Nausea, Vomiting, Appetite Loss, Cachexia, and Medical Marijuana

In its report “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base,” the Institute of Medicine concluded, “Nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety are all afflictions of wasting, and all can be mitigated by marijuana.” Marijuana’s active components (cannabinoids) can both stimulate appetite and reduce the nausea, vomiting, and weight loss experienced by patients in many circumstances, including the side effects of drug therapies given for cancer, HIV infection, and hepatitis C. Observational studies suggest this may improve treatment adherence among patients experiencing gastrointestinal toxicity from drug therapy.

Cancer References
1) Vincent Vinciguerra et al., “Inhalation Marijuana as an Antiemetic for Cancer Chemotherapy,” New York State Journal of Medicine (October 1988).
In this clinical trial sponsored by the state of New York, “Fifty-six patients who had no improvement with standard antiemetic agents were treated and 78% demonstrated a positive response to marijuana … inhalation marijuana is an effective therapy for the treatment of nausea and vomiting due to cancer chemotherapy.”
2) Richard Musty and Rita Rossi, “Effects of Smoked Cannabis and Oral Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol on Nausea and Emesis After Cancer Chemotherapy: A Review of State Clinical Trials,” Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics 1, no. 1 (2001): 43-56.
Musty and Rossi reviewed data from a series of state-sponsored clinical trials of marijuana for relief of nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, concluding, “Patients who smoked marijuana experienced 70-100% relief from nausea and vomiting, while those who used the THC capsule experienced 76-88% relief.”
(3) Manuel Guzman, “Cannabinoids: Potential Anticancer Agents,” Nature Reviews 3 (2003): 745-766.
In this review article, Dr. Guzman, a leading cancer researcher, examined the data regarding use of marijuana and cannabinoids in cancer treatment. He concluded that marijuana/cannabinoids can be useful in preventing or treating “chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.” He also noted that cannabinoids have potential as antitumor agents: “Regarding effectiveness, cannabinoids exert a notable antitumour activity… Regarding toxicity, cannabinoids not only show a good safety profile but also have palliative effects in patients with cancer, indicating that clinical trials with cannabinoids in cancer therapy are feasible.”
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(4) K. Nelson et al., “A Phase II Study of Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol for Appetite Stimulation in Cancer-Associated
Anorexia,” Journal of Palliative Care 10, no. 1 (1994): 14-8.
In this study of patients with anorexia due to advanced cancer, the researchers concluded, “THC is an effective
appetite stimulant in patients with advanced cancer. It is well tolerated at low doses.”

by the Marijuana Policy Project