NORMAL — A longtime Bloomington-Normal oncologist said several of his patients have experienced diminished chemotherapy side effects from using medical marijuana.
"They have had positive results," said Dr. Pramern Sriratana with Mid-Illinois Hematology & Oncology Associates in Normal.
In the past six months, 20 to 30 Sriratana patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer have discussed medical cannabis with him and asked him to complete a form certifying their condition to begin their application process.
Doctors don't prescribe medical marijuana. They discuss with patients whether medical marijuana may help and certify their conditions.
Sriratana acknowledged that opponents of medical marijuana argue that the drug could be abused by some who want it for recreational purposes.
"The patients I deal with are legit," he said.
Among some patients, chemotherapy causes nausea and reduced appetite that can result in weight loss and weakness.
"We have three to four drugs that patients can use to prevent nausea before and during treatment," Sriratana said. "I ask them to try that first.
"We have been prescribing Marinol (for reduced appetite and nausea) for years," Sriratana said. But in some patients, a Marinol side effect is confusion.
Sriratana patients who are using medical marijuana have reported no problems, he said.
"It helps some patients — particularly with nausea from chemotherapy — with appetite and maintaining weight," he said.
Some patients report elevated mood, he said. Some are sleeping better. Some patients are using less pain medicine, which mean a reduction in pain medicine side effects, including confusion, constipation and fatigue.
"For patients with cancer who have quality of life issues and who want to try it, I would support it," Sriratana said.
But Dr. Shermian Woodhouse, medical director and radiation oncologist at the Community Cancer Center in Normal, noted that dosing of medical marijuana is "partly trial and error" and marijuana can have negative side effects such as a drop in blood pressure, blurred vision, short-term memory loss, disorientation and imbalance as well as side effects of smoking.
"We need to get the science back into this," Woodhouse said. "I would hope the federal government would lift the ban so we could do research."
"People (considering medical marijuana) need to have a serious discussion with their physician about it, exhaust (conventional) medical management first and make sure it's something they want to try," Woodhouse said.