularly collects patients’ feedback on their symptoms. Cancer patients reported symptoms of:

  • Anxiety
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Depression
  • Disturbed sleep 
  • Fatigue 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain

Patients reported a significant reduction in the severity of these symptoms after using cannabis. Overall, medical marijuana was well tolerated and some patients had lasting levels of improvement. As reported by Nucleus One, medical marijuana can decrease or substitute opioid prescriptions with fewer side effects, better quality of effects, better symptom management and less withdrawal potential.

Cannabis has widespread support as a palliative treatment for cancer. Researchers collected and analyzed data from cancer patients participating in a medical cannabis treatment program to see if patients found relief from common cancer side effects. Out of the patients who remained in the study after 6 months, 95.9% reported an improvement in their condition.

Is Cancer a Qualifying Condition in the Medical Marijuana Program in Texas?

Currently, terminal cancer qualifies under the Texas Compassionate Use Program. All cancer diagnoses will qualify starting on September 1, 2021 due to the passage of HB 1535. To quickly review your eligibility at no cost, fill out the Schedule a Free Consultation form below. Once approved, you will be scheduled for a virtual appointment with a registered physician.