Cancer Survivors Rely on Weed for Sleep, Says New Study
Insomnia, as well as a general difficulty falling and staying asleep, is one of the most common issues that cancer patients and survivors struggle with.
Even if you had no trouble falling asleep in the past, cancer – and cancer treatment – can change all that. However, sleep is among the most important factors you need for cancer recovery. Deep, restful sleep is necessary to help the body and immune system regain strength. This is important for everyone, but most especially cancer patients and survivors.
Unfortunately, lack of sleep is far too common among cancer survivors. Treatment, especially within the first year, as well as poor nutrition, discomfort, pain, and medications can all play a role in this. Not to mention fear, depression, stress, and debilitating anxiety from a cancer diagnosis. According to researchers, the residual effects of a cancer diagnosis can last for a long time, affecting sleep. The irony is that sleep disruption can further increase the risk of developing certain cancers – that’s how bad it is for the body to lack sleep.
“In our research, nearly one in four survivors of childhood cancer had difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep,” explains Kathryn Ruble, M.S.N., PhD, from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. “Helping cancer survivors improve their sleep might help them perform at school, on the job, and throughout their lives,” she says.
“Lack of sleep has a huge impact on anyone’s ability to function in school or on the job,” Ruble adds. “We are finding sleep problems in young survivors and want to know if they help explain the academic challenges they face,” she says.
How Cannabis Helps
Cannabis has long been known for its calming and sedative properties which successfully help people sleep.
A new study out of Halifax in Canada examined how cannabis impacted cancer survivors’ sleep habits. The researchers analyzed 1,400 Canadian cancer survivors, 24% of them admitted to using marijuana before bed “with reported benefits including relaxation, reduced time to fall asleep, fewer nocturnal awakenings and improved sleep quality.
Additionally, an earlier study whose results were published in April 2023 took a deeper look into the benefits of cannabis for cancer patients. The study was led by Angela Bryan, senior author as well as a psychology and neuroscience professor, and cancer survivor. She worked with oncologists at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus to analyze data from 25 cancer patients who consumed cannabis over the course of two weeks.
During the baseline appointment, Bryan took note of their sleep patterns as well as other factors such as cognition and pain levels. Afterwards, they were asked to buy edibles of their choice from a dispensary. They chose a wide array of cannabis strains for sleep, including edibles, pills, baked goods, gummies, chocolates, and much more - all with varying CBD and THC levels.
She found that the patients who consumed higher doses of CBD, which is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, reported the most significant improvements in sleep and pain intensity.
Other Benefits Of Cannabis For Cancer Patients
Marijuana is such an effective, therapeutic tool for cancer patients. However, keep in mind that at this time, it’s best seen as a supportive tool for cancer therapy. It should not be viewed as an alternative medication but rather, a supplement that will complement other existing and accepted therapies used for cancer such as chemotherapy and radiation, as well as other medications deemed necessary by oncologists and cancer specialists.
Said medications and therapies can also cause side effects, which cancer can also help with. For example, chemotherapy is notorious for the vomiting and nausea that it causes. So much so, that the FDA already approved nabilone and dronabinol, which are synthetic forms of cannabis that were developed specifically to help with these side effects of chemotherapy.
Excessive vomiting and nausea can also affect one’s appetite, and thus promote unhealthy weight loss among cancer patients. When it becomes difficult to hold food down, patients can’t get the nutrients the body needs to heal and build mass for strength. Thankfully, THC-rich products have been shown to be effective in promoting appetite and thus helping to pack on weight for cancer patients.
Let’s not forget pain – the most common symptom that affects cancer patients before and after medication. Cancer survivors frequently have to deal with chronic pain. There are many different types of pain that affect cancer: pain from cancer treatments, damage from surgery, as well as the cancerous tumors that inflict pain in various parts of the body. While opioids were the conventional accepted treatment for severe cancer-related pain in the past, we now know that opioids are addictive and fatal. Thankfully, cannabis has proven to be an excellent, safe, natural, and non-addicting alternative to opioids for managing cancer pain.
In addition, medical marijuana can be a great help to boost the state of mind for cancer patients. Studies have shown that anxiety alone can worsen one’s perception of pain, but also, individuals who live with chronic pain also battle depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations. Medical marijuana can help with all these too, improving overall quality of life.
Difficulty sleeping is just one of the many conditions that cannabis can greatly help with, for cancer patients.
It must be emphasized that cancer patients as well as survivors who wish to use marijuana alongside their therapies should have open and honest dialogue with their doctors. They may be able to recommend cannabinoid-based medications, whether it’s synthetic or natural, that can help you for the best results.