Cannabis For Cancer Needs More Support

Research on cannabis for cancer needs further studies

Cannabis cancer-based treatments are used to treat vomiting and nausea associated with chemotherapy and, have also been used to increase the effectiveness of some opioid analgesics in the treatment of pain resulting from cancer. Cannabinoids–chemicals unique to the cannabis plant–have several effects that can help cancer patients potentially increase their quality of life. The results of effectiveness are highly dependant on the patient and situation. Increasing quality and duration of sleep, anxiolytic effects (decreasing anxiety), even decreasing depression associated with a cancer diagnosis and pain. Many who are experiencing stage 4 cancer have tried using cannabis as a treatment, some of them have even had success, the many testimonials out there can’t be entirely unfounded.

The strongest research we have supports cannabis as use to curb or prevent pain. It has a great ability to distract from the pain. Preventing and reducing both nerve (neuropathic) as well as organ pain. Weaker evidence exists supporting its use for preventing nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy. In addition, research supports that it can be used to promote appetite and help increase weight gain in patients. Cannabis has a great potential to increase cancer patients quality of life. THC in low doses can elevate mood. CBD another cannabinoid can be effective in treating anxiety.

Cannabinoid-based cancer treatments are often encountered by cancer patients in difficult situations looking for a cure that has not been properly researched. Encountering a testimonial stating that cannabis cured an individual’s cancer might seem promising and can even be true. It’s important to recognize that many of these dubious claims are not supported by actual scientific evidence though. Despite that cannabis has been used historically to treat cancer. In the 1950s in London, the Royal Brompton Hospital used a drug cocktail for treating cancer pain–chloroform, cocaine, morphine and, cannabis. This continued for 70 years until it was replaced by modern opiate-based painkillers.

Do not neglect conventional cancer treatments by replacing them with cannabis. Never end a traditional treatment for a cannabinoid-based treatment without serious consideration. Ask the advice of an oncologist. In the case of using a conventional treatment or a cannabis treatment—don’t choose one—choose both.

Here are some exceptional situations in which using cannabinoids to treat cancer makes sense.

  • There is no other option for cancer treatment.
  • A prognosis looks bad despite conventional treatments.
  • Cannabis is indicated as a viable treatment.
  • You are part of a working clinical trial.
  • You are working with someone experienced with both cancers and cannabinoids.
  • Cancer that you have has overwhelmingly positive anecdotal evidence for treatment of it.
  • Adapted from Cannabis Pharmacy—Michael Backes 2nd edition.

Oncologists–doctors that specialize in cancer—are often supportive of using cannabinoids adjunctly. Meaning it is added to other treatments instead of being used to treat cancer itself. Until we have more scientific evidence, cannabis will remain an adjunct treatment rather than being used to treat cancer per se. Though using cannabis to treat major symptoms associated with cancer is not uncommon.

More research into cancer treatments is certainly justified but, cannabis is still considered a schedule 1 drug in the US Federal Government and by the DEA. NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) has the monopoly on providing the US Federally mandated medical cannabis. Disappointingly NIDA will only support research focused on the negative effects of cannabis leaving no clear way to go forward with research legally. Usually, NIDA research focuses on the dangers of being under the influence of cannabis while operating a motor vehicle and such similar studies. We need more research to understand the therapeutic potential of cannabis but, NIDA continually supports only research focused on the negative effects. This has kept cancer-cannabinoid research in limbo and is an affront to patients that might improve their quality of life with the use of cannabis therapies.

The last patient that received NIDA approved medical marijuana used it for treatment of multiple congenital cartilaginous exostoses. This ailment consists of tumors that stretch muscles and veins which in turn causes dangerous internal bleeding. Cannabis aided them by acting as a muscle relaxant. (Waiting to Inhale: Marijuana, Medicine and the Law).

NIDA is certainly correct in stating that we need more clinical trials using cannabis before moving forward with public access. That’s sensibly what people and regulation require. Asserting that we don’t have enough evidence is in ignorance of the fact that federally mandated drug policies are preventing economical research from occurring.

This reflects poorly upon a movement that has been the hallmark of cannabis legalization in the US, the medical marijuana patients. Many states are moving forward with recreational legalization while leaving medical patients behind. This is not only unethical but it also is a failure to support those who need medicine like cannabis the most. Whether you are a cannabis advocate or not, consider that patients need access to cannabis the most. Medical research is what we need to understand the actual risks and benefits associated with cannabis use. The blanket statement that it has no medical applications (schedule 1) is simply untrue. NIDA won’t provide the cannabis to medical studies so we continually don’t have data required to create a stable case for cannabis as a medicine.

If US Federal Government policy were to favor research into cannabis as a whole plant medicine, it would certainly be more economically viable for companies to invest in research of it. And we might be able to eliminate some of the implicit social taboos associated with cannabis use—many of them are completely unfounded and beyond outdated.

Stages of Cancer

Stages of cancer are used to describe how far cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis. Depending on the type of cancer, stages explain different things. There are a numerical system and a TWM system used to describe stages of cancer.

Numerical System

  • Stage 0 cancer – in situ meaning cancer has not spread from where it started.
  • Stage 1 cancer – may have spread a little bit to adjacent tissue but has not spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2 and 3 cancer – has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
  • Stage 4 cancer- also known as advanced cancer. It is used to describe when cancer has spread to distant parts of the body from the origin.

Cannabinoid medicines that are used in cancer are touted to be modern but in reality, they might end up being less effective than cannabis itself. Nabilone is one pill. Dronabinol is another pill that is used in treating illnesses—ranging from anorexia, HIV/AIDS, as well as chemotherapy to provide relief from nausea and vomiting (U.S. Library of Medicine 2017). Patients have often found that dronabinol can be excessively strong. Smoking or vaporizing cannabis has shown to be easier for patients to titrate doses of cannabinoids that are not excessively strong. In the case of an orally ingested pill like dronabinol dosage can be difficult to ascertain.

Cancer is many different types of disease, not just one so, we can’t use a blanket term and say, cannabis cures cancer, it might help but we are lacking clinical evidence and research. In animal and cell culture models cannabinoids have shown to have activity showing potential for treatment of cancer. In certain models, cannabinoids have shown to encourage cancer cell growth rather than decrease it. This seems to be the case with lower doses of cannabinoids potentiating growth of unhealthy cells and higher doses decreasing growth. It depends on the type of cancer as well. Asking medical cannabis patients is probably a good way to connect to a support network that can help answer questions about cannabis and cancer.

Some ways that cannabinoids are showing promise in treating cancer.

Induction of cell death – Cannabinoids are being researched to help treat cancer treatment due to some of them promoting programmed cell death of cancer cells (US Dept Medicine 2018). This process known as apoptosis is a natural and healthy process that cancer cells block to grow and spread

Inhibition – of cancer cell growth

Metastasis – migration of pathogenic cells or infection within a host.

Angiogenesis – formation of blood vessels cannabinoids and terpenes might have the ability to cut the nutrient supply off to a cancerous tumor.

Terpenes — anxiolytic analgesic cytotoxic and so much more.

Terpenes are a buzzword you might have heard if you are involved in cannabis culture. You might commonly associate them with your ‘blissed out dabster’ or budtender but they are so much more. Terpenes are chemicals naturally produced by plants—among other organisms like mammals—that mitigate interactions with their environment. Terpenes have many roles in the natural world some beneficial for human metabolism as well as medicinal applications. Here is a handy chart listing prominent terpenes and some of their biological effects. All of the information in the chart is taken from Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases (USDA).

TerpeneAroma and FlavorMedical benefits
β-CaryophylleneSpicy and astringentAnti-inflammatory, analgesic
Humulene (α-caryophyllene)HoppySedative, menopause regulation
Pinene (alpha/beta)α-evergreen, β-muskAnti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory
LinaloolLavenderAnesthetic, anti-convulsant
Limonene (alpha/beta)α-Citrus, β-turpentineAnti-anxiety, anti-depressant
MyrceneHerbal, berry, tropical-fruitEntourage effect with C. indica

Pinene – α-Pinene has green wood and pine scents like a forest after rain, β-Pinene has muskier aromas like mint and basil and is found in plants like lime, ginger, nutmeg, mace, bitter fennel, rosemary and, sage. Both α-Pinene and β-Pinene are aromatic constituents of tree sap. Due to the lipophilic (anti-H20) nature of pinene terpenes, they are able to pass the blood-brain barrier which, might be an important aspect of their inherent medical applications that can be exploited pathologically.

Cancer is not currently treatable with cannabis but associated symptoms are. In the future, it is entirely possible that cannabis will be used to treat cancer.

I did not encounter any medical studies in relation to inhaled cannabis treating cancer. But other options are available out there. Pharmaceutical companies have come up with cannabinoid pills. Sativex is orally ingested and you spray it under your tongue. Medications from pharmaceutical companies can be extremely expensive. In the case of cannabis, it might be much more affordable to grow or process it into usable forms for titration easily. Cannabis oil might be an option. You can add it to food or use oil topically. Cannabis can be juiced as a whole plant. Smoking and vaping of course.

Until further research occurs we will probably continue to hear that ‘there is not enough data out there’, ‘cannabis doesn’t cure cancer’—when in reality the anecdotes and testimonials provided by many cancer patients are in support of medical cannabis. Cannabis as an invaluable boon to our economy. Research and consumption is practically an act of patriotism at this point. Patients need it. Our country should unite under the premise that we should be at the forefront of medical cannabis research. Let us put aside draconian legislation developed under the Federal Bureau of Narcotics nearly a century ago that put cannabis use in the underground and move forward with a healthier future for cancer patients in not only the US but, the rest of the world.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
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