What if psychedelics could revolutionize the way you die?

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My story begins eight years ago, when I was approached by my first client requesting that I supervise her in a therapeutic session with a psychedelic medicine.

She had debilitating depression and anxiety brought on by a breast cancer diagnosis. Although she had survived her cancer, she couldn’t shake her terrible emotional distress. She had tried therapists, pills and a residential program. Nothing had worked.

Then she came across stories in the media about research at UCLA using psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) with cancer patients suffering from what was called “end-of-life distress” and how this new treatment was showing really promising results.

She was desperate to try it for herself.

Well, as a licensed therapist and academic, could I help this woman? Reading the research literature, I learned that psychedelic research was becoming well-developed as a treatment for the psycho-spiritual depression and “existential anxiety” that often accompany the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness.

I also found myself in a bind: The science was telling me that psilocybin is the treatment most likely to benefit patients with existential anxiety when other treatments have failed; my ethical code from the B.C. Association of Clinical Counsellors tells me to act to my client’s benefit; federal law forbids me to use this treatment.

This is why, together with colleagues in the Therapeutic Psilocybin for Canadians project, I filed an application with Health Canada in January 2017, seeking a so-called “Section 56 exemption” — to permit us to provide psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to patients with terminal cancer.

Immediate decrease in death anxiety

Dinah Bazer found relief from cancer anxiety by being treated with a dose of psilocybin administered by a New York University study.

Recent research at Johns Hopkins Medical Centre and New York University indicates that treatment of this end-of-life distress with psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy is safe and effective.

The research indicated it led to immediate, substantial and sustained decreases in depression, death anxiety, cancer-related demoralization and hopelessness.

It resulted in increased quality of life, life meaning and optimism. And these changes had persisted at a six-month follow-up.

Patients attributed improved attitudes about life and death, self, relationships and spirituality to the psilocybin experience, along with better well-being, life satisfaction and mood.

It is heartening to see research moving into Phase 3 clinical trials that will involve many more research participants. However, the foreseeable future for Canadians who need this game-changing therapy is not especially rosy.

At our current rate of progress, it may well still be years before psilocybin successfully completes Phase 3 trials and becomes available as an orthodox medicine.

Therapists risk criminal penalties

In the meantime, many Canadians with terminal cancer are also suffering from end-of-life distress, and are in dire need of relief — now.

They face serious and life-threatening illness. Their condition is terminal, so concerns about long-term effects of psilocybin are not relevant. They suffer from serious end-of-life psychological distress (anxiety and depression) to the point that it interferes with their other medical treatments. And this distress has not successfully responded to other treatments.

Psilocybin is currently a restricted drug, meaning that therapists risk criminal penalties if they aid or abet its possession. That means that we cannot recommend or encourage its use.

My professional Code of Ethics, however, states that our ethical duty is to act in a way that serves our clients’ “best interests.” The service we provide has to be “for the client’s benefit.” We must “take care to maximize benefits and minimize potential harm.”

A compassionate, humanitarian death

I agree with the Canadian medical establishment that, in ordinary circumstances, new medicines should be made available to Canadians only when they have successfully completed Phase 3 clinical trials.

In the New York University study a pill, containing either a placebo or psilocybin, was presented to the subjects in a chalice.

But I contend that the patients described here are not in ordinary circumstances. They have terminal cancer. All other treatments have failed them; they have nothing left to lose. They have the right to die; surely they have the right to try!

These patients deserve access to a still-experimental but promising medicine on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. Because of their extraordinary medical straits, psilocybin now for them represents a reasonable medical choice; it is necessary to them for a medical purpose.

Our application to Health Canada seeking a “Section 56 exemption” will be ruled on very shortly.

We fully expect that it will be denied — for political, not scientific reasons. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is likely in no mood to loosen up on psychedelics before the dust from the legalization of cannabis has fully settled. I think the government would like it if someone else made that decision.

Violation of our rights and freedoms

If our application is denied, we intend to file for a judicial review, and if necessary, a lawsuit in Federal Court challenging that denial.

We believe that prohibition of access to psilocybin for a legitimate medical purpose violates a citizen’s Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 7 right to “life, liberty and security of person.”

This clause has already been interpreted by the Supreme Court to imply that a citizen has the right to autonomy in making health-care decisions. Charter-based arguments have already led to success in three recent landmark medical cannabis cases.

We argue that what applies to cannabis also applies to psilocybin:

The prohibition of … cannabis “limits the liberty of medical users by foreclosing reasonable medical choices through the threat of criminal prosecution. Similarly, by forcing a person to choose between a legal but inadequate treatment and an illegal but more effective one, the law also infringes on security of person.” Supreme Court of Canada, R. v. Smith, 2015

One thing that unites all of us human beings is that we will die. Imagine if, when our time comes, we could all have the option to die peacefully, with acceptance, without anxiety.

Complete Article HERE!

When Is the Right Time for Hospice Care?

Caregivers should know what hospice involves and how to navigate the decision

By John F. Wasik

When my 91-year-old father returned from the hospital after a bout of pneumonia and was readmitted scarcely a week later, his doctor suggested that hospice care was probably a good idea. He was extremely frail and barely able to walk. His overall health wasn’t improving.

Like most people eyeing hospice care as the end stage of medical intervention, I was reluctant to make that decision. What if he could get better? Wasn’t hospice only for people with a few weeks — or days — to live? Was I being unrealistic about his condition?

Such questions often torment families. It’s one of the most difficult health care decisions you’ll make because of hospice’s astounding recognition of mortality. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospice care involves more than 1.3 million patients and 4,000 agencies — most of them private — but it’s still not well-understood and often offered much too late.

How Hospice Works

Medicare pays for hospice care for people who are terminally ill, “with a life expectancy of six months or less, if the illness has run its normal course,” according to Medicare.gov. While that definition sounds muddled — many could live for only a few days or several years — it’s a different philosophy of care. It’s rare that hospice patients survive for half a year. The average hospice from 2011 through 2016 was 71 days or about 2 1/2 months, according for the Center for Medicare and Medicare Services.

Medicare defines hospice care as a “specially trained team of professionals and caregivers providing care for the ‘whole person,’ including physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.”

At the core of hospice is palliative care — making the patient feel as comfortable as possible and not directly treating an illness. Medicare offers hospice through its Part A, but a patient must be certified by both a regular and hospice doctor that he or she has only six or fewer months to live. You still pay your regular Medicare Part A and B premiums, plus $5 co-payments for prescription drugs. (Note: Medicare supplemental policies can cover co-payments, depending upon the plan).

A Misunderstood Option

The major difference between hospice care and conventional treatment is no longer isolating and treating specific causes of health issues. “The biggest myth of hospice care is that you have to relinquish all treatments,” says Ruth Finkelstein, executive director of the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging at Hunter College and the City University of New York (CUNY). “You’re only relinquishing ‘further extreme measures’ such as another course of chemotherapy.”

While hospice care can be offered in facilities, it’s generally given in the home and includes counseling, drugs and equipment like hospital beds. There’s also support and counseling for the family.

But the biggest barrier with hospice isn’t its end-of-life focus, it’s the fact that most patients and families choose it too late, says Finkelstein. Relieving pain — the centerpiece of palliative care — should be considered earlier rather than later in the process. And you don’t have to be terminally ill to receive it.

“The time for palliative care is anytime,” says Finkelstein. “Look at the situation from the patient’s and family’s point of view. Anytime something serious is happening [with pain management]: How do you want to handle it? You can employ a ‘pain team.’”

Making the Decision

After weighing what hospice care entailed, I enrolled my father with a local hospice care provider. The paperwork was simple: three Medicare authorization forms. While it hardly put my mind at ease over his state, I knew he would receive care that focused on day-to-day comfort instead of endless treatments and tests.

I sat down with the hospice provider and the care manager of his senior living center to discuss what hospice meant in practical terms. When would narcotics be administered? What happened beyond the six-month Medicare limit for coverage? Would I have some control over the kind of care offered?

Since I had health care power of attorney and my dad had dementia, I would be consulted on his care. He could qualify for more benefits if his conditions improved, which happens in a handful of cases. That was somewhat reassuring. Focusing on his comfort, the hospice company ordered a hospital bed to reduce the incidence of bed sores. They also increased his nurse visits and monitored his painkillers.

No heroic medical measures would be offered, though, which is hard for most families to accept. The hospice providers were trying to make my father feel as comfortable as possible and add a measure of peace to his life, which had been marked by a series of diagnostics for maladies that couldn’t be cured under ordinary means. He’d still be given antibiotics for frequent urinary tract infections, which are common in older people, but he wouldn’t be shipped off to the hospital at the first sign of trouble.

It’s Never Easy

The decision to enter into hospice care is painful. How can a family best approach it?

Try to get everyone on the same page. Evaluate the prospects of a loved one getting better with conventional treatments compared to the suffering that extensive medical care will entail. Does the person have multiple chronic conditions? Is the person gravely ill?

Sit down with a hospice provider, who can be recommended by a doctor, hospital or long-term care facility, and ask how the provider would respond to specific situations. If you’re searching for a hospice provider on your own, you can obtain a referral from Medicare (800-633-4227) or at Medicare.gov/hospicecompare. You’ll want to make your selection carefully; a new Government Accounting Office study of the Medicare hospice program found that “hospices do not always provide needed services to beneficiaries and sometimes provide poor quality care. In some cases, hospices were not able to effectively manage symptoms or medications, leaving beneficiaries in unnecessary pain for many days.”

Ask the provider staffers under what conditions they take a person to the hospital. What drugs will they use to relieve pain and how often? How do they handle overall management of care?

Hospice is less about what we think modern medicine should do and more about finding a small sense of serenity in one’s final moments. It may be little consolation to most families, but it’s a more compassionate approach that can strive to ease suffering.

Complete Article HERE!

The language of living and dying

When it comes to caring for people with cancer, how clinicians talk about palliative care can make a huge difference to patients and their families

For many, palliative care means spending more time at home, rather than in hospital.

By Jennifer Philip

As a society, we are not very sophisticated when we talk about serious illness and death. We talk of fighting, of battling against, of staying positive and of not giving up.

Of course, this has implications for those whose illness continues or worsens. Are they losing the fight? And what does it mean about their attitude? Have they given in?

In our research, recently published in Palliative Medicine, we found the power of language is particularly poignant when it comes to how clinicians talk about end of life care. It can lead to misunderstandings, but also sadly, even tragically, to suffering and missed opportunities.

We’re looking into this at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre’s Palliative Medicine Research Group. Based at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, our group brings together clinicians, researchers and allied health professionals, seeking to effect positive and systemic change in palliative care practice.

Our language around illness is reflected in the media, as we read with excitement of “a breakthrough in the fight against cancer/dementia/heart disease” – insert your illness of interest.

However, palliative care in the media and in the lives of real people, of patients, is often discussed as “there was nothing more that could be done, so they went into palliative care”.

The language that we use has direct and very serious consequences. To say that “there was no more treatment, so they had palliative care” implies that palliative care is not treatment. This language serves to limit possibilities since it negates the opportunity to choose palliative care, and the benefits that it may provide.

Why does this language matter?

Well firstly, it propagates a misperception about palliative care. Contrary to “no more to be done” and “non-treatment”, palliative care is highly effective and beneficial.

It has been proven in clinical trials to ensure better pain and symptom relief and, for many, means better quality of life than when patients are solely cared for by usual health providers such as oncology, respiratory and cardiology services.

Palliative care has also been shown to improve patients’ satisfaction with care, as they have more information and understanding of their circumstances and the choices available to them. It means they are empowered to make decisions that match their values – which, for many, means less time in hospital, and being more likely to die at home.

It can be common for doctors to avoid talking about palliative care until death is very close.

Research has shown that palliative care means that when people do die, their families experience less distress and have better health outcomes themselves.

And it means, based on a number of studies, that people live longer. Yes, palliative care improves survival – as much as a number of newer chemotherapy treatments. And all of these benefits increase if palliative care is introduced early.

None of this sounds like “no more can be done” or a “non-treatment option”. Yet because of the language used and the associated stigma, patients (and doctors) are fearful of mentioning palliative care, much less to introduce it early.

Instead, patients think that palliative care equals death, and worse still, death in an institution “where people do things to you”, as one of our research participants said; where there are no choices.

This is the very antithesis of what palliative care seeks, and is proven to do.

And so, as if even the words ‘palliative care’ will themselves, bring about death, we avoid it until death is very close. Palliative care, raised in these circumstances, becomes linked with imminent death, and the cycle of misperception and missed opportunities (and poor care) continues.

These missed opportunities may include a lifetime of valuable things to be said to someone we love, a trip to a special place, or a chance to think through whether a further round of treatment will enable achievement of an important goal.

And poor care may include pain that is not well managed for six of the last eight months, or a young child that wonders if Dad’s illness was caused by something they did.

So what needs to be done?

Clinical trials into palliative care find ensure better pain and symptom relief, and better quality of life.

We need to listen to the evidence. We need to think about the language that we use to speak about illness and death, to think about its impact for readers of today, and for patients of tomorrow.

We need to be sensitive and direct. And we need to learn to sit with the discomfort that not all is black or white, fighting or giving up, treatment or no treatment. That things that are hard to consider and face will inevitably mean hard conversations are to be had.

These conversations, though difficult, can be immensely rewarding and also may be the most important conversations for a person’s life. We all have a responsibility and a role to ensure our language facilitates understanding and choice, not its opposite.

Complete Article HERE!

Palliative care for the living — more education is needed

A pregnant mother’s 20-week ultrasound often brings feelings of elation and anticipation as she learns the baby’s sex or sees the baby move in her belly.

But when that ultrasound shows a heart defect in her unborn child that will require multiple surgeries and could cause learning difficulties, necessitate a heart transplant, or even lead to an early death, everything changes for her and for her family. Expectations of the future start to change.

Children with complicated medical problems such as heart defects, severe seizure disorders or cancer need care from multiple specialists over their lifetime. As specialists in pediatric cardiology and pediatric intensive care medicine, we have seen too often that one key group — the palliative care team — is often not included.

One reason for this is that many people inaccurately think of palliative care as only care for the dying.

The National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care describes palliative care as an interdisciplinary approach to “patient and family-centered care that optimizes quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and treating suffering.” There is no mention of dying, death or end-of-life care.

Important legislation under consideration now seeks to expand opportunities for interdisciplinary education, training and research in palliative care. The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is headed to the Senate. This legislation will support educational efforts that inform patients and health-care providers about the benefits of palliative care in supporting individuals with serious illness.

People with complicated medical problems and serious illness need medical specialists. Just as heart doctors treat heart problems and lung doctors treat lung problems, palliative care treats the suffering that results from serious illness.

Sometimes the reasons for suffering are obvious, as with a cancer patient’s excruciating bone pain or unending nausea. Palliative care providers use both medications and less conventional treatments, such as acupuncture or music therapy, to alleviate difficult-to-control symptoms.

Other times, suffering from serious illness can’t be seen easily. A new study published in BMJ (originally the British Medical Journal) found that 20 percent of patients with cancer have depression and 10 percent have anxiety. Often unnoticed or sometimes ignored, these complications can decrease survival.

To be sure, suffering comes in many forms – physical, emotional, spiritual. Many contend that physicians should focus on things such as physical bodily pain, and leave more existential suffering to chaplains or other religious figures. That is why palliative care requires an interdisciplinary team that includes social workers, chaplains, music and art therapists, nurses, physicians and others.

But palliative care providers can only help if they are invited to participate. Some physicians and parents may avoid introducing palliative care because they feel it is tantamount to “giving up hope.”

Yet, in some cases, palliative care may help extend life. In a study in China of adults with metastatic non–small-cell lung cancer, those who received early palliative care lived longer than those who received standard cancer care.

Such improved outcomes are not limited to the patients themselves. A new study published in Cardiology in the Young showed that mothers of children with a serious congenital heart defect (called hypoplastic left heart syndrome) who received early palliative care had less anxiety and improved family relationships compared to mothers who received regular care.

While some physicians may resist involving palliative care, many patients report they are open to the idea. A recent study of oncology patients published in the Journal of American Medical Association network showed, “very few patients or parents in this study expressed negative attitudes toward early palliative care.”

Of course, many patients with serious illness may not need palliative care. Some health-care providers might want to manage all aspects of their patients’ care. Certainly, all physician should have skills to treat difficult symptoms, address emotional challenges, and conduct difficult conversations. But as decision making and suffering become more and more complicated, involving clinicians with specific expertise can make a huge difference.

Unfortunately, access to quality palliative care services is lacking. One-third, or 802 U.S. hospitals with 50 or more beds, report no palliative care services. The Center to Advance Palliative Care gave one-third of states a grade of C or D based on inadequate access to palliative care.

To improve access to palliative care, more health-care providers need this training. According to the data from the National Palliative Care Registry, 1 to 1.8 million patients who could benefit from palliative care services, are not receiving it.

Just 140 existing palliative care training programs graduate only 360 physicians yearly. This is nowhere near enough providers to meet this massive unmet need. And one study published in Palliative Medicine shows that the need will double by 2040.

Fortunately, clinicians and families don’t need to participate in formal training programs to access palliative care education. The National Institutes of Health has a campaign to improve understanding for both patients and providers.

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine website provides links to research, videos, training options, and more. The Center to AdvancePalliative Care provides tools, training, and technical assistance to build and sustain palliative care in all health care settings.

Palliative care must not be an afterthought, or a consideration after all other possibilities in care are exhausted. It is urgent that palliative care be accessible to everyone regardless of age at the onset of medical treatment. That way patients can be offered the best possible care and outcomes.

Complete Article HERE!

Medical Marijuana and Terminal Illness

People who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness suffer a broad range of physical and emotional symptoms and other overwhelming struggles. Terminal illnesses are devastating diagnoses, and patients must learn to cope with the news that their disease cannot be cured.

When it comes to terminal illnesses, conventional medicine focuses on palliative treatment goals. This means doctors aim to make their patients feel as comfortable as possible in their last remaining weeks or months. Unfortunately, most of the drugs prescribed to terminally ill patients cause a host of unpleasant side effects, and some people flat out stop responding to conventional treatments. That’s where natural therapies come into play.

Medical cannabis is an excellent option as a complementary treatment solution alongside prescription opiates or other drugs for symptom management, but it can also be an effective alternate solution when patients suffer from side effects and no longer wish to take conventional medications.

Studies on medical cannabis and terminal illness have proven its effectiveness in treating specific symptoms that are often associated with end-of-life difficulties. Medical cannabis is a safe remedy for maintaining quality of life and providing comfort and relief for patients with terminal illnesses.

What Is a Terminal Illness?

Terminal illness is a broad term used to describe any kind of illness that is incurable or untreatable. Patients with a terminal illness have been told by their medical team that they have a certain remaining life expectancy and their disease will likely result in death. Illnesses like AIDS or cancer can be diagnosed as terminal illnesses when the disease is too advanced to be treated.

One of the primary issues surrounding a terminal illness is the psychological trauma associated with the diagnosis. Many patients fall into a deep depression and may even turn to substance abuse. Additionally, many of these patients have such advanced illnesses that they suffer from chronic pain, which only further amplifies their psychological symptoms.

Sadly, terminal illnesses affect far too many families. In 2006, the Pew Research Center reported that 42% of Americans know a friend or relative who is suffering or has suffered a terminal illness. Though this is a shocking statistic, but it’s made clearer when looking at the rates of terminal illnesses among Americans.

n the United States, cancer is the second leading cause of death. On average, more than 1,500 Americans die each day from cancer. HIV/AIDS is another potentially terminal illness taking far too many lives. In 2014, 6,721 Americans died from HIV or its complications, although the death rate associated with AIDS is steadily declining in the United States.

An under-recognized potentially terminal illness in the United States is kidney disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, advanced kidney failure kills more Americans than breast or prostate cancers. In 2013, 47,000 Americans died of kidney disease.

Terminal illness doesn’t just affect adults and seniors. The National Cancer Institute reported that in 2014, 1,960 children and adolescents under the age of 19 died from cancer.

With these high rates of terminal illness in American society, it’s no wonder many of these patients are turning to medical cannabis as a natural end-of-life therapy.

Terminal Illness History and Outlook

The landscape of illnesses has changed drastically in the past 100 years. Thanks to greater global disease awareness and advanced medical technologies, people are living longer than ever. But illnesses themselves have evolved. A hundred years ago, it was common for people to die from infections and other acute conditions that could not be treated medically.

Today, in the industrialized world, it’s less common for people to die from infections. However, chronic illnesses attributed to our environment, lifestyles and the fact that people are living longer are the new medical challenge our society faces. Generally, our high-fat diets, sedentary lifestyles and increased exposure to synthetic products and chemicals have led to new types of terminal illnesses to combat. Cancer is a potentially fatal disease that is claiming lives at an astonishing rate.

In 2003, the World Health Organization, recognizing the global cancer epidemic, published a report estimating that by 2020, cancer death rates would increase by 50% to 15 million annually.

Thankfully, since those findings were published, medical technology has advanced, and many of these expected deaths are now preventable. There are still far too many cases where cancer results in terminal illness. This is why different therapy approaches, such as medical cannabis, can help address the cases where cancer becomes fatal.

Terminal Illness Causes

There are many different types of terminal illnesses all resulting from different causes and risk factors. Here are some of the terminal illnesses patients are diagnosed with as well as their causes:

  • Cancer: Cancer is a broad term used to describe several different diseases that can affect virtually every part of the body. There are many possible causes of cancer depending on where in the body it first develops. All cancers are characterized by the mutation of normal, healthy cells into abnormal, cancerous cells. By nature, cancer cells divide and spread quickly. As they spread, they form tumors — lumps of cancerous tissue. If left untreated, tumors will begin to shut down nearby organs, as the immune system can no longer fight against the attacking cells.

All cancers are terminal if left untreated. Some cancer types are deadlier than others. Two of the deadliest forms of cancer are brain and ovarian cancers. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 16,700 Americans will die of brain cancer and 14,080 will die from ovarian cancer in 2017.

  • HIV/AIDS: HIV is acronym for the human immunodeficiency virus. It’s caused by a sexually or blood transmitted infection that attacks a person’s immune system. After years of being infected with HIV, a person’s immune system eventually becomes so weakened they develop AIDS — acute immunodeficiency syndrome — which is fatal.
  • Kidney Disease: Kidney disease is a serious, potentially terminal illness that damages a person’s kidneys. Damaged kidneys are unable to filter the blood properly, which causes waste and toxins to build up inside the body. Sadly, initial symptoms of kidney disease often go unnoticed until the condition becomes advanced. If kidney disease reaches the most advanced stage — kidney failure — the patient is no longer eligible for a kidney transplant or dialysis and the condition becomes fatal.

These conditions are some of the many well-known terminal illnesses that exist. Countless other diseases and conditions are considered terminal when patients stop responding to treatments or when the illness becomes too advanced to treat.

Terminal Illness Symptoms

While there are many different conditions that cause terminal illnesses, each having their own unique symptoms, most patients experience a similar set of symptoms during the end stages of life. These common symptoms include both physical and emotional or mental symptoms.

Here are the common symptoms experienced by people with terminal illness:

Physical Symptoms. When patients suffer advanced stages of diseases, there are common physical symptoms that occur. These symptoms include chronic pain and general weakness. Chronic pain affects more than 60% of cancer and AIDS patients. Other physical symptoms of terminal illness include:

  • Chronic weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty breathing

Emotional Symptoms: A terminal illness diagnosis is tragic and earth-shattering for patients and their families. Because of this, there is a range of different reactions among patients. Patients can experience emotions such as:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Blame
  • Depression
  • Helplessness

Many patients diagnosed with terminal illness go on to develop depression and anxiety. The Baylor University Medical Center found up to 77% of terminally ill patients suffer depression symptoms. Other reports indicate up to 20% of terminally ill patients are diagnosed with major depression — a serious and chronic grade of depression. In many cases, anxiety and delirium also accompany feelings of depression.

Conventional Terminal Illness Treatments

Treatments for terminal illness are focused on improving a patient’s comfort and quality of life in their remaining time. Terminal illnesses, however, are untreatable in the sense that they cannot be cured. Terminal illness treatments are referred to as palliative, meaning they reduce pain without an attempt to cure the disease.

Treatments focus on alleviating pain, improving strength and appetite and managing any symptoms of depression, anxiety and grief.

Here are the types of conventional treatments and care given to patients with terminal illness:

  • Opiates. Opiates are a class of drug that suppress the central nervous system and provide pain relief and a sense of euphoria. Morphine and hydromorphone are two of the most commonly prescribed opiates to relieve pain during end-of-life. Fentanyl, oxycodone and methadone are other opiates used to alleviate chronic pain for patients with terminal illness.
  • Anti-nausea medications. Nausea and vomiting are common terminal illness symptoms that can be managed effectively. Haloperidol is an anti-nausea medication that doctors prescribe to control these symptoms. Haloperidol can be taken orally or via injection.
  • Antidepressants. In many cases, doctors may prescribe terminally ill patients with antidepressants (SSRIs). Quite understandably, stress and depression arise with a patient’s knowledge of terminal illness. The physical and emotional suffering coupled with knowledge of impending death make some patients want to commit suicide, become overly stressed or too depressed to respond well to care-giving methods. Unless antidepressants are already part of the medical regimen, the patient may not respond to them in time to have any benefits before death.
  • Psychological/spiritual counseling. Doctors and experts advise patients to seek psychological or spiritual counseling to help cope with a terminal illness. Counseling helps patients better understand their condition, be better equipped to deal with it and address symptoms of depression and anxiety. Often, psychological and spiritual counseling for terminally ill patients will include the person’s family members.

Medical Cannabis for Terminal Illness

Unfortunately, many patients with terminal illnesses struggle with the types of palliative treatments they’re prescribed. Opiates and antidepressants both come with a host of side effects that can aggravate many of the end-stage struggles people experience. Medical cannabis is an alternative or complementary treatment option that many people with terminal illnesses have had success with.

The cannabis plant contains two organic compounds that provide medical benefits: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the compound responsible for the psychoactive effect associated with cannabis. It’s also shown to possibly reduce pain, relieve nausea and boost appetite.

CDB is the other compound that doesn’t produce psychoactive effects. However, it does treat symptoms like pain, nausea, depression and anxiety, which are all associated with terminal illness.

Legal medical marijuana such as Marinol is approved by the FDA. In some states, smoked marijuana is also legal under state law but still illegal under federal law. Both forms of medical marijuana have been shown to help with pain. They are not pain relievers, but can work with opiates to make them more effective.

According to UCSF, they conducted a study using cannabinoids with opiates and found that patients showed up to 95% decrease in chronic pain when using inhaled marijuana vapor with opiates such as morphine. It also showed that the dosages of opiates could be decreased when opiates are used in conjunction with cannabinoids.

Medical Cannabis for Alleviating Symptoms

One of the strongest arguments for medical marijuana and terminal illness is for the treatment of nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Cancer patients that are undergoing chemotherapy have benefited greatly from the availability of FDA approved medical marijuana. It is known to reduce nausea and vomiting, often when more traditional medical treatments for the symptoms fail to produce significant results. Nausea and Vomiting can occur with several terminal illnesses such as cancer and AIDS – related illness.

Cancer and AIDS can also result in loss of appetite. It is expected at the very end of life that appetite decreases until it is nonexistent in many cases. However, it is often good for patients to eat as much as possible until it becomes impossible. Medical marijuana can help with that and is prescribed for just such occasions. In fact, the hunger-inducing effects of medical marijuana are so well known that they are even known colloquially as “the munchies” in the recreational marijuana use community.

Medical marijuana’s effects are felt soon after ingestion and virtually immediately after inhalation. There is no waiting period as there is for antidepressants. There is no guarantee that it will alleviate depression, stress and suicidal thoughts. However, it is useful for its fast-acting benefits. There is some research to suggest that medical marijuana can help some of the symptoms associated with depression, particularly difficulty sleeping, but it is still an under-researched area of medical care.

Best Cannabis Strains for Terminal Illness

Medical cannabis a versatile and natural therapy for people diagnosed with a terminal illness. The diverse health benefits of the cannabis plant address many of the common symptoms terminally ill patients face.

Here are some of the best strains of medical cannabis for terminal illness and the symptoms these strains treat:

  • Northern Lights. Northern Lights is an Indica strain of medical cannabis. Northern Lights help with many of the major symptoms that terminally ill patients experience, including pain, depression, insomnia and loss of appetite.
  • Sour Diesel. Sour Diesel is a Sativa strain of medical marijuana for terminal illness. Sour Diesel is an excellent strain for managing terminal illness symptoms like pain, depression, fatigue and loss of appetite.
  • Sunset Sherbet. Sunset Sherbet is a hybrid strain of cannabis, meaning it’s crossed between the Sativa and Indica strains. Sunset Sherbet helps relieve terminal illness symptoms like nausea, pain, insomnia and depression.

There are countless different strains that can offer relief for terminal illness symptoms. Be sure to consult your local dispensary experts for more information on choosing the right strain for you.

Best Cannabis Uses for Terminal Illness

If you’re planning to use medicinal marijuana to treat your terminal illness symptoms, then it’s important to decide how you’ll consume it. You have a few different options. Here are some of the options for consuming medical cannabis for terminal illness:

  • Inhalation. Smoking marijuana, or inhaling it, is likely the most common method of use for medical cannabis. In addition to being easy and convenient, inhaling marijuana also provides fast-acting relief. For people suffering from chronic pain or depression, this is an important consideration.
  • Edibles. Another option for consuming medical cannabis for a terminal illness is to take it orally. This can be done through a cannabis-infused edible product such as chocolate. While taking cannabis orally delays the effects, it is a much longer-lasting effect than inhaling marijuana. Additionally, many patients prefer edible products over smoking because it doesn’t cause respiratory problems.
  • Drinkables. Drinkable cannabis products are another great innovation when it comes to methods of consuming medical marijuana. Drinkables are cannabis-infused drinks that are easy and convenient to use. Drinkables some in soda-like products, or you can brew cannabis tea. Like edibles, the effects from drinkable cannabis products tend to be stronger and longer-lasting.

Cannabis Side Effects and Precautions

Medical marijuana for terminal illness is generally very safe to use. There are limited side effects for most people who consume medicinal cannabis products. Some patients who are suffering major depression because of their terminal illness diagnosis may be concerned that marijuana products may heighten their depression symptoms. However, there is no research to suggest that prescribed medical marijuana can harm the terminally ill.

Additionally, marijuana does not interact negatively with other end-of-life treatments. No amount of it will result in fatal overdose. Further research is necessary to see if these trends in medical marijuana use hold true. However, its use for terminal illness is promising thus far.

If you’re planning to take medical cannabis for terminal illness symptoms, it’s important to follow the dosage instructions exactly as prescribed. For many people, the effects of marijuana make take a while to kick in. This is why it’s important to start with a small dose and gradually build from there.

Medical cannabis is a safe, alternative remedy for treating many of the terrible symptoms associated with terminal illness. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and would like to learn more about medical cannabis as an alternative treatment option, make an appointment with a local, qualified physician through MarijuanaDoctors.com today or sign up for our newsletter.

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Medical Marijuana Infogrphic

By Jessica K

It is known that 42, 249 people died in the United States in 2016 due to overdosing on opiods, as reported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It began in 1990s with the popularity of prescription pills. In the early 2000s was with the rise in the use of heroin while the previous years have seen the use of fentanyl.

It is sad to know that people are not open to communicate about the opioid addiction so that they get the help they need. Breaking the stigma can support in overcoming the crisis. Moreover, doctors should take extra care while prescribing medications and making the patients aware about the side effects of these drugs as well as looking into alternative forms of medicine.

Cannabis is such an alternate medicine and an excellent natural herb which can help in relieving pain, anxiety, etc. There are various products available in the market, ranging from cannabis seeds to cannabis strains (like laughing buddha cannabis strain), CBD oil etc. Cannabis infused products can prove to be highly beneficial to people suffering from chronic illnesses.

While several countries are far from even considering legalization of medical cannabis, currently 29 states and Washington DC have permitted its legal use.

Why Cannabis For Palliative Treatment Is A Better Choice Than Opioids

By Prakash Janakiraman

Most treatments are meant to heal, but some are for palliative care (end of life care) in terminally ill patients. Palliative care is to provide symptomatic relief from a chronic and serious illness, and to reduce the risk of developing co-morbidities and also to improve the patient’s quality of life. The aim of the palliative care is not to treat or cure the underlying disease, but to treat the bothersome symptoms of the disease. Some of the illnesses that may utilize palliative care treatments include cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, multiple sclerosis, etc.

Finding a proper and safer course of treatment (long-term drug safety) is one of the main challenges being faced by palliative care practitioners. The goal of the drug regimen is to alleviate the symptoms as well as to mitigate the adverse events of these drugs. For palliative care of cancer patients, opioid analgesic is the prime choice of physicians, but it can cause serious harm – or even fatal events – in the long run.

The therapeutic potential of cannabinoids to treat sleep problems, pain and anorexia might play an important role in palliative care. Cannabinoids promote analgesia and inhibit inflammation via endogenous signaling, along with other benefits such as neuroprotection and anti-cancer activity, which are significant for terminally ill patients. In cancer patients, exogenous cannabinoids act synergistically with endogenous opioids and provide pain relief, opioid-sparing benefits and reduce opioid dependence and tolerance threshold. Cannabinoids may have palliative benefits not only for cancer patients, but also in neurodegenerative, HIV/AIDS and chronic pain patients. Despite these benefits, the use of cannabinoids in critical and palliative care patients remains controversial.

According to DEA classification, cannabis is a Schedule I drug that is hazardous and without any medicinal value. Most cannabis strains do not exceed 20% THC, whereas prescription drugs, such as Dronabinol, has a 100% THC-like substance, which has been classified as Schedule III drug. Naturally occurring cannabis has several ingredients that augment the treatment benefits and negate the adverse events. However, this is not applicable in synthetic, single compound cannabinoid formulation. To reduce opioid-related morbidity/mortality and improve palliative care in terminally ill patients, considering the cannabinoids as a mainstay pain management drug is the critical need at the moment.  

The risk-benefit profile of cannabinoid-based medicine greatly depends on the drug formulation and route of drug delivery.

Problems Associated with Palliative Care

Opioid overdose-related deaths are rising across the world and in the United States. Increased availability of synthetic opioids worsens the overdose mortalities, and most of the cases are due to misuse or accidental exposure. The widespread expression of mu-opioid receptors in the brainstem leads to increased binding of opioids, which also controls the respiration and is the cause of opioid overdose mortality. Overdose opioids bind with these mu-opioid receptors, which results in the suppression of breathing and death. Long-term opioid treatment also leads to development of tolerance, and the patient often requires incremental dose increases for better pain management. Although, mu-opioid antagonists, such as naloxone, are available to reverse overdose, it must be administered within few minutes of overdose crisis, which is not always possible. In addition to opioid tolerance, opioid dependence or addiction can develop during palliative care. Opioid addiction is a serious, relapsing and chronic neuro-psychiatric illness that requires long-term treatment for recovery.

The complete symptom burden of palliative care patients is poorly understood and opioid treatments may add up to other problems, such as severe constipation and prescription of laxatives to relieve constipation. According to a large assessment study that involved 50,600 Caucasian cancer patients who were on opioid therapy as palliative care, approximately 12% of patients reported moderate or severe constipation at the first assessment, and nearly 19% patients reported the same during the last assessment. All patients were on opioid therapy that resulted in moderate to severe constipation. Prescription of laxatives to treat the constipation is likely in these patients. The goal of the palliative care treatment is to relieve the symptoms, if not to mask the agonizing pain in palliative care patients including terminally ill cancer patients. Opioid therapy appears to be worsening the problems by causing/increasing distressing symptoms that require further treatments, which is undesirable and reflects the complexity and quality of palliative care treatment.

Why Cannabinoids Are Better Than Opioids In Palliative Care

While healthcare practitioners are in dilemma about prescribing medical cannabis for illnesses, the use of medical marijuana for palliative care is trending upward. Medical cannabis significantly reduces the use and dependence of opioids and also opioid overdose-related death. According to a study by RAND Corporation, there is a plausible link between the legal medical marijuana dispensaries and a reduction in opioid-related deaths in those areas. The study compared the rate of opioid-related deaths in states with and without legal marijuana dispensaries. As reported by the study, a lower rate of opioid-related mortalities (16-31%) and fewer reports of hospitalizations (28-35%) for related treatments were observed in states with medical cannabis dispensaries, compared to states without medical cannabis dispensaries. Patients who obtained treatment without legal intervention (penalized due to illegal substance use), further decreased the rate of hospitalization (up to 53%). The duration of the presence of legal marijuana dispensaries were also found to be related with the decline in opioid-related morbidities and mortalities.

Palliative care patients can easily obtain prescription medical cannabis from these legal dispensaries to reduce their reliance on opioids, prevent the opioid-related problems and also for better management of their symptoms. According to Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the evidence about the efficacy of cannabinoids is strong and cannabis could ‘provide a powerful new tool’ to combat opioids and their related problems.

According to a comprehensive literature review of available studies, patients reported improvement in quality of life, and the improvements were considered as a therapeutic outcome by the patients. However, the healthcare providers raised concerns, and were in a dilemma about supporting the therapeutic cannabis use, as the used cannabis was illegally obtained.

A Norwegian study concluded that cannabinoids possess therapeutic effects in neuropathic pain, as well as moderate anti-emetic and appetizing effects in certain groups of patients. Due to non-availability of randomized clinical trials, the study authors were unable to recommend the medical use of cannabis. All of these symptoms and indications are applicable for palliative care cancer patients. To treat vomiting, anorexia and pain, a regimen of at least three drugs should be administered, and the patient must go through the side effects of these medicines. Instead of three drugs, cannabinoids as a monotherapy can be considered to treat all three symptoms, which are common in terminally ill cancer patients. Hence there are grounds to employ medical cannabis as a palliative care drug.

Analgesia is a common benefit shared by opioids and cannabinoids. However, cannabinoids differ from opioids in anti-nociception by the involvement of endocannabinoid system. Further studies suggested the additive effects of cannabinoids and opioids in pain modulation. Medications being prescribed to augment the opioid effects and to reduce the opioid doses are called opioid-sparing drugs. Cannabinoids can greatly increase the analgesic potency of opioids and thus relieve pain in lower doses of opioids. According to studies, cannabis greatly reduced the need for opioids, or even complete eliminated the need for opioid use. Additionally, the cannabinoids work synergistically in alleviating some of the symptoms of terminally ill patients, such as pain in end-stage cancer patients.

Clinical trial evidence found that oral cannabinoids (Sativex) provided better pain relief in opioid-refractory cancer pain than long-acting opioids. The treatment was well-tolerated by the palliative care patients. According to three randomized control studies, cannabis use significantly improved the appetite, weight gain and stabilized body weight in AIDS wasting syndrome. These benefits might be helpful for terminally ill patients suffering from cancer-associated cachexia.

Conclusion

Most of the systematic review studies that are inconclusive or even against the use of medical cannabis have assessed the randomized clinical trials of synthetic cannabinoids such as Dronabinol but not plant-derived cannabinoids. Even some of the studies that assessed the natural cannabinoids lacked adequate statistical power due to flawed clinical trial design. Assessing these studies cannot provide a definitive conclusion.

Conventionally, palliative care management for most of diseases – including cancer – is opioids. Due to inevitable risk of tolerance, the patient has to take more and more narcotics, even if the drug provides little relief. Higher doses can make the patients become more confused and lethargic, with the risk of developing depression, anorexia, nausea and vomiting.

Cannabis could definitely reduce the dosage of these narcotics and also improve the symptoms by its synergistic actions. For terminally ill patients, marijuana could reduce the anguish, improve the quality of life and may also add days to their life.

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