Why Not To Use Medical Marijuana During Immunotherapy

Medical Marijuana is extremely beneficial for treating so many symptoms and conditions.  It works particularly well for Seizures, Spasticity, Pain, PTSD, Nausea, and many other disorders.  Autoimmune conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, IBS, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and more than 100 different diseases are well suited to medical cannabis as cannabinoids found in it such as THC and CBD have immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties.

What Is Cancer Immunotherapy?

Besides surgery, when one thinks of cancer treatment options, usually chemotherapy or radiation, come to mind.  A patient and their doctor’s options have expanded over time, and newer approaches may now include a combination of targeted therapy, hormone therapy, stem cell therapy, and immunotherapy.  In simple terms, cancer immunotherapy or biological therapy is designed to stimulate a patient’s immune system to destroy cancer cells.  It is sometimes referred to as immuno-oncology, and its popularity has dramatically increased over the past years.  Many biotechnology companies are looking into cancer vaccines that actively target cancer cells with the immune system.  One such cell-based immunotherapy that is approved by the FDA for the treatment of prostate cancer is Provenge.  Therapy entails removing specific white blood cells from the patient through leukapheresis, which is then sent to a particular production lab where it is incubated with a fusion protein.  Afterward, it is shipped back to an infusion center and administered to the patient.  For patients with hormone-refractory prostate cancer or HRPC, the median survival rate with the immunotherapy added 4.1 months compared to placebo.

What Can Immunotherapy Treat?

Immunotherapy can include Immune checkpoint inhibitors, T-cell adoptive transfer, Cytokines, cancer vaccines, Monoclonal antibodies, and others.   It is used to treat several different cancers, some of which include:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Liver cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Sarcoma
  • Skin cancer

Why Would I Want To Stop Cannabis During Immunotherapy?

The reason patients with autoimmune conditions receive such a benefit from cannabis has to do with its ability to “down-regulate” or suppress the immune system.  This suppression of the immune system is a contradictory goal to immunotherapy. Although cannabis may continue to offer benefits during cancer treatment, studies show it can significantly decrease overall survival and time to tumor progression when combined with immunotherapy.  Side effects of immunotherapy stem from overstimulation or misdirection of the system.  Although they can be severe, they are usually mild to moderate and include rash, itching, nausea, muscle aches, headache, and fatigue. The side effects of immunotherapy were reduced by the use of cannabis, not surprisingly, resulting from marijuana’s immunomodulatory effects.

Because cannabis consumption during immunotherapy treatment may be associated with worsening clinical outcomes, we recommend patients try their best to refrain from medical marijuana during the treatment period with active immunotherapies.