Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Using medical marijuana during cancer treatment provides many benefits well known to patients, researchers and medical professionals. To deny cannabis’s power to alleviate nausea, pain and depression while you’re battling cancer not only contradicts science, but it only adds more stigma as well. Sure, the herb is therapeutic for symptoms of cancer treatments, but below we learn the benefits of medical marijuana for leukemia as well.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) starts in your cells normally transforming into white blood cells. It’s a form of blood cancer. In some instances, AML may begin in your other blood-forming cells.
Each year physicians diagnose more than 21,000 Americans with AML, according to the American Cancer Society. Also, the disease causes more than 10,500 deaths annually.
AML begins in your bone marrow, which is the soft inner parts of your bones. Your bone marrow cells are supposed to mature. However, when it comes to AML or other types of acute leukemia, your bone marrow cells are immature, and they continue to build up.
Doctors refer to AML by various names such as:
When you don’t receive treatment, this disease can threaten your life. Since it’s “acute,” it spreads rapidly to your blood and other body parts like your:
People differ in the way AML affects them, and it depends on various factors, including the AML subtype, your age, whether it’s a reoccurring cancer and if you’ve received chemotherapy treatment in the past.
Physicians use blood and bone marrow tests, along with your medical history and symptoms description to diagnose acute myeloid leukemia. To determine if the cancer has spread, doctors perform a lumbar puncture, a CT scan or both.
A key factor separating AML from other leukemia types is its eight subtypes. What cell your leukemia develops from will decide your subtype. Subtypes of AML include:
Talk to your doctor about your subtype.
In 1869, Neumann coined the term “myeloid” since he first noticed the spleen didn’t make white blood cells but rather the bone marrow did. The term “acute leukemia” came about by Wilhelm Ebstein in 1889 to show the difference between fatal leukemias and rapidly progressive leukemias from slow-growing chronic leukemias.
AML was the first fully sequenced cancer genome in 2008. Researchers extracted DNA from leukemic cells and compared them to skin not affected. Several genes in the leukemic cells were composed of acquired mutations that weren’t associated with leukemia previously.
General signs of AML at its early stages can be similar to symptoms of the flu and various other common diseases. Your symptoms can also vary depending on which blood cells are affected.
Some symptoms of AML include:
If you develop any worrisome symptoms or something that seems unusual, contact your doctor.
When you have AML, there are a variety of complications or effects you could experience. Either the disease itself causes these complications, or they are side effects of the treatment. Some of these may include the following:
With AML, you’ll bruise and bleed more easily because of the lower levels of platelets in your blood. Platelets are your clot-forming cells. You may also experience excessive bleeding inside your body, which you’re more susceptible to with advanced AML. This is the second leading cause of death in patients with this disease.
Excessive bleeding may occur:
These hemorrhages are all considered medical emergencies, and you should call for an ambulance right away.
A common AML complication is being immunocompromised or having a weak immune system. Even if treatment helps restore your blood to normal working order, various AML treatments can still weaken your immune system temporarily.
Because of this, you become susceptible to more severe infections than usual. The leading cause of death in AML patients is infection-related complications. If you receive treatment early, however, most infections respond positively.
Many acute myeloid leukemia treatments can cause infertility. While typically temporary, infertility may become permanent. You’re more at risk of your infertility becoming permanent if you receive high doses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy to prepare you for a stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
The doctors treating you can provide you with an estimate of your chances of infertility due to your specific situation. Before beginning treatment, you may take precautions against infertility. For instance, women may have fertilized embryos or eggs stored, and the doctor can place them back in their womb after being treated. Men may store samples of their sperm.
Since acute myeloid leukemia is an aggressive disease and develops quickly, though, you might not have the time to do this before you need to start treatment.
Cancer in itself can impact you, your family members and your partner profoundly. It can lead to:
In a study published in the Journal of Leukemia, physical symptoms of AML patients led to worsened quality of life. Fatigue is a common symptom in patients with AML, despite controlling any anemia effects. Fatigue in older adults who are 60 years old or older and are receiving chemo had moderate to strong fatigue scores correlating with physical, social, emotional and cognitive health and function. Additionally, there were moderate and strong connections between depression and fatigue as well throughout the study.
For 2017, estimates for leukemia in Americans by the American Cancer Society are:
A few treatments can help with AML. These are:
There are a couple of phases of your treatment as well:
You will receive high chemo doses to destroy your leukemia cells (as many as possible). During this time, you’ll be staying in the hospital for up to five weeks to allow your physician to determine your response to treatment and treat any chemo-related side effects you may have.
Once you receive treatment, your bone marrow will begin making healthy blood cells. To determine if you have any more leukemia cells in your blood, your doctor will take samples of your bone marrow. If they don’t spot any, they’ll consider you “in remission.” To stay in remission, you’ll have to receive post-remission therapy.
During this phase, any leftover cancer cells from chemo are wiped out using more treatments. There are a few options:
Once a month, you’ll receive two to four cycles of high-dose chemo. During this treatment, your doctor uses strong medications to kill the cancer cells in your body. You may receive these drugs in a vein by a needle, orally in your mouth or under your skin through an injection.
If your cancer has spread, the doctor will give you chemo in the fluid around your spinal cord and brain. Doctors refer to this as intrathecal chemotherapy.
Side effects of chemo may include:
During radiation, your doctor destroys your cancer cells using high-energy X-rays. Radiation is typically an option if your AML has spread to your spinal cord and brain, or to your bone. You may receive radiation before receiving a stem cell transplant. If you need radiation for your AML, you’ll typically receive it from the outside of your body.
Side effects of radiation include:
The higher the dose of chemo you receive, the more cancerous cells are killed. However, high doses of chemo may also cause your blood cell levels to drop dangerously and also damage your bone marrow.
Your physician may perform a stem cell transplant after you receive chemo if they need to replace any of your destroyed bone marrow. They may use your own body’s or a donor’s young stem cells that grow into healthy, new blood cells.
No matter what type of stem cell transplant you have, the side effects are the same. These commonly include temporary hair loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting — all related to radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Other side effects could occur relating to your stem cell transplant and high-dose therapy. Usually, your side effects will go away once you finish your treatment.
Research shows medical marijuana could be a viable leukemia treatment option. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a main cannabinoid in weed, induces death (apoptosis) in leukemia cells.
Cannabidiol (CBD), the other central cannabinoid in weed, increases leukemia cell death and decrease tumor burden significantly. And, according to the evidence, the higher the cannabis dose is, the greater the response of apoptosis.
Another interesting factor is while chemo targets your cancer cells as well as your healthy cells, medical marijuana only targets your cancer cells and doesn’t touch your healthy cells.
Several ways marijuana and acute myeloid leukemia treatment can help decrease your pain and other debilitating chemotherapy side effects, including:
As mentioned earlier, medical pot causes leukemia cell death (apoptosis). It also helps prevent complications you may experience from receiving a bone marrow or stem cell transplant for your AML. Researchers found the medical marijuana for acute myeloid leukemia patients who receive CBD and then undergo a transplant have a substantially lower risk of getting GVHD (graft-versus-host disease). This is a transplant complication where the transplanted cells begin attacking your body.
When you’re fighting AML, marijuana for acute myeloid leukemia treatment can seem like a miracle as it helps combat your radiation and chemotherapy-induced side effects. If you’re dealing with acute myeloid leukemia, you may want to try out these strains to help alleviate your symptoms:
One of the best varieties of medical cannabis for acute myeloid leukemia is cannabis oil.
For instance, Elias Cooper began to take cannabis oil a couple of years after he received his diagnosis. For three weeks, he took the oil consistently and then went for a doctor checkup. The doctor found he had dramatically improved, which suggests the cannabis oil was effective.
Donovan Vizina, another patient, received an acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis in 2013. He went through chemotherapy, but his treatment caused him more harm than it helped him. In 2015, he began using cannabis oil, and within six days, he was cured.
Other popular and effective cannabis and acute myeloid leukemia methods include:
If you’re not finding success with other standard treatments or if these treatments are causing you debilitating side effects, you may benefit from medical marijuana for acute myeloid leukemia. Your first step is to locate a cannabis dispensary or search for a medical marijuana doctor. Then, once you find a licensed doctor, they can give you a recommendation for your medical marijuana card.