Marijuana and individual cannabinoids (compounds in the plant like tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] or cannabidiol [CBD]) have been studied to manage the side effects of cancer and cancer therapies (like chemotherapy). Findings suggest that certain cannabinoids can help relieve some of those side effects. However, studies have not shown that marijuana or individual cannabinoids can cure cancer.1 Like many other drugs, marijuana can cause side effects and complications. Avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer or relying on marijuana alone to treat or manage the effects of cancer may have serious health consequences.2
How can marijuana affect symptoms or side effects of cancer or cancer therapy?
Studies of the chemicals (or cannabinoids) found in the marijuana plant suggest that certain cannabinoids can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy,1 as well as in treating neuropathic pain (pain caused by damaged nerves).1 The U.S Food and Drug Administrationexternal icon (FDA) has approved two specific drugs (dronabinol [name brands Marinol and Syndros] and nabilone [name brand Cesamet]) that are synthetic (man-made) forms of specific cannabinoids for use in cancer patients with chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting. More research is needed to understand the effects of marijuana as a treatment for cancer-related symptoms or side effects of cancer therapy.
Is there a link between marijuana and cancer?
Smoked marijuana delivers THC and other cannabinoids to the body, but it also delivers harmful substances, including many of the same toxins and carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) found in tobacco smoke,3 which are harmful to the lungs and cardiovascular system.4 More research is needed to understand the effects marijuana might have on lung and other respiratory cancers. However, limited evidence of an association between current, frequent, or chronic marijuana smoking and testicular cancer (non-seminoma-type) has been documented.1,5
Because marijuana can be used in different ways, with different levels of active compounds, it can affect each person differently. More research is needed to understand the full impact of marijuana use on cancer.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: the current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2017.
- National Cancer Institute. Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)—Patient Version. Vol. 2019. 2019.
- Moir D, Rickert WS, Levasseur G, et al. A comparison of mainstream and sidestream marijuana and tobacco cigarette smoke produced under two machine smoking conditions. Chemical Research in Toxicology. 2008;21(2):494-502.
- US Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA. 2014.
- Gurney, C. Shaw, J. Stanley, V. Signal, and D. Sarfati, “Cannabis exposure and risk of testicular cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” in BMC Cancer, vol. 15, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, PO Box 7343, Wellington, New Zealand, 2015.