Medical Marijuana & Palliative Care

Updated on January 6, 2020.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Medical Marijuana & Palliative Care

With baby boomers, one of America’s largest generations, entering their senior years, we’ll soon see a rise in care for the elderly. An unfortunate yet inevitable aspect of senior caregiving is end-of-life care. While most folks have heard of hospice care, palliative care is on the rise to offer an alternative experience.

End-of-life care isn’t limited to the elderly. People of any age who have incurable diseases or a terminal illness also need compassion and relief during their last days. Between the growing population of seniors and folks of other ages facing the end of their lives, palliative care is becoming more important than ever.

Does this sound like something else you’ve heard of? Marijuana is also on the rise as a medical treatment, giving patients a new option. Palliative care and cannabis medicine serve as alternatives to the standard medical experience.

About Palliative Care

Palliative care has the goal of making a patient’s experience with a serious illness easier. To do this, it addresses both the symptoms of the disease and its emotional impact. When palliative care succeeds, it improves the lives of the patient and their loved ones.

Instead of looking at just one aspect of the patient’s experience, palliative care aims to be there for them every step of the way. A multidisciplinary team works with the patient to administer care tailored to their symptoms and needs. The palliative care staff listens to the patient’s needs and does their best to meet them.

Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

At first glance, palliative care and hospice care seem to be the same thing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hospice care replicates the experience of standard medical care. Meanwhile, palliative care goes beyond the medical chart and considers the patients themselves.

Palliative care and hospice care differ in the following aspects:

  • Number: There are many more hospice programs in the U.S. than there are palliative care programs.
  • Location: While hospice care usually happens in the patient’s home, palliative care occurs in a facility.
  • Staff: Hospice patients do have a team that supervises their care, but only a family caregiver and a nurse administer it. Palliative care teams consist of medical professionals who directly treat the patient.
  • Focus: Both programs try to enhance the lives of patients with terminal illnesses. But, while hospice only takes patients who have less than six months to live, palliative care accepts anyone with an incurable disease.
  • Goal: Hospice tries to provide comfort in a patient’s last days, while palliative care can attempt life-prolonging treatments.

Uses of Cannabis for Palliative Care

As holistic treatments that break the mold of the medical industry, cannabis and palliative care go hand-in-hand. Both involve a personal approach that looks at the person instead of the disorder. So, it’s natural that some palliative care facilities use medical marijuana.

In fact, one of the pioneers in the hospice and palliative care field, The Connecticut Hospice, uses medical marijuana to treat some of their patients. While they started out as the first American hospice, they’ve expanded to provide palliative care. At the time of writing, they’re conducting a study to help establish marijuana’s legitimacy as a medicine.

We still have little research on marijuana due to its illegality under federal law. But, the data we have so far indicates it can help patients with incurable and terminal illnesses. It can also address symptoms such as chronic pain, nausea, muscle spasms and weight loss.

Interested in Learning More?

Since you and your loved ones’ needs are so unique, it’s best to talk with a professional in-person to figure out if medical marijuana will work for you. Doctors certified in marijuana treatment and medical dispensary budtenders can have that conversation with you.

Additional Terminal Illness & Cannabis Resources

For more information about how cannabis can be used to treat Terminal Illness, check out our resources: