Column: Alleviating cancer treatment symptoms with cannabis

BY By Dr. Karen Munkacy

Dr. Karen Munkacy is a board-certified anesthesiologist, and a cancer survivor, who runs Garden Remedies Inc., a Newton-based medical marijuana dispensary.

I am a breast cancer survivor. When my son was 2 years old, I was fighting for my life. I endured numerous surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy treatments. I experienced nausea, appetite loss and insomnia—and medicinal cannabis was not a legal treatment option for me.
As a double board-certified physician, anesthesiologist and a pain management specialist, the more I learned about cannabis as an effective and natural way to alleviate pain and suffering for a variety of symptoms, the more dedicated I became to advocating for patient access to medicinal cannabis.
In 2013 I founded Garden Remedies, a Massachusetts cannabis cultivation facility and dispensary. We see cancer patients seeking relief through medicinal cannabis on a regular basis at our Newton dispensary and through our home delivery program, available in the Worcester area as well as Eastern Massachusetts. From early-stage leukemia to late stage pancreatic cancer, we have supported many courageous patients, and several have come to speak to our team about their life-changing experiences.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation often face debilitating symptoms that impact their overall treatment and quality of life. Based on numerous clinical studies, the potential benefits of using medicinal cannabis for those living with cancer are significant, including helping to increase appetite, which is often diminished because of the disease as well as treatment side-effects. When patients are able to maintain a healthy nutritional intake, they can be that much stronger in fighting the disease.
Patients also report that cannabis usage helps them overcome insomnia, which is very common in cancer patients, allowing them to fall asleep and remain asleep, with sleep being one of the most important recovery aids. Additionally, cannabis can help reduce anxiety and stress.
For cancer patients experiencing chronic pain, cannabis continues to be a better, all-natural option than opioid painkillers, often more quickly alleviating pain than other methods and allowing patients to function normally in their lives without the risk of introducing an addiction.
The goal for patients using cannabis during cancer treatment is to help them gain back as much of their quality of life as possible without introducing more harmful chemicals into their bodies. Inhalation is the fastest way to experience relief, and vaporization is a safe, highly effective approach. For those who feel uncomfortable with inhalation, there are a variety of forms to take by mouth, from capsules to edibles like chocolate, or patients can choose topicals such as lotion that can be absorbed through the skin.
Patients can try something and immediately determine if it works for them or if they need to increase the dosage, change the intake method or try a different strain. It is important to stress that cannabis usage does not have to result in a psychotropic experience. Many offerings and delivery methods focus on relieving symptoms only, without psychotropic effects.
As a physician and a cancer survivor, I know firsthand how difficult it is to fight cancer. It is an honor to
be able to serve our community by offering safe and effective natural treatments to relieve pain and suffering and to help patients live their best lives.
Dr. Karen Munkacy is president and CEO of Garden Remedies Inc., a Newton-based medical marijuana cultivation and dispensary company with a cultivation facility in Fitchburg.
Author’s note: Each patient responds differently to cannabis. Patients should work with a trusted medical professional to develop a treatment plan. Information contained in this article is intended to be educational and should not be used in place of medical advice or treatment.