How Marijuana Can Alleviate Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Marijuana smoking

Navigating the treacherous waters of cancer treatment is no easy task. Patients often face a dual challenge: combating the disease while managing the side effects of treatment. Chemotherapy, one of the most commonly employed cancer treatments, is known for its potency in killing cancer cells. Unfortunately, its strength also brings along a series of side effects that can be debilitating. Recent years have seen an unconventional ally emerging in this fight: marijuana. This article aims to shed light on the promising science of how marijuana can help alleviate some of the common side effects associated with chemotherapy.

Understanding Chemotherapy


Primarily, chemotherapy is a robust cancer treatment that utilizes one or more drugs to eliminate cancer cells. It targets and kills rapidly dividing cells, a typical characteristic of cancer. However, this approach isn’t selective, and healthy cells that divide quickly can also be affected. This non-selective action is what leads to a multitude of side effects including nausea, vomiting, pain, loss of appetite, and sleep problems. Understanding these side effects allows for better management and improves the overall treatment experience.

The Science Behind Marijuana

Marijuana also referred to as cannabis, is a complex plant with over a hundred different compounds known as cannabinoids. The most researched and recognized among these are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). These compounds interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system, a fascinating and complex network that regulates various physiological and cognitive processes, including pain sensation, mood, and appetite. This system-wide impact is the reason marijuana can have such diverse effects.

Marijuana and Chemotherapy Side Effects

Marijuana and Chemotherapy

Over time, compelling evidence has amassed suggesting that marijuana can help manage a range of chemotherapy side effects.

Nausea and Vomiting

One of the most debilitating side effects of chemotherapy, nausea, and vomiting can significantly impact a patient’s quality of life. The National Cancer Institute, among others, recognizes cannabis as a potent treatment for these chemotherapy-induced discomforts.


Cancer and its treatment can lead to severe and sometimes chronic pain. Studies show marijuana can help manage this pain, providing patients with much-needed relief and improving their quality of life.

Loss of appetite and weight loss

Loss of appetite and weight loss

Chemotherapy often results in a diminished appetite, leading to weight loss and associated problems. Cannabis can stimulate appetite, offering a potential lifeline for those struggling to maintain a healthy weight during treatment.


Getting adequate rest is vital for healing, yet many chemotherapy patients experience insomnia. Research indicates marijuana can promote better sleep, aiding those plagued by sleep disturbances during treatment.

Anxiety and Depression

A cancer diagnosis and the ensuing treatment can understandably lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Interestingly, cannabis might help to mitigate these feelings, providing emotional relief along with its physical benefits.

Sleep disturbances

Sleep disturbances are a common and distressing side effect experienced by many individuals undergoing chemotherapy. The physical and emotional stress of cancer treatment can disrupt normal sleep patterns, leading to insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings, or overall poor sleep quality. However, emerging evidence suggests that marijuana may offer potential benefits in promoting better sleep during chemotherapy.

Sleep disturbances

Marijuana contains compounds known as cannabinoids, particularly delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which have been found to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. This complex system plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological processes, including sleep. THC has been shown to have sedative properties, promoting relaxation and facilitating sleep onset. CBD, on the other hand, may reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calm, aiding in sleep maintenance.

Research has indicated that the use of marijuana particularly strains high in THC, can help improve sleep outcomes in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, patients who used medical cannabis reported significant improvements in sleep quality, decreased sleep disturbances, and reduced use of sleep medications.

However, it is important to note that the use of marijuana for sleep during chemotherapy should be approached with caution. The effects of marijuana can vary among individuals, and it is essential to consult with healthcare professionals familiar with medical cannabis to determine the most appropriate strain, dosage, and administration method. Additionally, potential side effects and drug interactions should be considered.

Research on Marijuana and Chemotherapy


A growing body of research supports the efficacy of marijuana in managing the side effects of chemotherapy. Various studies and clinical trials have demonstrated the positive impacts of marijuana use during cancer treatment. However, like any burgeoning field of research, further studies are needed to fully understand the long-term impacts and identify optimal usage patterns.

Patient Stories

Beyond clinical trials, patient testimonials provide powerful insights into the potential benefits of marijuana during chemotherapy. Numerous patients have reported a marked improvement in their quality of life after incorporating cannabis into their treatment regimen, supporting the evidence from clinical trials.

Legal Implications and the Marijuana Card

The legal landscape of medical marijuana in the U.S. is a patchwork, varying state by state. For patients in states where medical marijuana is legal, a marijuana card is often needed. This card allows patients to legally purchase and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. It can be acquired by meeting with a certified physician, demonstrating a medical need, and applying through the state’s health department.

It is crucial to consult with your healthcare provider before deciding to incorporate marijuana into your treatment plan. For example, cancer is a qualifying condition for obtaining a medical marijuana card in Alabama, so patients will most likely be able to obtain the card and use marijuana to treat cancer symptoms.

Potential Risks and Side Effects of Marijuana Use

Despite its potential benefits, marijuana use is not without its risks and side effects. Potential side effects can include dizziness, dry mouth, and psychoactive effects, such as feeling ‘high’. Certain groups, such as those with specific psychiatric conditions, should exercise caution and always discuss the use of marijuana with their healthcare provider.


As our understanding of marijuana’s medicinal properties expands, it is becoming clear that it may offer substantial benefits for patients undergoing chemotherapy. It’s important to remember, however, that individual experiences can vary widely, and what works for one person may not work for another. Always discuss any changes in your treatment plan with your healthcare provider, and keep yourself informed of the latest research.