Is Medical Marijuana Beneficial For End of Life Care?
February is Marijuana Awareness Month, a good time to explore the benefits of medicinal marijuana to help ease the transition to end of life care in Santa Clara and elsewhere. Pain and symptom control are hallmarks of hospice care, in addition to interventions designed to provide overall patient-directed quality of life. Where does medical marijuana fit in all that, and does it have the potential to enhance care at the end of life? Are the benefits marginal at best? Let’s explore the benefits of medical marijuana for use in palliative and hospice care.
Palliative care clinicians, understandably, have concerns about access to symptom-controlling medications and therapies to relieving suffering, such as with opioids that come with a public health risk, says Pallimed. But when it comes to marijuana for symptom control, the studies and findings are not quite so pervasive. The industry is just ramping up in terms of legal marijuana, with each state taking its own lead in allowing dispensaries to open. Overall, the acceptance of medical marijuana is not really anything new, but it bears exploring: does it help with end of life care? The studies show a potential benefit.
Cannabis-related medicinal products have yet to be well-integrated into the health care field and the benefits of integrating marijuana into palliative care have been stifled by conflicting regulations, ongoing stigma, research barriers, and product scarcity—all stemming from poor awareness and knowledge gaps for patients and clinicians, points out the National Institutes of Health. There is a growing field of research into the use of medical marijuana in the hospice setting. For cancer patients, specifically, cannabis medicines have been shown to relieve many symptoms, including pain, nausea and vomiting.
But perhaps more importantly, marijuana is used in the hospice care setting to ease spiritual and existential suffering, with some studies showing an important therapeutic role for patients faced with the despair of a terminal illness, as well as the loss of function that accompanies it. A mild euphoria or sense of well-being can ease a patient’s mind, body and spirit as they come to terms with their fate.
Another benefit has to do with the enhancement of the senses. It’s well known that cannabis is an enhancer, acting to heighten sensory perceptions and awareness, leading to increased appreciation of music, tastes and scents — something that often goes by the wayside as patients move further through hospice. Studies also suggest that marijuana can heighten awareness of moment-to-moment presence by allowing patients to appreciate each moment they have, especially when they know their days are numbered. This form of horticultural therapy can even lead to spiritual growth and development, which can play a critical role in helping to create a sense of peace in the dying process.
Cannabis products can help increase appetite, relieve painful constipation caused by prescription painkillers, ease anxiety and diminish pain. More studies are currently being performed.
Cannabis sativa — one of the most ancient psychotropic drugs ever known — has been known to be used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes for some 4,000 years. It first appeared in the United States in 1854, used for legal medicinal purposes. However, in 1942, cannabis’ legal medicinal use was stopped. Many states in this country have now legalized it once again for use in medical settings, subject to a doctor’s recommendation. Did you know that American colonists were once encouraged to grow and cultivate cannabis for hemp? In fact, in 1619, Virginia law required hemp to be grown on every farm in the colony, with the crop being considered a usable form of currency in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, according to the History channel.
Even though cannabis is currently legal in many U.S. states, it still remains illegal at the federal level, resulting in fears of punishment for healthcare providers who may want to prescribe cannabis for their hospice patients. Merry Jane points out that the federal illegality of cannabis not only stifles discussions between doctors and patients who want to seek relief but it also places limits on much-needed scientific research that could help medical experts determine the efficacy of cannabis as a valid form of hospice treatment. Hospice patients are often uninformed about the the therapeutic properties of marijuana because their doctors and nurses are so hesitant to speak with them about the benefits and drawbacks of consuming cannabis.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
To learn more about our hospice services and what we do to ease pain and suffering for your loved one, please contact us at 888-978-1306. We are one of the country’s first hospice providers, backed by decades of experience helping people live their remaining days with comfort and dignity while easing the burden of care for their families. Please get in touch today.