Medical Marijuana 101

Interest in marijuana as a treatment option for many medical conditions, including cancer, is growing across the country. During the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session, VBCF reviewed the existing research on medical marijuana and decided to support medical marijuana legislation allowing its use for cancer patients. Research shows that marijuana can be beneficial in combating the side-effects of cancer treatment, including nausea, appetite loss, and pain. VBCF believes breast cancer patients should have access to all potentially useful tools during their treatment journey, including medical marijuana. Therefore, VBCF supports expanding Virginia’s current law, allowing the use of cannabidiol to treat epilepsy, to include other diseases like cancer.

Potential Health Benefits of Marijuana
Marijuana, classified by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as a Schedule 1 substance, is illegal at the federal level. Therefore, comprehensive medical research has been limited. The two most studied chemical components of marijuana are delta-9-THC and cannabidiol (CBD). These active chemicals are referred to as cannabinoids. THC is the primary active cannabinoid that produces the “high” often associated with marijuana, while CBD does not. Cannabinoids can be taken orally, inhaled, or sprayed under the tongue.

Research studies have shown that marijuana can help counteract the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation)1:

  • THC can relieve pain and nausea, help increase appetite, reduce inflammation, and can act as an antioxidant.
  • CBD can reduce nausea and stimulate appetite, decrease pain, treat seizures and reduce anxiety.

VBCF hears often from breast cancer patients (and their loved ones) that they would be open to using marijuana to counteract the side effects of treatment and drug regimens.

“My mother had a very hard time eating during her treatment for breast cancer between the nausea and the awful taste in her mouth. She was losing a lot of weight, and we had tried everything we could think of. When the conversation would lean towards trying marijuana to try to increase her appetite, she would refuse. My mom being the person she was, would not try it because it is illegal in Virginia. No, marijuana was not going to save my mother’s life, but it would have helped the quality of life for the time she had. And when your cancer is terminal, that’s all you really want.” Nichole – VBCF volunteer advocate

“During my treatment, sometimes the medicines my doctors prescribed had unwanted side effects like digestive problems and lack of appetite. I would have welcomed the choice of an alternative remedy like marijuana if it was legal. Having another option to try and something more natural would have been great.” Bernice – VBCF volunteer advocate

Support for Medical Marijuana
Many states across the country have passed laws to allow patients to utilize legal medical marijuana. Twenty-nine (29) states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana to treat certain diseases and medical conditions. An additional 18 states have approved low-THC, high CBD (the non-psychoactive component of marijuana, cannibidiol, often in oil form) for use for certain disease states.It is estimated that 300 million Americans or 85% of the United States’ population now live in states with access to medical marijuana.3

In Virginia, public support for medical marijuana is very strong. An April 2017 Quinnipiac poll showed an overwhelming 92.6% of Virginia voters support allowing adults to use marijuana for medical use if a doctor prescribes it.4 Recently, both of Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial candidates, Ed Gillespie and Ralph Northam, expressed their support for expanded use of medical marijuana in the Commonwealth.5

Medical Marijuana in Virginia
Currently in Virginia, medical marijuana (cannabidiol or THC-A oil, both non-psychoactive) can be legally prescribed only for use in treating intractable epilepsy. During the 2017 General Assembly, legislative efforts to expand use to other diseases, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/Aids, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, failed. Instead, legislators asked Virginia’s Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) to conduct a study of the long-term effects of marijuana use on individuals and populations. This report will be released on October 17th.

VBCF believes Virginians with breast cancer should have access to medical marijuana as prescribed by their healthcare providers. VBCF staff and advocates met with state legislators this summer to discuss the future of this issue in the 2018 General Assembly session. VBCF has also been working to build a coalition of other interested patient advocacy and disease groups who support increased access to medical marijuana in the Commonwealth.

If you would like to get more involved with our advocacy work around this issue, please contact Kirsta Millar, VBCF Policy Manager at kirsta@vbcf.org. To receive VBCF Advocacy Alerts with “calls to action” on this and all policy issues related to breast cancer, sign up at right.


 

1“Marijuana and Cancer,” American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/complementary-and-alternative-medicine/marijuana-and-cancer.html.  Accessed August 30, 2017.

2“State Medical Marijuana Laws.” National Conference of State Legislatures, September 9, 2017, www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx

3“Medical Marijuana Access in the U.S.” Americans for Safe Access, 2017,  www.safeaccessnow.org/medical_marijuana_access_in_the_usa)

4Quinnipiac University Poll, April 12, 2017. https://poll.qu.edu/virginia/release-detail?ReleaseID=2451|

5Gillespie touts criminal justice reform beyond what GOP legislature has embraced,” by Gregory S. Schneider, Washington Post, September 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/gillespie-touts-criminal-justice-reform-beyond-what-gop-legislature-has-embraced/2017/09/06/a1d5bbfc-9312-11e7-89fa-bb822a46da5b_story.html?utm_term=.c15c83d31441

No, marijuana was not going to save my mother’s life, but it would have helped the quality of life for the time she had. And when your cancer is terminal, that’s all you really want.

Nichole

VBCF Volunteer Advocate

“During my treatment, sometimes the medicines my doctors prescribed had unwanted side effects like digestive problems and lack of appetite. I would have welcomed the choice of an alternative remedy like marijuana if it was legal. Having another option to try and something more natural would have been great.”

Bernice

VBCF Volunteer Advocate

VBCF wants to hear from you.
What do you think about legalizing medical marijuana in Virginia? Do you or someone close to you have personal experience with this issue? Tell us at www.vbcf.org/poll!