Researchers Discover Potential Cancer-Fighting Properties in Cannabis

Could cannabis finally treat cancer directly?

Cannabis can influence the genetic changes caused by cancer. Image Credit: Jovan Vitanovski on Shutterstock

Cancer is a difficult illness that comes in many forms, and has the potential to affect many aspects of a person’s life: not only their physical health, but mental and emotional wellness along with it. Fatigue, depression, nausea, pain, and loss of appetite are just a few of the numerous ways that cancer can affect a person’s quality of life while battling this disease, and while some of these effects are simply part of having cancer, others may be due to the medications or methods that are used to treat the illness itself.

Because cancer treatments often come with their own slew of side effects, many cancer patients are turning to cannabis as a means to help relieve their pain and discomfort. The side effects one cancer patient experiences may be different from another due to a variety of reasons like type of cancer, response to treatment, or medications taken.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer actually refers to a “collection of related diseases” in which cells in one part of the body begin to divide and spread to other organs and tissues. In a normal healthy body, cells regenerate and replace old or damaged cells with new ones but, in the case of cancer, these unhealthy cells don’t die when they should, leaving the body with an overabundance of both unhealthy cells and the new cells it generated to replace them.

Unhealthy cells are what create solid masses called tumors–except in the case of blood cancers like leukemia where tumors aren’t solid–and they can either be malignant, the type that can spread, or less-threatening benign tumors, which don’t spread throughout the body.

Cancer is the result of some kind of genetic change–caused by tobacco smoke, too much sun exposure, or inherited from our parents, for example–which allow cancer cells to grow and take control of normal blood cells, blood vessels, or the immune system so that the cancer cells aren’t attacked and destroyed by the body as they normally would be in a healthy person.

What Types of Cancer Treatments Are There?

The American Cancer Society says that all types of cancer are more likely to be cured if detected and treated in the early stages. You can do your part to prevent some types of cancer, like skin or breast cancer, by doing simple self-examinations, then talking to your doctor if you find lumps or concerning changes in your body. If you’re at the point of a cancer diagnosis, the next step is to find treatment to get rid of it.

These days, there are many treatment options for cancer patients and some of them you may know:

Surgery is a very common treatment for certain types of cancer where a surgeon removes the affected tissue from the body. This could be major surgery where you would need to be in the hospital overnight, or a simple day surgery–it all depends on where the cancer is located and the size of the tumor.

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells and prevent them from producing more, and it’s often used in conjunction with other treatments.

Radiation therapy is typically done through x-rays, and is used to eliminate cancer cells by damaging the cells’ DNA. This is a fairly aggressive therapy and other healthy cells can be damaged in the process, however our normal cells are typically good at healing themselves.

Hormone therapy works by lowering hormone levels which can help stop the growth of cancer, and this type of treatment works best against cancer in the breasts or reproductive organs.

Stem cell and bone marrow transplant: Leukemia and cancers of the lymphatic system are often treated by stem cell transplants and sometimes in combination with chemotherapy, radiation, or bone marrow transplants with the goal of replenishing the body’s supply of stem cells (where blood comes from) so that chemotherapy is better tolerated by the body.

Whatever treatment your doctor decides is best for you will come with its own set of side effects. The recovery period from cancer can be an uncomfortable, painful and many times disheartening ordeal.

Cannabis has become an effective treatment for many patients who are battling the effects of cancer, and just like cancer has a spectrum of treatment options, the healing power of the cannabis plant can vary in potency and effect. Two of the major cannabinoids in cannabis, called THC and CBD, hold many therapeutic benefits for various health complaints, so when patients are seeking cannabis-derived products, like CBD oil, for their ailments, the amount of THC and/or CBD a product contains will determine if it meets the patient’s needs.

What Types of Cannabis Treat Cancer Symptoms?

There is little evidence to support the use of one cannabis strain over another for any particular condition or cancer symptom. This is because many strains are similar in their effects and consistency of CBD and THC. They sometimes only differ by a few percent. More THC or CBD may be good for an ailment and therefore it would be common sense to presume that a strain with more either is better, but these findings are primarily based on anecdotal evidence and what little research there is on medical cannabis. Below are some of the symptoms of cancer that which cannabis has been used to treat.

Pain relief: THC contains strong pain relieving properties, but CBD has an analgesic effect of its own. For pain relief you need during the day, CBD can counteract the unwanted effects of THC like psychoactivity while boosting the benefits, so treatments with just a bit of THC and high CBD content are suited to your needs.

Loss of appetite: in a 2017 study focused on cannabis use in cancer patients, the majority had increased appetite after THC treatment, and patients who took a combination of THC and CBD had even better results. These cannabinoids can also treat nausea connected with cancer, and oral treatments like cannabis capsules or tinctures have shown to be effective, though vaping could be useful if you have an upset stomach.

Depression: according to Neuropharmacology, CBD has rapid antidepressant effects when introduced into the bloodstream, so using CBD oil tinctures that you drop under your tongue or vaporizing CBD oil could be the fastest ways for you to harness these effects.

Fatigue: recent clinical research says that CBD may be advisable for patients to help fight fatigue, however past studies indicate that CBD dosage should be kept low because high amounts of CBD can cause sedation. Ingesting small amounts of CBD edibles can help fight your fatigue for longer, while using CBD oil tinctures or vaporizers let you control your dosage with faster effects.

A strain by the name of durban poison is often referred to as the cancer killing cannabis strain and recommended by dispensaries for the ailments mentioned above. However the evidence behind these claims in primarily anecdotal and you should consult your doctor before using it for any condition or cancer related symptom.

Cannabis in Your Personal Cancer Treatment

Cancer is indeed a battle that comes with many challenges but cannabis treatments offer some of the same benefits of standard cancer treatments without adverse effects. Patients should talk to their doctor and approach cannabis remedies with care due to the many differences in THC or CBD content, method of use, dosage, and effects. It may help to read studies on cancer patient experiences with cannabis treatments, and remember that cannabis, THC or CBD oil can be used alone or as a supplement to your current treatments.

The content on cannabisMD is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Megan Solga
Megan Solga
Megan Solga is an international educator and mental health advocate with a background in medicinal cannabis research. She enjoys whiskey, bluegrass, and life in the mountains.

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