Ask a Top Doc: Why Medical Marijuana for Cancer Treatments

Why Medical Marijuana for Cancer Treatments?

Why would a group of outstanding and well-respected physicians decide to open a medical marijuana dispensary?  I asked that question to a gynecologic oncologist that heads the group, which includes Drs. Rachakonda Prabhu, Geoffrey Hsieh, Sean Dempsey and Nick Thanos.  The team had good reasons for making the plunge into medical marijuana and it was all based on the well-being and health of their patients. 

Nick M. Spirtos, M.D. leads a group of physicians that treat ovarian, colon, uterine, breast and cervical cancer.  In addition, he serves as a clinical professor at Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine and adjunct clinical professor at the University Of Nevada School Of Medicine.  Other physicians in the ownership group treat patients with a variety of conditions including many that were not responding to conventional medical treatment, in particular a variety of chronic pain conditions.

Dr. Spirtos’ passion is treating women with cancer.  The words, “you have cancer” are just the beginning of a difficult journey that this compassionate doctor must share with a patient.  He knows far too well that their treatment will likely include all or a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation of which each alone carries side effects.  The biggest obstacle for the patients is their ability to complete treatment because of the side effects associated with these therapies. 

Dr. Spirtos states that, “90% of chemo patients have problems with nausea and vomiting despite all the advances in anti-emetics.  Sixty percent of chemo patients do not complete their treatments because of side effects.  Patients use standard anti-emetics for nausea and vomiting or opiates for pain control, but frequently these efforts were unsuccessful.  Some of Dr. Nick’s success stories arose from patients that were self-medicating by smoking marijuana or ingesting ‘pot brownies’.  Unfortunately, these patients were forced to break the law just to make their medical treatment more tolerable!

Patients undergoing additional surgery or chemotherapy had the most difficult time controlling pain, nausea and vomiting.  According to Dr. Spirtos, “not only could cannabis potentially reduce the side effects related to pain and nausea and vomiting but reducing opiate intake in particular, could decrease potential liver toxicity in both cancer patients and those with chronic pain.”  He then added “however, it all had to be done legally.” And, that is the reason this doctor that hails from a family lineage of 27 outstanding physicians decided that he could help patients by getting involved in medical cannabis.

The Apothecary Shoppe opened in December 2015 and is a medical marijuana dispensary tailored specifically to the patients. It offers medical marijuana in a variety of pleasant forms that are easily palatable like chocolates, syrups, cookies, and other edible delights.  And, there is always a physician available to answer any questions.  There are also clinical studies open to patients undergoing chemotherapy or with chronic pain using a syrup developed by the physicians that has been shown in preliminary work to be quite effective. The syrup is absorbed rapidly and has a more predictable absorption than baked goods.

However, there are some challenges when deciding on utilizing any of the medical marijuana treatments.  One must apply for a card through the Nevada Medical Marijuana Program (NMMP).  The patient must have a physician’s approval and deal with other red tape like notary, etc.  To make it easier for someone reading this I have included the state site for registering.

Nevadans go through the process of a background check.  I understand approval takes about 8 weeks.  Upon authorization the patient must go to DMV to get their medical marijuana card.  Most of us know what a trip to the DMV is like!  How about standing in a long line while you are sick, nauseated and vomiting from your treatments?  That’s some tough medicine for someone going through cancer treatment!  Apparently the state is making some progress in this regard.

The bottom line is if a cancer patient gets a diagnosis they probably are going to need treatment right away as most cannot wait two months for government approval.  Since this is the political season, many legislative candidates will be knocking on the door asking for your vote and this may be an issue you will want to discuss with them. 


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