Updated on December 11, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Folks who receive a terminal illness diagnosis have a lot to deal with. If their condition hasn’t shown many symptoms yet, it probably will soon. And, when a terminal illness reaches its advanced stages, it causes all kinds of symptoms that are difficult to cope with.
While medicine makes the last moments of a patient’s life more comfortable, it isn’t perfect. With severe symptoms come medications that often cause harsh side effects. The side effects are usually worth the benefits of the medicine, but what if they were milder?
Finding a treatment for terminal illness symptoms and side effects is key to making the end-of-life experience as easy as possible. The increasing acknowledgment of medicinal cannabis has opened a new lead to pursue. Marijuana could help people with terminal illnesses experience fewer symptoms and side effects.
Terminal illnesses count as any incurable or untreatable condition that will inevitably lead to the patient’s death. So, it’s hard to pin down an exact set of symptoms that every terminal illness patient experiences. But, many of them do experience similar side effects.
Prominent terminal conditions include cancer, HIV/AIDS and kidney disease. They often cause symptoms such as chronic pain, weight loss, fatigue and nausea. But, these symptoms don’t occur in every terminal illness, and many terminal conditions cause more issues, as well.
Besides the physical symptoms of terminal illnesses, the patient often has to deal with the emotional impact of their disease. They can feel depressed, anxious and a broad spectrum of other emotions.
Chronic pain is one of the most common symptoms associated with terminal conditions. As the disease wreaks havoc on the body, the patient can feel pain in many ways.
When the pain becomes severe, doctors often prescribe opiate painkillers. They relieve pain better than other painkillers, but they come with significant risks. Not only do they have a high chance of dependency, but they can also harm the liver and kidneys.
We have evidence pointing to marijuana working as an effective painkiller with fewer side effects. Patients can use it for pinpointed or full-body pain relief with safer side effects. Because of this, it can replace or supplement opiates to enhance pain relief and reduce side effects.
Both terminal illnesses and their treatments can cause the patient to experience severe and chronic nausea. As you can imagine, having nausea so often and intensely makes the end-of-life experience even more difficult to undergo. It also makes it harder for the patient to keep food down, reducing their quality of life and denying them essential nutrients.
To counteract nausea, doctors often prescribe antiemetics, or anti-nausea medications. Antiemetics work with the chemicals in your brain that handle nausea. But, each antiemetic affects a different part of the brain, making it hard to guess which one will work.
Medical marijuana takes the guesswork out of nausea treatment. It can treat nausea from any source with fewer side effects.
As we talked about earlier, terminal illness harms a patient’s mental health, often causing depression and/or anxiety. To improve a patient’s mood, doctors use antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. However, they have the potential for dependency, and it takes trial and error to find the right medicine.
On the other hand, cannabis can work to supplement or replace mental health medication. It doesn’t need as much experimentation as pharmaceuticals do and often treats both depression and anxiety at the same time.
For more information about how cannabis can be used to treat Terminal Illness, check out our resources: