As the legalization of medical marijuana becomes more common worldwide, medical cannabis is being prescribed by doctors and caretakers to help treat cancer-related side effects—either from the cancer itself or from treatments like chemotherapy. Countless scientific studies have shown that medical cannabis offers palliative care benefits, including appetite stimulation, pain relief and more.

But early research indicates that cannabinoids can do so much more. Data is showing that medical marijuana has antitumor effects and may one day be used as a cancer treatment, not just as a drug to ease symptoms of the disease. Well over 100 types of cannabinoids—the compounds within cannabis containing different properties and chemical profiles—have been identified to date, yet few have been studied for their specific effects. Medical marijuana’s proven palliative care benefits and the complexity of the drug indicate clinical studies are necessary to uncover the drug’s full potential.

In 2017 there were more than 1.6 million new cancer diagnoses in the United States, and by the year 2030, cancer cases are projected to increase by 50 percent worldwide compared to 2012 rates. Given these alarming statistics, new treatment options are now more important than ever. Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, targeted therapy and immunotherapy are the most common cancer treatments, but side effects are often severe, ranging from fatigue, hair loss, nausea, infection and more. Medical marijuana offers important relief to patients dealing with these unwanted effects, but what if we were able to offer the drug to patients as an alternative cancer therapy? We may be able to avoid or reduce the severe side effects of other treatments, while combatting the cancer and its symptoms.