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Cannabis and cancer: “It lets me hold onto my dignity a little longer”

A cancer patient shares how medical cannabis has provided much-needed relief to the side-effects of chemotherapy.

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A cancer patient at Integro Clinics shares how medical cannabis has provided much-needed relief from the side-effects of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy (or “chemo”) and radiation therapy are the two most common types of cancer treatment. They work by destroying fast-growing cancer cells. But other types of fast-growing healthy cells (such as blood and hair cells) also can be damaged along with cancer cells, causing adverse reactions, or side effects.

Chemo and radiation cause similar side effects. Chemo’s side effects depend on the type of drug used, the dosage, and the patient’s, overall health. These effects are more likely to affect the whole body.

Radiation’s side effects, on the other hand, tend to affect the area being treated. But they do still depend on the dose of radiation given, the location on the body, and whether the radiation was internal or external.

Here are some of the side effects associated with these cancer treatments: fatigue, flu-like symptoms, pain, mouth, gum and throat sores, gastrointestinal problems – nausea and lack of appetite, skin changes, weight changes, hair loss, anaemia and kidney and bladder problems.

At Integro Clinic, doctors have seen the significant impact that medical cannabis can have on certain chemo symptoms.

A young female patient at Integro, Terri, was first diagnosed, with cancer at the age of 30 and has had an ongoing struggle with the condition for the last 10 years. 

She was initially diagnosed with cervical cancer, which she received treatment for only to find that some years later she developed secondary lung and liver cancer, for which she underwent aggressive chemo and radiotherapy. Her side effects included pain, anxiety, severe nausea and diarrhoea and which on some days left her feeling so bad that she was unable to get out of bed.

When Terri found out she had stage four incurable cancer she began a voyage of discovery to find her own answers to what might help her symptoms. She was advised by fellow cancer patients that cannabis could prove helpful in easing what she was physically & mentally experiencing.

She began to self-medicate with homegrown cannabis and could feel the positive effects of the plant. She wanted to fully understand the pharmacology of exactly what she was taking and seek professional medical guidance. She was recommended to speak to leading pain consultant Dr Anthony Ordman at Integro Clinics, who worked closely in association with her oncologist, Dr Andrew Gaya.

Terri explained: “I expressed why I wanted to use medical cannabis and Dr Ordman understood completely. There was no judgement, only understanding and compassion. He could see how much pain, physically and emotionally, I was in, and I immediately felt that he was going to try and help me in any way he could.

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“He listened to me, he understood what I was hoping to achieve, and he went above and beyond to make sure that I had the support, medically and emotionally that I needed. He even consulted with my oncologist to make sure that the prescription was right for me from a treatment perspective.

“I have always felt that Dr Ordman, along with the amazing team at Integro treat you more like family than a number. I know that when I am struggling, there is always either the doctor or the nurse at hand that can help me.”

Recently, Terri found out that the cancer has spread further throughout her body. She needed chemo again and was totally physically knocked out by it, requiring help to even wash and dress. 

“As part of my chemotherapy, steroids are given on the primary and secondary days to help keep your energy levels up. The downside to this is that your body becomes twitchy with restless leg syndrome, sleepless nights, agitation and mood swings,” she continued.

“The medical cannabis that I take during the day and night helps alleviate these symptoms. I was able to sleep for six hours without having the feeling I was wired all night. During the day I felt I was a lot more relaxed and able to rest and recover without feeling like I had drunk copious amounts of caffeine.

“Recovery is key to fighting and the steroids, for me, hinder this recovery process, so to be able to combat that feeling with the medical cannabis is invaluable.”

Despite the debilitating side effects, Terri found that her cannabis medicines really helped her with her ability to function day to day, throughout the whole chemotherapy process.

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“The pain is still there, but the intensity is dramatically decreased, to the point I can lie on my side without crying. I can walk to the bathroom without feeling like my bones are going to break,” she said.

“With so many poisonous chemicals running through my body, being able to take something plant-based, that really helps, is so much better for me than having to take codeine or gabapentin.”

Terri added: “Today I was able to shower by myself. I have a shower stool now, which at first, I was dead against it. As a previously fit and well-turned-out woman, the idea of sitting on an old person’s stool to have a shower felt like giving up. But the pain of standing and then pain from my joints hurting, my body not willing to allow me to wash my hair, meant I had to accept I needed some help.

“It is still a struggle for me, and I needed to sleep for two hours after I washed my hair yesterday, but it meant I got to do it on my own without having to have my mum or dad helping me.

“I take my cannabis medicine 30 minutes before I have a shower and I find it really helps, not only during the shower but afterwards. Sometimes it is the small wins like being able to dry and dress myself that lets me hold on to some of my dignity a little longer.”

Dr Anthony Ordman was delighted to see the effects that medical cannabis had on Terri, he commented: 

“At Integro, we have seen the positive impacts that medical cannabis has on our patients when it comes to some of the side effects caused by chemotherapy. I was delighted to see the significant impact that medical cannabis had on Terri, even after just a few days.

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“Her cancer medications were sapping her energy and discomfort and understandable worries were depriving her of sleep, but after taking her cannabis medication I could see that she was able to go about her day much more independently.”

Integro Medical Clinics Ltd always recommends remaining under the care and treatment of your GP and specialist for your condition while using cannabis-based medicines. The Integro clinical team would always prefer to work in collaboration with them.

If you would like further information or to speak to Dr Anthony Ordman please contact Integro Clinics at www.integroclinics.com 

Email: Contact@integroclinics.com

Twitter: @clinicsintegro

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Beauty & Skincare

95% of patients with rare skin condition report improvements with cannabis topicals

Epidermolysis Bullosa causes severe blistering which can become infected after any trauma or friction.

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Skin condition: A white cream with a green cannabis leaf on top. It is surrounded by dark oil bottles and a spoon that has cream on it. This is on a dark background

A new study of a rare skin condition has revealed that different preparations of cannabinoids could have benefits for patients with painful Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB).

Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) is the name of a group of rare inherited skin disorders that can cause the skin to become fragile.

It is thought to be caused by a gene mutation that makes the skin more fragile and any trauma or friction can cause painful blisters on the skin. There is currently no cure but treatment aims to prevent infection and reduce symptoms.

The study from the Netherlands and the United States analysed EB patients on five different continents who reported using cannabis preparations as a treatment for their rare skin condition.

The data is published in the Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. The patients reported using topical cannabinoid products in addition to inhaling cannabis flowers. They also consumed cannabis-infused edibles.

Patients were given a survey on their skin condition that focused on monitoring effects including perceived EB symptom changes, medication use, and side effects. 

Skin condition results

Results recorded that 95 percent said the topicals improved their overall skin condition symptoms with 94 percent stating their pain levels were decreased.

A further 91 percent said they had less itching and 81 reported wound healing was improved. Most of the participants at 79 percent said they had decreased their medication for their skin condition. The only side effect with a notable significance was dry mouth at 44 percent.

The authors noted that cannabis improved patient’s “perception of pain, pruritus, wound-healing, and well-being … and reduced concomitant medication use.”

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They wrote that: “Future prospective controlled clinical studies are warranted to elucidate the potential role of CBMs (cannabis-based medicines) in EB treatment.”

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Women's health

Canadian study shows more women using cannabis for menopause symptoms

Researchers analysed responses from 1,500 women living across Alberta

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Richardson: An app with menopause information displayed across the screen has a doctor's stethoscope resting on it.

A new study shows a large percentage of women have tried cannabis to manage their menopause symptoms.

The menopause study aimed to examine the rates and patterns of cannabis use and its perceived effectiveness in managing symptoms.

Researchers analysed responses from 1,500 women living across Alberta of which, 18 percent were in premenopausal, 33 percent were in peri-menopause and 35 percent were in post-menopause. There was also a small percentage that had either undergone a hysterectomy and or bilateral oophorectomy.

The NHS estimates that most people who experience menopause is between 45 and 55 years of age. This occurs when a person’s oestrogen levels decline. The average age for this to happen is 51. Around 1 in every 100 women enter into menopause early before 40 years old. This is referred to as premature menopause.

Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, anxiety, vaginal dryness, difficulty sleeping and reduced sex drive. The average length of time that women can experience menopause is up to four years.

Menopause study results

A study from the University of Alberta in Edmonton Canada shows that one in every three women near the menopause transition uses cannabis for symptom management.

Of the women studied, roughly 33 percent reported using cannabis within the past 30 days. Out of the 499 current cannabis users, 75 percent stated they used it for medical purposes. This included the most common reason, sleep issues at 65 percent, anxiety at 45 percent and joint pain or aches at 33 percent. A further 29 percent reported they use cannabis for irritability and 25 percent for depression. Three-quarters of the current users reported that they found cannabis helpful with their symptoms.

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The most common way to take cannabis was edibles with 52 percent then oils with 47 percent. Just under half of those surveyed said they got their information from internet searches while 34 percent got their information from friends.

Researchers noted that women using cannabis were more likely than non-users to report sleep issues, mood issues including depression, mood swings, irritability and anxiety along with difficulty concentrating or painful intercourse.

Katherine Babyn from the University of Alberta and the first author of the study abstract said: “Our study confirmed that a large percentage of midlife women are using cannabis for symptoms that overlap with menopause, especially those women who reported more symptoms. In addition, many of these women are claiming to get relief for their symptoms through the use of cannabis.”

Dr Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director said: “While we continue to learn that more women are using cannabis to help manage their menopause symptoms, further research is required to assess the safety and efficacy of cannabis for menopause symptoms management.”

The results will be presented as part of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting in Washington DC next week. The study was funded by an operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

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Industry

Royal Society of Medicine and Integro Clinics announce pain and cannabis medicines event

The event takes place on October 11 from 8:30 to 17:30. It will explore the potential of cannabis medicines in the field of pain medicine in the UK

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Event: The Royal Society of Medicine logo in green and red on a white background

The Royal Society of Medicine has announced a collaborative event, Pain and cannabis medicines: Everything you want to know (but were too afraid to ask) in association with Integro Medical Clinics.

The event takes place on October 11 from 8:30 to 17:30. It will explore the potential of cannabis medicines in the field of pain medicine in the UK

Since the legalisation of cannabis medicines on prescription in November 2018, patients and clinicians alike have been awaiting more data or information regarding these medicines. 

The event aims to provide those attending with a comprehensive understanding of the uses of cannabis medicines and the practicalities of using them in their own practice. It will consist of presentations on the history, regulatory environment and pharmacology of cannabis medicines including the use of different cannabis-based medical preparations in treating pain and related symptoms in a wide variety of clinical fields in the context of the current UK regulatory framework. 

Event presentations

The day will feature presentations from international leaders in cannabis medicines such as Professor Raphael Mechoulam, the chemist who discovered the endocannabinoid system and THC, Dr Anthony Ordman, Leading UK Consultant in Pain Medicine and previous President of the Pain Medicine Section of the Royal Society of Medicine and Dr Arno Hazekamp PhD, who worked as Head of Research and Education at Bedrocan, the first European company to produce EU GMP grade cannabis medicines.  

If you wish to sign up, please click here.

Event speakers
Dr Anthony Ordman, Consultant in Pain Medicine

Event: A black and white headshot of Dr Anthony Ordman Founder of the highly respected Chronic Pain Clinic at London’s Royal Free Hospital, he is one of the UK’s most experienced specialists in the treatment of pain. For his contributions to Pain Medicine, Dr Ordman was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians in 2005, and he is the Immediate Past President of the Pain Medicine Section of the Royal Society of Medicine. Dr Ordman is also Senior Medical Consultant and Lead Clinician at Integro Medical Clinics and has a special interest in the potential benefits of cannabis medicines in pain medicine.

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Alex Fraser, Patient Access Lead at GrowPharma

Event: A black and white headshot of guest speaker Alex FraserAlex Fraser is a leading medical cannabis patient advocate. He is a patient himself having been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2010 at 19 years old. In 2014 he founded the United Patients Alliance and has since appeared on mainstream media multiple times, including on the BBC and ITV, to highlight the urgent need for access to cannabis medicines for the many patients who may benefit from them. He has taken delegations of patients to parliament to give testimony to politicians at the highest levels and organised educational events, rallies and protests calling for law change on medical cannabis. In February 2019 Alex joined Grow Pharma, one of the leading suppliers of cannabis medicines in the UK, as their patient access lead. He utilises his extensive knowledge of medical cannabis, his understanding of patient needs and his network in the industry to ensure patient voices are heard and represented. His work includes informing top-level policymakers, educating healthcare professionals and conceiving and running projects that increase general awareness and provide practical help for patients.

Professor Raphael Mechoulam, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel

Event: A black and white headshot Most well-known for the total synthesis of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System. Since the inception of his research in the 60s, Professor Mechoulam has been nominated for over 25 academic awards, including the Heinrich Wieland Prize (2004), an Honorary doctorate from Complutense University (2006), the Israel Prize in Exact Sciences – chemistry (2000), the Israel Chemical Society Prize for excellence in research (2009) and EMET Prize in Exact Sciences – Chemistry (2012

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Dr Sally Ghazaleh, Consultant Pain Specialist

Event: A black and white headshot of a guest speakerDr Sally Ghazaleh, is a Pain Management Consultant at the Whittington Hospital, and the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery, London. She qualified from the University of Szeged Medical School, Hungary in 2000, and then completed her specialist training in the Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine at Semmelweis University in 2007. She went on a fellowship at University College Hospital, London, to gain her higher degree in Pain Medicine

During her time at the pain management Centre at University College Hospital, she gained extensive experience in dealing with and managing patients with complex multiple pain problems. She is accomplished at a variety of interventional and non-interventional treatments for this specific patient group. Sally specializes in managing patients with lower back pain, neck pain, neuropathic pain, abdominal pain, cancer pain, complex regional pain syndrome, post-stroke pain and Fibromyalgia. She has a particular interest in bladder and abdominal pain in women, and women’s health in general.

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Cannabis Health is a journalist-led news site. Any views expressed by interviewees or commentators do not reflect our own. All content on this site is intended for educational purposes, please seek professional medical advice if you are concerned about any of the issues raised.

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