Cannabis and Alternative Therapies for Cancer Pain and Cancer Treatments

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
Aug 10, 2022
Last updated:
Dec 15, 2023

According to a survey done by the Australian government, almost 140,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2017, and that number is projected to grow in the coming years. Cancer is a complex disease and there is much to be understood about the various types.

Some patients seek relief with a medical cannabis prescription for cancer pain, as well as to manage other side effects related to cancer treatments.

What Is Cancer Pain?

Pain is generally defined as an unpleasant sensation as it relates to the physical body. However, cancer pain specifically is more complex and stems from nerves inside the body that are triggered by the cancer itself or the treatment afterward.

Cancer pain takes many forms and has a broad spectrum of patient descriptions. The type of pain and how much pain a patient experiences depends on several factors, including the type of cancer that’s diagnosed, how advanced it is, where it's located within the body, and the patient’s pain tolerance.

Symptoms of Cancer Pain

There are many descriptive words cancer patients use to talk about their pain. They may report it as feeling achy, dull, tingling, burning, throbbing, stabbing, sharp, and more. The pain can affect many areas of the body, or be localised to one part.

Though pain is common, not everyone diagnosed with cancer will experience it. Others will experience new pain or an increase after chemotherapy treatment.

There are several categories of cancer pain, all ranging from mild to severe:

  • Neuropathic (nerve)
  • Acute
  • Chronic
  • Breakthrough
  • Referred
  • Soft Tissue
  • Phantom
  • Bone
  • Localised
  • Visceral

Causes of Cancer Pain

Cancer pain can be caused by the cancer itself or as a side effect of treatment. For example, existing tumours can push against nerves, bones, and other soft tissues. Chemicals and toxins can also be released, causing pain throughout the body.

Treatment can help alleviate the pain, but certain types of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can cause additional pain. Cancer-related pain often requires complex treatment.

What Is Chemotherapy-Related Nausea and Vomiting?

Chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting is arguably the most common side effect of conventional cancer treatment. It can be debilitating for patients, and is one of the most difficult side effects of the treatment.

Chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting is defined as:

  • Acute: Within 24 hours after treatment starts
  • Delayed: More than 24 hours after chemotherapy
  • Anticipatory: Before chemotherapy treatment begins
  • Chronic: Nausea and vomiting that persists for days after treatment ends

Patients report feeling these side effects in a number of ways and they can progress as treatment progresses. Preventative measures can be taken, such as consuming medicinal cannabis beforehand to combat the nausea.

Symptoms of Chemotherapy-Related Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can be triggered by many factors, including smells, taste, anxiety, pain, motion, changes in the body caused by inflammation, or irritation of the stomach.

Chemotherapy drugs are classified into four categories—high, moderate, low, or minimal—based on the likelihood that the patient will experience nausea and vomiting. Patients don’t always have a choice as to what chemotherapy drugs they’ll receive, but there are a number of ways to get relief after treatment.

Causes of Chemotherapy-Related Nausea and Vomiting

The cause of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting depends on the type of cancer, type of treatment, and dosage of the medication.

Those who struggle with motion sickness, are dehydrated, constipated, have kidney disease, or had a negative experience with a prior chemotherapy treatment are at higher risk of developing nausea and vomiting.

Treatments for Cancer Pain and Chemotherapy Related Nausea and Vomiting

It’s possible to manage cancer pain and nausea and vomiting with a myriad of treatments. Patients can work with doctors to choose from pharmaceutical medication, alternative therapies, and in some cases, a medical cannabis prescription.

Providers use collective information about the patient to decide the route of treatment, including:

  • How pain is described by the patient
  • Medical history of the patient
  • Physical examination
  • Results of tests and imaging
  • Type of cancer

Pharmaceuticals usually come in the form of opiates and come with a new set of challenges and side effects. Many patients prefer to find non-opioid alternatives.

Alternatives include modalities like acupuncture, massage therapy, hypnosis, physical therapy, and medicinal cannabis for pain. If you want to try an alternative treatment, it’s important to make a plan with your doctor to find out what might work best for you.

Even though medical cannabis for pain is a relatively new treatment, there is research to suggest that it may be helpful in combating nausea and vomiting. Research indicates that medical cannabis may also relieve nerve pain, the most common type of cancer-related pain.

Managing Cancer Symptoms and Cancer-Treatment Related Side Effects with Alternatives

There are many alternatives to pharmaceuticals for cancer pain and chemotherapy related nausea and vomiting. Care plans should be individualised, and patients can ask about a medical cannabis prescription if they think it may help alleviate their symptoms.

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