Cancer is so prevalent. Each day in the US alone more than 1600 people will die because of cancer. Everyone has heard about chemo, thousands of people undergo treatment with it every day, yet thousands of people die of the disease every day. If we can send a Tesla to space can’t we find a better cure than something giving us a 50/50 shot a living? I’d like to think so, yet decades of evidence suggests otherwise. You see, the chemical compounds used in chemotherapy are what science calls “cytotoxic.” In layman’s terms, they kill all cells in the human body. Not just the cancer cells, but the tissue cells, the nerve cells and anything else they happen to come into contact with. It’s the medical equivalent of shooting an Uzi at a single target from 5 yards away. There has to be a better way. And anecdotal evidence presents us with the possibility that medical marijuana and the compounds contained therein like CBD could be a part of that solution.
Cancer is a big problem all over the world but especially here in the US. We all know someone who has been impacted by this horrible disease. There also certain basic facts about cancer that we’re all privy to. For example, we all know that cancer causes tumors, that it can run in families and that it can spread across the body from its starting point. What we don’t all know is exactly what cancer is. So, let’s clarify. Cancer is a family of related diseases. They’re genetic in nature and begin with the growth of unnecessary cells in the body which we call cancer cells. As these cells do not have a specific purpose they continue to grow and eventually these cell growths turn into larger masses. This is how tumors are formed. Once a tumor is in the body it creates its own microenvironment. From here, the tumor can begin diverting blood flow and necessary nutrients from the body’s organs and wreaking havoc on our insides. The lack of nutrients to our organs can eventually cause them permanent systemic damage which leads to our body no longer being able to sustain life, and we die. Obviously, this is a bird’s eye view so let’s take a deeper look at the stages of cancer.
Cancer staging is generally calculated by the TNM system. This stands for Tumors, Nodes, and Metastasis. The T factor is classified as TX for a tumor that can’t be measured, T0 means there is no evidence of a primary tumor and this basically designates a pre-cancer situation where there are cancerous cells, but they haven’t taken hold and begun to form a primary tumor. After that, the T is scored from T1-T4. Essentially as the T number grows it means the tumor is larger and has taken root in surrounding tissues.
The N in the TNM system stands for Nodes. The NX designation means that lymph nodes cannot be evaluated for whatever reason, N0 means the lymph nodes don’t contain any cancer and N1-3 is the doctor’s best evaluation of how many lymph nodes cancer has spread to. The higher the number, the worse the spread of the disease. The M is the simplest part of the grading system as there is only M0 and M1. M0 meaning there has been no spread of cancer and M1 meaning that it has begun to spread.
Once these numbers have been assessed by an oncologist the doctor will perform what is called ‘Stage Grouping’ to create the number we’re more familiar with in cancer diagnosis. The TNM system is aggregated to create an overall cancer stage and these are quantified 1 to 4 but in Roman numerals, I-IV. Occasionally a sub-designation of the 4 stages is given, and they’re broken down into stages like ‘IIA’ or ‘IIB.’ Stage 0 is also a diagnosis for pre-cancer or a not very threatening cancer. If a patient’s diagnosis is 0-1 then the prognosis is favorable and the patient has a solid chance at survival. However, once cancer has taken hold and advances to the later stages the odds for survival decrease exponentially as the number goes higher.
Obviously, there is no current cure for cancer. There’s never been a cure for cancer, only a history of ineffective treatments. Until the late 20th century there wasn’t really any effective medical strategy to combat the spread of cancer cells in the human body. Thankfully, there are promising new technologies and treatments that give us a hope that an end is in sight. But before we dive into the newest advancements let’s take a second to look back at how we got here.
In the beginning, surgery was the only treatment available. Yet, when doctors would cut out tumors cancer would just return or it had already spread. It wasn’t until X-Ray and other imaging technologies grew more advanced in the 1970s that doctors could see what the cancer was really doing in the body. From there, they started to pair either chemotherapy or radiation treatments with surgery. These advancements helped the survival rate to a degree but still, they’re honestly not appropriate for anything beyond stage I cancer. Millions of people have died after receiving chemo and radiation treatments. There has to be a better way.
Well, forty years later, there is. This new treatment is called immunotherapy and is centered around the human body’s ability to essentially rid itself of cancer cells. The process revolves around what is called iPS or “immunized pluripotent stem cells.” Now, a lot of people still think stem-cells come from aborted fetuses but that is new from 25 years ago. The new iPS technology creates stem cells by taking blood from the patient and inserting DNA into the stem cells that cause the cells to target and destroy cancer. Essentially, weaponizing our own stem cells against the cancer cells.
The treatment has been called “as dangerous as it is promising.” In 2009 when it was first being tested on humans the stem cells were programmed to attack a gene factor in colon cancer in a patient. Turns out that same factor was in her lungs and so the stem cells destroyed her lungs, and she died. That being said, there have only been 7 deaths of patients and a hundred who have been saved in the last 7+ years of this treatment being tested. But that isn’t the only roadblock. Tumors are intelligent and actually, have their own defense mechanisms. Some more advanced tumors create a barrier around them which causes stem cells to kill themselves. Yet, researchers are also finding ways to program the stem cells to survive those barriers and even go into hyper-attack mode when they detect such a protective barrier around the tumor.
The bottom line is that we don’t yet have a cure for cancer, but we have had more breakthroughs in the last decade than we have in the previous century. The hope for a cure is greater than it has ever been and with so many trials going on right now the future is promising. The FDA has also granted the companies Juno and Novartis “breakthrough” designations for their immunotherapy drugs which means that they’ll be allowed to market with only one large-scale clinical trial instead of us having to wait for ten years to get these treatments widely available. There is definitely a silver-lining through this cancerous storm!
Read more at Is CBD Legal for Treating Cancer in 2018??.
All kinds of medical conversations are buzzing about CBD right now. With 29 states have legalized medical marijuana in some capacity and the 2014 farm bill rendering hemp cultivation legal as an agricultural commodity the cannabis space is definitely poised to explode. Dozens, if not more, studies all over the globe have been informing us on the myriad medicinal advantages of the cannabis plant. There’s even a coalition including an 11-year-old Texan taking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to court about the federal classification of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug. So, you’re thinking how does CBD fit in all of this? Well, first, why don’t we step back a bit and begin by answering the more basic question: What is CBD?
CBD is a shorter name referring to one of the over one hundred different cannabinoid compounds in cannabis called cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is prized for its many potent and effective medical benefits. These benefits span from alleviating anxiety to aiding people in their transition off of opiates to end their opioid painkiller addiction. So, how does one single molecule do all of this? Well, we’re going to have to go over a little science review to explain.
Our brains and nervous systems are composed of trillions of cells called neurons that form a vast and complex network. The human body sends a combination of physical and electrical signals via this network of neurons to activate many of the processes that control what we feel and command the operation of the systems in our bodies. The physical element of the nervous system is compromised of molecules we call neurotransmitters. Each neurotransmitter has a unique and one of a kind shape, much like a puzzle piece. And each of the transmitters also has a corresponding receptor within the nervous system. So when the molecular two piece puzzle is put together an electrical signal is sent off, just like the connection in an electrical circuit powering a light bulb.
Why is cannabidiol so unique? Actually, it’s because it’s essentially a physiological skeleton-key, it fits into multiple receptors within the nervous allowing it to act as the key to open various doors within our bodies. Health is a puzzle that you have to assemble, wouldn’t it be convenient to have a piece that could adapt to wherever you needed it to fit? Wouldn’t that make it easier to complete the puzzle of homeostasis and health? Well, that’s almost what CBD does. CBD can fit into and work with your opioid, dopamine and serotonin receptors. Scientists hypothesize that it functions with even more receptors but due to the difficulty of studying the compound stateside the science is currently limited in scope.
Confused about exactly what CBD fitting into all these receptors means? Well, if opioid receptors sound familiar it’s because that’s the physiological pathway in our bodies through which opiate drugs like codeine, fentanyl, and heroin reduce pain. You have probably heard the term thrown about in the news lately in reference to our nation’s evolving opioid epidemic. The president himself even labeled it a public health emergency. Why are these drugs such a problem here in the states and not nearly as much abroad? Well, it might have something to do with our doctors are making money from the drug companies as they are financially incentivized by writing the prescriptions for these drugs. In fact the United States actually makes up more than 70% of the global opioid prescriptions written every year.
Dopamine receptors are in charge of a variety of things in the body. They’re a type of receptor located all over the brain and different sorts of dopamine receptors command several different systems in the body. They relay the necessary signals which enable physical movement in the body in some parts of the brain, where mutations in genetics can lead to tremors. The D4 receptors can be problematic with mutations as these receptors can lead to everything from Parkinson’s disease to attention deficit hyperactive disorder when they don’t work as they’re designed to. Other varieties of dopamine receptors affect the generation of new neurons within the nervous system. Some other dopamine receptors impact memory and our sense of smell. So, it’s no stretch of the imagination to surmise that a molecule which can fit into a slew of dopamine receptors can certainly serve for its share of medical treatments.
Serotonin is usually referred to as “the happy chemical” but the receptors themselves affect more than just our happiness. These puppies control the release of epinephrine, commonly known as adrenaline and its counterpart norepinephrine. They also govern the release of acetylcholine which influences, attention, arousal, motivation and even memory. The same receptors command the release of hormone cascades which influence everything from sleep to aggression. The summary of the story is simpler: if CBD can functionally interact with serotonin, dopamine and opioid receptors it is a powerful molecule with broad medical applications.
Different from THC, the compound in the cannabis plant that gives the famous weed ‘high,’ CBD is non psychoactive. The effects are only physical and physiological. CBD functions not only through its prized ability to fit into the receptors of other compounds but also through the body’s own endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is also composed of multiple kinds of receptors, among them the CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are primarily filled by either THC or our body’s own endocannabinoids. That’s right, our bodies actually manufacture cannabinoids on their own, they don’t just grow on trees and in weed plants. The endocannabinoid system is linked into such qualities in the body as inflammation, temperature regulation, nociception or the sensation of pain.
So, if I did my job, with this little science crash course with a dash of chemistry and a little anatomy and physiology you can have a clearer idea of exactly what cannabidiol is. The summary is basically that this stuff changes the game. Especially in its whole plant form when it’s able to interact synergistically with other cannabinoid compounds like THC and CBG. Once these compounds all start working together they’re stronger and more potent. The same way a chair is more stable than a unicycle, four cannabinoids are better than one.
A cancer diagnosis is tough enough on a patient and their family. Between the shock and financial stress of the diagnosis itself and the search for the right treatment for your cancer, it can be beyond overwhelming. Finding a way to eliminate the cancer cells in a patient’s body without killing the patient is difficult. A slew of studies over the last decade has shown the potential for cannabis oils as an effective alternative to chemo and traditional cancer medications. However, as cannabis itself is a federally regulated schedule 1 substance, doctors aren’t able to do much in the way of research to develop drugs using the many compounds in the cannabis plant.
As a result, little is known about the exact mechanisms by which cannabis is able to work its magic on cancer patients. A German study confirms this exact problem. Some international studies shed light on the way it all functions, like this Spanish one. One of the ways that tumors grow so rapidly in the human body is that they switch on vasogenic genes in our bodies. In layman’s terms, tumors grow their own blood vessels to divert blood and the nutrients inside it from the rest of our body that really needs it. Tumors accomplish by using those genes to manufacture a chemical named vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF. In a study performed on mice, cannabinoids were able to stop the body from producing VEGF and growing the tumors.
So, the doctors injected cannabinoids directly into the brain tumors of two patients who had not responded to radiation or chemotherapy treatment. And can you begin to fathom what happened? The patients both experienced a significant reduction in VEGF levels in their tumors, meaning the cannabinoids did indeed impair the tumor’s ability to grow and divert blood flow from other parts of the body. Strangely, this study was conducted in 2004 and further investigation has not been done on the subject.
The moral of the story is that there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that CBD oil and be a good supplementary addition to a cancer treatment plan but as of now, there is no cure. Hopefully with all these studies going on all over the world and the FDA showing flexibility and willingness to make these promising new treatments more publicly available there will be some form of cure in the next decade. But every cancer is different and since cancer comes from our own bodies it can evolve with the treatments as it has thus far. Regardless, CBD oil helps the body to maintain homeostasis and simply cannot hurt if you or someone you love is suffering from cancer.