Treatment Options, Including Medicinal Cannabis
A large proportion of people who undergo chemotherapy experience nausea (feeling sick) or vomiting (being sick), which is distressing and can greatly impact on your quality of life. Chemotherapy treatment, and the cancer itself can both cause these symptoms. Not everyone who has chemotherapy will experience nausea and/or vomiting – the effect of these medicines is different in everyone.
Complete management is challenging because CINV is not fully understood. It is thought that medicines activate receptors in the small intestine, sending a signal to the part of the brain that triggers vomiting. Intestinal cell damage from chemotherapy may also release signals that cause vomiting.
Modern anti-vomiting medications (antiemetics) work to significantly reduce these unpleasant symptoms in some people, but approximately half of all people having chemotherapy still experience nausea, and about a third still experience vomiting.1 If these anti-sickness medicines do not work for you, talk to your doctor about other treatment options you can try. The aim of treatment is to completely stop your symptoms of CINV.
Medicinal cannabis can be very helpful for people who are still experiencing nausea and/or vomiting with antiemetic treatment. It is thought that cannabis-based medicines suppress nausea and vomiting by interfering with nervous system signals.
The TGA have developed guidelines recommending that high-THC medicinal cannabis products can be effective for nausea and vomiting.2 The cannabis plant contains compounds that are already active in the human body. Doctors are currently using cannabis-based medicines to treat CINV in other parts of the world, and as data and evidence is emerging, results are very promising.
You can access treatment with a prescription from your doctor, through the Special Access Scheme (SAS), through Authority Prescription, or by taking part in a clinical trial. Your doctor will start you on a low dose, which may be enough to achieve relief from your symptoms. Prescribed cannabis means you and your doctor can control your dose and ensure you are getting optimal benefit from your therapy.
1. NSW Government, Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation. Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Avaliable at: https://www.medicinalcannabis.nsw.gov.au/clinical-trials/chemotherapy-trial
2. Australian Government Department of Health, Therapeutic Goods Administration. Guidance for the use of medicinal cannabis for the prevention or management of nausea and vomiting in Australia. Version 1, December 2017. Available at: https://www.tga.gov.au/sites/default/files/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-prevention-or-management-nausea-and-vomiting-australia.pdf
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