By: Michaela Ream
The cannabis sativa plant is among the oldest medicinal plants used by humans across different cultures for thousands of years. It’s believed the plant was first cultivated in northeastern Asia, and each part can be harvested for different uses. The seeds, for example, are used to make hemp seed oil for cooking or in paints and lacquers. Today, more than 500 different compounds have been isolated from cannabis and studied for their potential uses and benefits. Approximately 100 of those compounds are known as cannabinoids, including two of the most well-known, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
People may be more familiar with THC because it creates “highs” and feelings of euphoria when ingested. CBD does not create a high and can help lower feelings of anxiety. In recent years, both CBD and THC have been found to have potential medical benefits. THC is harvested from marijuana, which refers to cannabis that has more than 0.3 per cent THC by dry weight. CBD is harvested from hemp, which refers to cannabis that contains 0.3 per cent or less THC by dry weight. Cannabis has been studied as a potential benefit to treat side-effects from cancer treatment, specifically for pain management, helping with sleep, moods or changing appetites. Canadians have had legal access to dried marijuana for medical use since 1999. In October 2018, the Government of Canada legalized and regulated the production, distribution, sale, import, export and possession of cannabis; in Alberta, all adults 18 and older can legally use marijuana.
Cancer and Cannabis
A balanced diet is important to fight diseases and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, living with cancer can make eating well a challenge.
“A cancer diagnosis can change the food relationship,” says Erin Benner, RDN oncology dietitian at Savour Nutrition in Calgary.
Questioning food choices, feeling anxiety about what and when to eat, physical changes during cancer treatment, evolving nutritional needs, and treatment side-effects, including nausea, can all impact quality of life.
“This can be a vital time to establish healthy habits to support the body in all of its changes,” says Benner.
With those changing needs, there can be benefits to including CBD and/or THC in one’s diet or treatment plan. In 1988, after the discovery of THC in 1964, researchers also found that our bodies have a natural endocannabinoid system (ECS) which regulates functions and processes such as sleep, mood, appetite and pain inflammatory immune system responses. While the ECS is active in our bodies whether or not cannabis is ingested, foods such as chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and oil help reinforce the ECS and increase its beneficial effects. Similarly, CBD and THC can connect with the ECS receptors like a lock-and-key system and, when bonded, have positive effects on pain or nausea.
One study by the National Cancer Institute found that THC and CBD can help improve appetite and provide relief from chemotherapy treatment side-effects such as nausea, vomiting, anxiety and depression. CBD has also been shown to help manage the treatment’s inflammatory effects, leading to digestion changes. Proper doses of CBD in meals can help with those side-effects and make eating easier. You can purchase CBD in an oil format, which Benner says is a great option to add to soups or smoothies. Edibles, such as gummy candies or chocolates, are also available with either only CBD or small blends of THC included. Making cannabis-infused flour is also possible, so you can bake your own home goodies. A proper and balanced diet, Benner says, is a critical part of staying healthy and fit enough to manage living with cancer. And sometimes, that may include a drop of cannabis to help.
But, before incorporating cannabis into a diet, Benner stresses the importance of speaking with a health-care team or doctor first. “It’s really important to seek medical care and choose the treatment that’s best for you in that situation,” says Benner. “Talk to your health-care team about managing [symptoms], and don’t just look for supplements or alternatives.” While research has shown promising results in cannabis use, it’s still ongoing. And, as with any medicine, Benner explains, there may be medical interactions that aren’t safe.
Once a health-care advisor has approved incorporating cannabis into a diet, it’s still important to get a prescription to get the right dose, a safe product and, potentially, financial compensation if covered under health care.
“From a nutritional perspective, it could [one day] be one of those things where it’s just another supplement you can be taking as part of a whole and healthy diet to support and balance a healthy system,” says Benner.
Recipe supplied by Erin Benner
1 small banana
1 cup soy, pea or other high-protein milk
1 tbsp. hemp hearts (shelled seeds)
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tsp. dry turmeric powder
1 dose CBD oil*1 scoop protein powder
1 cup frozen pineapple
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Relax and enjoy.
*1 dose is the number of milligrams of CBD recommended for you by your health-care professional.