Radiation Therapy and Marijuana

radiation-therapy-and-marijuana

Radiation therapy is a term most common among cancer patients. About half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy sometime during the course of their treatment. It is the use of high energy radiation to kill cancer cells in someone’s body. Radiation therapy most often gets its power from X-rays, gamma rays and protons or other charged particles.

These beams are aimed at precise points that are affected by the illness on the patient’s body. During brachytherapy, radiation is placed inside the patient’s body near the cancer cells. Systematic radiation therapy on the other hand uses radioactive substances, such as radioactive iodine, that travels in the blood to kill cancer cells. It has also been used in treating some noncancerous (benign) tumors.

Radiation therapy works in a way that it damages cancer cells by destroying the genetic material that controls how these cells grow and divide. However, during the process of damaging the cancer cells, the normal healthy cells also end up getting destroyed. To minimize the damage, patients who receive most types of external-beam radiation therapy usually receive it in bits.

How radiation therapy is used in people with cancer

Most times, a cancer patient will be recommended by a doctor to go for radiation therapy for different reasons. Radiation therapy can be administered either before or after surgery. Some patients may receive radiation therapy alone, without surgery or other treatments whereas others receive radiation therapy and chemotherapy at the same time.

When administered before surgery, the aim is to shrink a cancerous tumor (neoadjuvant therapy). After surgery, it is aimed stopping the growth of any remaining cancer cells (adjuvant therapy). It is also used in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, to destroy cancer cells.

Radiation therapy can either damage cancer cells DNA directly or create charged particles (free radicals) within the cells that can in turn damage the DNA. Cancer cells whose DNA is damaged beyond repair, stop dividing or die and are broken down and eliminated by the body’s natural processes.

Side effects of radiation therapy

Side effects of radiation therapy highly depend on which part of your body is being exposed to radiation and how much radiation is being used. They also vary from one patient to another as one may experience no side effects while the other experiences several. Most side effects are temporary, can be controlled and generally disappear over time once treatment has ended. Even though this might be the case, the whole experience can be daunting.

The side effects of the treatment include: Hair loss, (sometimes permanent), skin irritation, fatigue, dry mouth, thickened saliva, difficulty in swallowing, sore throat, changes in the way food tastes, nausea, damage to the salivary glands, mouth sores, tooth decay, cough, shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhea, bladder irritation, frequent urination, sexual dysfunction.

Eventually, it can lead to chronic side effects like in rare circumstances a new cancer (second primary cancer) that’s different from the first one treated with radiation may develop years later.

For women, the effect could be changes in menstruation, such as stopping menstruating, symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal itching, burning, and dryness and infertility.

Medical marijuana and cannabinoids

Research has proven that marijuana can help control or relieve some of the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatments. The cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant act on certain receptors on the cells in the body, especially those in the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord in conjunction to control the functions of the body.

Research has established evidence of the anti-cancer properties of THC and CBD (the most active compounds) or cannabinoids naturally occurring in cannabis. These two work hand in hand to reduce and inhibit tumor growth. Cannabinol (CBD) has the capability to switch off the gene that is responsible for the metastasis in many aggressive forms of cancer. At the same time, it does not have the psychoactive properties of the marijuana plant. It can prevent cancer in addition to reducing insulin dependent diabetes by 58 percent and heart attacks by 66 percent.

Medical marijuana has been found to relieve nausea and vomiting both side effects associated with treatment of cancer with radiation therapy. Compounds in marijuana have been extracted to produce synthetic forms of medical marijuana to help this cause. Nabilone is a pill that has synthetic cannabinoids approved to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatments. It is an option for standard anti-nausea drugs which are also associated with their own effects.

Research has further revealed that medical marijuana can increase appetite. Loss of appetite is a common problem for people with cancer. Several clinical trials have found THC, a compound in marijuana, helps to increase appetite among cancer patients. Not forgetting the ability to relieve pain, medical marijuana comes in handy for the symptoms associated with the use of radiation therapy to treat cancer.

Conclusion

There is nothing more frightening in life than being diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for cancer symptoms and a good alternative to many drugs currently being used. However, its healing properties continue to be stigmatized by its position as a schedule 1 drug in the USA. With more research into the healing properties and rescheduling, many Americans will be saved from this suffocating illness.

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