One of the most exciting recent developments in cannabis research is that cannabis has possible cancer fighting properties. It has been understood for a long time that cannabis is one of the most effective tools for preventing nausea when undergoing chemotherapy. Yet, in the last 10 years, the evidence has mounted for cannabinoids (the chemicals in cannabis that affect the endocannabinoid system) having “antiproliferative, anti-metastatic, antiangiogenic, and proapoptotic effects.” In other words, they stop cancer cells from growing, spreading, stealing blood supply, and can even kill them.
This is very good news. Cannabis is a highly tolerable, cheap, and safe drug when used appropriately. Many of the drugs used to fight cancer can make people very ill; they are essentially toxins that kill cancer slightly better than they kill our cells. If cannabis lives up to the hopes of many scientists, it can offer a much more tolerable method of fighting different types of cancer, which should improve survival and health prospects.
It should be stressed at this juncture that the evidence used in this article is only preliminary, pre-clinical data. Studies in labs with cell cultures and animals has indicated the potential of cannabinoids to kill cancer cells, but the results have yet to be replicated in human trials. Most studies that work with animals do not translate safely to and similarly in humans. This could be the case for cannabis, but we do not know as of yet.
This has not stopped the hype. Hundreds of articles on the internet have claimed incredible anti-cancer properties, citing remarkable recoveries and remissions when cannabis has been administered. Some doctors have spoke of their patients cancerous and terminal tumors shrinking from cannabis use. Hopefully, these accounts are representative and are part of a widening pattern of cannabis use for treating different types of cancer.
However, at this time, we do not know. Anecdotal evidence is not enough to conclude anything, the matter needs to be studied in the same way other cancer drugs are. This takes years and millions of dollars. There is research going on right now but it will be some time before the conclusions can be assessed.
The Endocannabinoid System
Throughout the human body, there is an ancient but relatively recently discovered system of receptors. Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in various ways, altering how it communicates and behaves. In recent years, the role of the endocannabinoid system in cancer growth and metastasis (spread) has been investigated, suggesting a role for cannabinoids in the treatments of cancer.
Neuroblastoma is an aggressive cancer. It is the most common type of cancer in children. It has a relatively high long-term survival rate, if discovered early and in the low-risk category. For high risk groups it is as low as 20%. The treatment is brutal. Treatment includes:
Dr. Tamar Fisher has been investigating the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD and THC are the two most abundant and well-studied cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. The mechanism for action of these two chemicals is not entirely understood but they are better known than other cannabinoids. The findings of her research suggest that “cannabinoids might be effective in treating the cancer itself.” She also suggests that the use of cannabidiol, which is not psychoactive, could be a preferable treatment for young and developing brains.
Gliomas are the most frequently occurring type of malignant primary brain tumour. As well as being extremely aggressive, gliomas are usually incurable. Most people when develop this disease face a painful death. Initial evidence has shown that cannabinoids “slow the growth of different types of tumours, including gliomas, in laboratory animals.” In labs, cannabinoids have been shown to kill glioma cells and inhibit their spread and growth. The remarkable feature of cannabinoids in treating cancer is that they seem to target cancer cells specifically, preventing healthy, non-cancerous cells from dying.
Of the common types of cancer, pancreatic adenocarcinoma has one of the lowest survival rates. Often by the time symptoms have started to appear, it is too late. Tests are improving, and screening helps, but still the majority of people who develop pancreatic cancer die within a few years.
Some preclinical trials have shown cannabinoids can induce apoptosis (causing cells to explode) in pancreatic cancer cells. Cannabinoids were able to prevent the cancer’s spread and stop the cancerous cells from expressing certain proteins necessary for their survival. As in gliomas, cannabinoids were very specific in their targeting, leaving normal and healthy cells alone. Many chemotherapies are not this specific and can cause damage or even further cancers. If clinical trials prove this is effective in humans, a new, more tolerable treatment for pancreatic cancer could soon be discovered.
Unfortunately, because of the continuing prohibition of cannabis and cannabinoid extracts around the world, studies into these effects have proven difficult. Some countries, like Portugal and Canada, have legalized or decriminalized cannabis for recreational and medicinal uses. Yet, other countries like the USA and the UK, two of the biggest producers of science in the world, continue with prohibition.
This has made it often impossible to do large-scale clinical trials of any quality. However, the UK is currently rivisting their medical marijuana laws and many states in the US have legalized medical cannabis on the state level.
In the meantime, the consequence of this prohibition is that people may be dying or suffering needlessly because they have been denied a potential form of treatment.
The use of cannabis for treating cancer looks hopeful, but at this time there is not enough evidence for it to be conclusive. There are stories of people halting their regular cancer treatment and using cannabis instead, often dying as a result. If you are thinking about using cannabis for cancer treatment, you should do so in consultation with your doctor. It is an unproven treatment that might interact with the drugs you are prescribed in a negative way. Cannabis could also be extremely helpful, especially if it is in concentrated forms like cannabis oil. Nobody knows at this time, so caution is advised.
Cannabis is a relatively tolerable and safe drug with proven effects on nausea and appetite loss from chemotherapy. Medical cannabis my available near you for the side effects of chemotherapy. Many people are turning to its use for a range of ailments. Until further studies properly investigate the use of cannabis as a cancer therapy, it cannot be recommended for this purpose in place of conventional treatments.