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Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)

Overview

This complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) information summary provides an overview of the use of Cannabis and its components as a treatment for people with cancer -related symptoms caused by the disease itself or its treatment.

This summary contains the following key information:

  • Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.
  • By federal law, the possession of Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is illegal in the United States; however, a growing number of states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize its medical use.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved Cannabis as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.
  • Chemical components of Cannabis, called cannabinoids, activate specific receptors found throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system.
  • Commercially available cannabinoids, such as dronabinol and nabilone, are approved drugs for the treatment of cancer-related side effects.
  • Cannabinoids may have benefits in the treatment of cancer-related side effects.

Many of the medical and scientific terms used in this summary are hypertext linked (at first use in each section) to the NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms, which is oriented toward nonexperts. When a linked term is clicked, a definition will appear in a separate window.

Reference citations in some PDQ CAM information summaries may include links to external Web sites that are operated by individuals or organizations for the purpose of marketing or advocating the use of specific treatments or products. These reference citations are included for informational purposes only. Their inclusion should not be viewed as an endorsement of the content of the Web sites, or of any treatment or product, by the PDQ Cancer CAM Editorial Board or the National Cancer Institute.

  • Updated: December 17, 2014