The word cancer can send shivers down your spine. Finding out that you or a loved one has cancer is a frightening experience, and not just because of the disease. This word could mean many months (or years) of aggressive treatments take away your quality of life. Nausea, fatigue, depression, and loss of appetite are sure to follow your rounds of treatment. This isn’t to say that these treatments can’t be effective. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are two of the most common treatments for cancer, and they have been proven to effectively kill cancer cells. However, these treatments come with side effects such as anemia, bleeding and bruising, delirium, edema, hair loss, fertility issues, nerve damage, and pain. As if cancer isn’t bad enough, suffering through the side effects of the treatments can often drive a person to give up on the treatments altogether. Dr. Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer said,
“There are hundreds, if not thousands, who undergo too much therapy and too much suffering for every one person that we have who ends up having a miracle.”
This isn’t to say that the therapy itself is always to blame. Cancer is a brutal disease all on its own and doesn’t need help from any outside sources to be devastating. But hope can fade more quickly when the treatments seem to be causing more harm than good. In many cases, it’s the doctors themselves who recommend their patients end therapy in order to savor their last moments of life.
This was the case of Joe Clark, a Florida businessman, who was diagnosed with colon cancer at 27 years old. This diagnosis came just two short months before his wedding. For a while, the treatments seemed to be working for Joe. However, after Joe’s wife found out that she was pregnant, the couple was also given the devastating news that Joe’s cancer had spread.
The doctor told Joe that he would be on chemotherapy indefinitely. This news brought a shock to the Clarks’ lives. With a new baby on the way, the last thing they wanted to think about was undergoing more aggressive therapies to kill cancer that just didn’t seem to go away. After numerous rounds of chemo that caused mouth sores and a failed abdominal surgery that left Joe with painful scar tissue and a problematic ostomy bag, the couple began to rethink their plan of action.
When they moved to Indianapolis, a doctor finally told them that the fight needed to stop. Treatments weren’t making Joe any better, and he only had so much life left. He needed to make the most of it. Joe’s wife remembers when the decision was made. It was almost a relief to not be fighting anymore.
“I was able to be his wife versus being the one pushing all the meds,” Amanda Evans-Clark recalls, “I was only given two more months with him but I would say they were some of the best months I had with him.”
Sometimes giving up treatment doesn’t really mean giving up life. In Joe’s case, it meant enjoying the life that he had left to the fullest. It’s true that sometimes treatments just don’t work. It is equally true that the treatments themselves can be unbearably aggressive. Cannabis can help with these side effects. Some studies show that cannabis can even help with killing cancer cells as well.
According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, cancer is the “uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body.” This happens when the body’s normal cell lifecycle functions abnormally. Instead of the old cells dying they grow new abnormal cells instead. These cells can form tumors in the body or will lie in the bloodstream such as with leukemia. Cancers such as breast, mouth, skin, and testicle can often be detected at home by self-testing for any lumps. When these lumps have been detected a visit to your doctor will be needed to decide whether or not it is cancerous and what treatments may be appropriate.
When treatments are administered, they often include common therapies such as:
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs can also prevent more cancer cells from growing. This therapy is oftentimes used along with other therapies.
Radiation therapy: According to the National Cancer Institute “radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells.” This is either done by a machine outside of the body or may be done by placing radioactive substances near the cancer cells. Radiation therapy kills the cancer cells by damaging their DNA, which prevents the cells from multiplying which eventually ends in cell death.
Hormone Therapy: Cancer cells rely heavily on hormone levels, which means that by adjusting the levels of hormones in the body, it could help to slow the growth of cancer. With hormone therapy, doctors will lower the hormone levels to slow down the production of cancer cells. This isn’t effective with all cancers, but with those involving the reproductive system, it can work well.
These therapies can be very aggressive, however, and come with their own set of side effects. While chemotherapy can effectively target and kill cancer cells, it can do some damage to the rest of your body as well.
Chemo comes with a discouraging list of side effects that include:
Hot flashes and menopause
Loss of appetite
Nausea and vomiting
Poor coordination and tired muscles
Swollen hands and feet
Anxiety and depression
These effects vary from person to person and may be more severe in some depending on their health otherwise.
Radiation therapy has a few side effects of its own as well. These include:
Sunburn or red skin
Hair loss in the area being treated
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or indigestion
Sores in the mouth
Hormone therapy can have some adverse reactions in the body as well. These effects differ for men and women. Some common side effects for men who receive hormone therapy include:
Enlarged and tender breasts
Some common effects experienced by women who receive hormone therapy include:
Irregular menstrual cycle
No matter how severe the effects of these therapies are, they are certain to interfere with day to day life in some way. Many patients look for relief from their symptoms, and oftentimes it can be hard to find. Cannabis has now become known as a viable option for relieving many of these side effects. The most common effects that cannabis is used to relieve in cancer patients include:
Nausea and vomiting
Depression and anxiety
Loss of appetite
There are even specific strains of cannabis that can help more than others. For example, many turn to the strain Blackberry Kush to relieve pain, while others are using Durban Poison to treat their nausea. The strain Bubba Kush is particularly good for stimulating your appetite, and Blue Dream is known to be great for treating depression. Others such as Super Silver Haze and Jack Herrer are known to be great for fighting fatigue. Not every cannabis plant is created the same, and it’s important to know which may be best for you.
However, cannabis may be good for more than just treating the adverse effects of conventional cancer therapies.
CBD or cannabidiol is the non-psychotropic cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, and it has been receiving a lot of attention for its ability to treat illnesses and disorders such as anxiety, epilepsy, inflammation and even acne. It also may soon be a viable option as a cancer treatment as well.
In an article published by the American Association for Cancer Research, CBD actually demonstrated the ability to kill breast cancer cells. The results of this study concluded that cannabidiol can specifically target cancer cells without damaging the surrounding breast tissue. This cannot be said about chemotherapy and radiation therapy as they both can damage other parts of the body as well as the cancer cells. Another study that was conducted by a team of researchers from Italy and the UK was published in Phytomedicine that suggests that cannabis extracts high in CBD can help to prevent the spread of colon cancer in mice. Their results showed that BDS or a “botanical drug substance” with high levels of CBD stopped the growth of cancer cells, but did not affect the growth of new healthy cells. The researchers concluded that this reaction has to do with the CBD working with the CB1 and CB2 receptors inside the cells.
When cannabinoids in the cannabis plant enter the body, these chemicals work with the endocannabinoid system. While THC can bind to the CB1 receptors in the brain which can give a feeling of euphoria or dysphoria, CBD can actually work with these receptors without making you high. This means that using pure CBD oil has no negative psychoactive effects and can be safely taken without interfering with your everyday activities. Also, the few mild side effects that have been reported by those who have used CBD are fairly rare.
When compared to the currently available cancer treatments, CBD could be a much safer and effective treatment that could leave patients healthier and happier during their recovery.
Though there isn’t sufficient research to confidently say that CBD is an effective option for cancer treatment yet, these studies show that there is room for hope and much need for more research to be conducted.
If you are suffering from the side effects of cancer treatments, consult your doctor to see if cannabis is right for you. Also, stay updated on the new discoveries of what CBD can do for cancer. CBD as a treatment for cancer may be just around the corner.
Click here for more information about how cannabis can help you during your fight with cancer.