Aim and objective. Examine the pharmaceutical qualities of cannabis including a historical overview of cannabis use. Discuss the use of cannabis as a clinical intervention for people experiencing palliative care, including those with life-threatening chronic illness such as multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis] in the UK.
Background. The non-medicinal use of cannabis has been well documented in the media. There is a growing scientific literature on the benefits of cannabis in symptom management in cancer care. Service users, nurses and carers need to be aware of the implications for care and treatment if cannabis is being used medicinally.
Design. A comprehensive literature review.
Method. Literature searches were made of databases from 1996 using the term cannabis and the combination terms of cannabis and palliative care; symptom management; cancer; oncology; chronic illness; motor neurone disease/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; and multiple sclerosis. Internet material provided for service users searching for information about the medicinal use of cannabis was also examined.
Results. The literature on the use of cannabis in health care repeatedly refers to changes for users that may be equated with improvement in quality of life as an outcome of its use. This has led to increased use of cannabis by these service users. However, the cannabis used is usually obtained illegally and can have consequences for those who choose to use it for its therapeutic value and for nurses who are providing care.
Relevance to clinical practice. Questions and dilemmas are raised concerning the role of the nurse when caring and supporting a person making therapeutic use of cannabis.