Cannabis And Cancer - Can Cannabis Cure Cancer?

Mar 2, 2022

Medicinal Cannabis has been linked with treating various conditions, and among its long list is cancer treatment. There isn't an extensive study done to prove medicinal cannabis as a treatment for cancer, and small studies done haven't been conclusive either.

Still, experts believe that cannabis compounds may help with cancer symptoms and the side effects of cancer treatment, like nausea from chemotherapy.

Here’s what we know about cannabis and cancer.

What Is Cancer?

Cancer describes a disease that results when cellular changes cause uncontrolled growth and division of cells. Cancers develop in various ways, with some inducing slow cell growth, others rapid cell growth, and others observable proliferation (tumours).

The natural order is that cells should live out their lifespan and eventually die in a process known as apoptosis. Cancerous cells go against the grain and refuse the instruction to stop dividing and die.

These tenacious cells multiply and consume oxygen and nutrients intended for other cells. As a result, the immune system suffers, tumours grow, and the body's ability to function properly is hampered.

Causes Of Cancer

There is no specific cause for cancer other than the abnormal behavior of cancer cells, which can help you in its detection. However, there are common risk factors for cancer, including:

• Obesity and weight
• Lack of exercise
• Poor nutrition
• High alcohol intake
• Age
• Genetics

Popular Cancer Treatments include:

Cancer treatment is prescribed based on the type of cancer, diagnosis stage, and the patient's general health.

Examples of cancer treatment approaches include:

• Chemotherapy - It involves taking medications that target rapidly dividing cells but come with severe side effects like nausea and vomiting.

• Immunotherapy - These are medications that boost the immune system and strengthen it to combat cancer cells.

• Hormone therapy - This is a medication used for the case of breast and prostate cancer. Hormone medication can help alleviate these conditions.

• Precision medicine - This is a new method of treatment that delves into an individual's genetic makeup, and medical solutions are engineered specifically to the individual's presentation of cancer.

• Radiation therapy- High doses of radiation are targeted at cancerous cells to kill them or shrink tumours.

• Stem cell transplant - This is a standard treatment for those with blood-related cancers like leukaemia. White and red blood cells are extracted from the patient, strengthened then put back into the body.

• Surgery - This is an invasive form of medication conducted when a patient has a cancerous tumor. The affected organ or growth is removed to reduce or prevent the spread of the disease.

Another option is to investigate medicinal cannabis, which is claimed to have anti-cancer properties.

**What Is Medicinal Cannabis? **

Medicinal Cannabis entails cannabis phytochemicals that give cannabis its therapeutic effects.

Common cannabis phytochemicals include major cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. Cannabis plant also contains hundreds of minor cannabinoids as well as terpenes and flavonoids.

THC is known for its psychoactive effects, while CBD is known to be non-psychoactive, non-addictive and very safe.

Medicinal cannabis contains various proportions of THC and CBD and other components of the plant.

All cannabis compounds are essential for delivering important health benefits. The compounds necessitate an action called the ‘Entourage Effect.’ This is where cannabis compounds, cannabinoids, and other phytochemicals work together to cause therapeutic effects.

Cannabis interacts with the endocannabinoid system and many other metabolic pathways in the body to cause its health benefits.

Legalizing cannabis for medicinal use has opened up the opportunity to study this plant for its health benefits, for example, its role in managing cancer.

Can Cannabis Prevent Cancer?

The National Cancer Institute reviewed various studies on cannabis and cancer. They discovered a mixture of results.

In one case, a study from the United States found that cannabis consumption reduced the risk of tobacco-related malignancies [1]. The study also found that people who never smoked tobacco but used cannabis had a higher risk of prostate cancer.

In another case, there was an intriguing link between cannabis and bladder cancer [2]. According to the study, participants who used cannabis had a 45 percent lower risk of bladder cancer.

CBD's effect on cancer prevention is unknown, and more long-term research is needed to determine its role.
Marijuana has also been suggested to help with symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment.

Can Medicinal Cannabis Help Symptoms of Cancer?

Studies on cannabinoids in cannabis plants suggest it can help treat various symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment:

• Neuropathy- Neuropathy is a feeling of numbness or burning in hands and feet that can result from chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Animal studies have shown cannabis can help relieve symptoms of nerve damage. Clinical trials on humans turned in inconclusive results.

• Emesis- Nausea and vomiting are side effects of chemotherapy. Some FDA-approved cannabinoid drugs like nabilone and dronabinol are effective for chemo-induced emesis.
• Pain- Where conventional therapies have proved ineffective, cannabis can effectively alleviate pain. It has potent anti-inflammatory properties and might modulate pain perception.

• Appetite and weight loss- Some studies have indicated that THC can help improve appetite and slow weight loss for patients with advanced cancer.

The most substantial relation between cancer and cannabis is in alleviating the symptoms of cancer. So, does cannabis have a role in curing cancer?

Can Cannabis Cure Cancer?

Despite the many claims that cannabis cures cancer, there's no concrete evidence to support it as the magic bullet for curing cancer. Having said that, there have been some encouraging studies indicating that cannabis may be helpful in the treatment of cancer. Lab research on highly purified CBD and THC has yielded the best results. However, these studies were conducted on cancer cells in vitro rather than on humans.

One notable study looked at the effects of cannabis in the therapy of tumours [3]. Cannabinoids alter cellular processes and signalling pathways that are
important for tumor formation. They can aid in promoting apoptosis, the inhibition of tumor cell proliferation, inhibition of angiogenesis and anti-metastatic.

Another study at the Experimental Cancer Medicine Center (ECMC) looked into the effects of Sativex in the treatment of glioblastoma.

While preliminary findings are promising, the body of research on cannabis's ability to cure cancer is limited and can't justify its use in cancer treatment.

Side Effects of Cannabis

Cannabis interacts with endocannabinoid system and many other metabolic pathways in the human body. In comparison to other medications, cannabis may have less adverse effects.

Moreover, unlike many conventional medications, there is no risk of overdosing on CBD or THC. Cannabis, unlike opiates, does not affect CNS’s respiratory function.
Most people tolerate medicinal cannabis well. However, there are some mild cases of fatigue, nausea, change in appetite and weight. CBD doesn’t cause dependence, as evidenced by a study on the FDA-approved cannabis-based epilepsy treatment Epidiolex.

CBD may interfere with the function of other drugs, such as grapefruit, necessitating consultation with your doctor before using it [5].

Takeaway

While there's a case for cannabis’ therapeutic effects in alleviating cancer symptoms and treatment side effects, we don’t have enough evidence to suggest that it can cure cancer.

It’s important that patients consult their doctor before turning to cannabis to manage cancer treatment symptoms.

References

  1. Marijuana Use And Cancer Incidence (California, United States) - PubMed. (1997, September 1). PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9328194?dopt=Abstract.

  2. Association Between Cannabis Use And the Risk Of Bladder Cancer: Results From the California Men's Health Study - PubMed. (2015, February 1). PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25623697?dopt=Abstract.

  3. Cannabinoids In Cancer Treatment: Therapeutic Potential And Legislation. (2019, February 1). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6387667/.

  4. Cannabis And Cannabinoids (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version - National Cancer Institute. (2022, February 17). National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/cannabis-pdq.

  5. Grapefruit Juice Can Affect How Well Some Medicines Work. (2021, July 1). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/grapefruit-juice-and-some-drugs-dont-mix.

Author: Dr. Teresa Towpik

Medihuanna Founder

Dr. Teresa Towpik has been a General Practitioner in Australia since 1993 and an advocate of medicinal cannabis since the law was amended and cannabis was legalized for medicinal use. In 2016 she founded Medihuanna with the goal to educate medical practitioners to safely treat patients with medicinal cannabis. Since then, she has been studying the therapeutic properties of cannabis, how it works, and the potential applications in General Practice, especially in the management of chronic debilitating pain.

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