Cancer researchers in Israel. JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Cancer is a disease that looms large. It is one of the leading causes of death and one in three of us will be diagnosed with it during our lifetimes. Unfortunately, the cancer rates are only rising. The National Institute of Cancer estimates that by 2030, its death toll will have increased by 60%. Some are looking to cannabis to cure this deadly disease. But is cannabis a cure – or is this just wishful thinking? Cancer Patient Success Stories With Medical Pot
Anecdotal accounts abound of patients curing their own cancer using high-potency edible cannabis extracts. Take Dennis Hill, a prostate cancer patient who decided to forgo chemotherapy and try cannabis instead. His story of complete recovery after six months of cannabis use is available online – along with his medical record and journal of his progress. Or Kelly Hauf – who decided to try cannabis oil in the months leading up to a scheduled surgery to remove a brain tumor. After eight months of treatment, there was nothing left of her tumor to remove. These stories are hard to ignore – but many doctors advise patients not to assume that cannabis was the cause of these incredible recoveries. Doctors Cautious About Weed for Cancer Dr. Abrams, a leading oncologist at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine says he has seen cannabis help many with the side effects of cancer but cautions against assuming cannabis is a cure. He says given his high proportion of cannabis-using patients, ‘if cannabis definitively cured cancer, I would have expected that I would have a lot more survivors.’
Cannabis is well-established as a treatment for the side effects of cancer and chemotherapy, like nausea, vomiting, pain, anxiety, insomnia, and lack of appetite. But in a comprehensive review of the cannabis literature, researchers from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found there to be insufficient evidence to say that cannabis can treat cancer directly. Without large-scale, placebo-controlled clinical trials, doctors and researchers don’t have the solid evidence they’d need to recommend cannabis for cancer treatment. Science Shows Cannabis Has Anti-Cancer Properties
Still other scientists are more hopeful about cannabis’ potential efficacy and point to laboratory and animal studies that show cannabinoids like CBD and THC kill cancer cells in laboratory conditions — without harming the healthy cells nearby. While clinical trials on human subjects is still a ways off — given cannabis’ status as a controlled substance – the preclinical data gives reason to hope that patients stories of success aren’t just flukes.
“There is a large body of scientific data which indicates that cannabinoids specifically inhibit cancer cell growth and promote cancer cell death” explains Dr. David Meiri, the lead researcher on an Israeli project studying 50 varieties of cannabis and its effects on 200 different cancer cells. Meiri and his team have successfully killed brain and breast cancer cells through exposure to cannabis and they are hopeful they can find more varieties of cancer cells that respond to this treatment.
Still, experts caution against forgoing traditional treatment options. Dr. Meiri’s research suggests that not all cancer cells respond to cannabinoids in the same way. Even if cannabis can help with some cancers, it might not work the same for all. Additional research, specifically placebo-controlled clinical trials, are needed to fully understand how to handle each type of cancer individually.
With a condition as deadly as cancer, it is crucial to know whether a high cannabinoid regimen would work for any particular case, before foregoing alternatives that might help. Still, while clinical research on cannabis continues to stall, patients must decide whether to wait indefinitely or follow in the footsteps of patients before them – experimenting with cannabis on their own.
A number of small studies of smoked marijuana found that it can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy.
A few studies have found that inhaled (smoked or vaporized) marijuana can be helpful treatment of neuropathic pain (pain caused by damaged nerves).
Smoked marijuana has also helped improve food intake in HIV patients in studies.
There are no studies in people of the effects of marijuana oil or hemp oil.
Studies have long shown that people who took marijuana extracts in clinical trials tended to need less pain medicine.
More recently, scientists reported that THC and other cannabinoids such as CBD slow growth and/or cause death in certain types of cancer cells growing in lab dishes. Some animal studies also suggest certain cannabinoids may slow growth and reduce spread of some forms of cancer.
There have been some early clinical trials of cannabinoids in treating cancer in humans and more studies are planned. While the studies so far have shown that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer, they do not show that they help control or cure the disease.
The leading cause of cancer deaths globally. A 2007 study on THC and highly-aggressive epidermal growth factor receptor-overexpressing (EGF-expressing) lung cancer conducted by Harvard Medical School found that certain EGF lung cancer cells express CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. They found that the presence of THC affected metastasis of these cells by reducing the “focal adhesion complex,” which plays a vital role in cancer migration. Studies have also been conducted on the combined effect of CBD and THC on lung, prostate, colon, pancreatic, liver, bladder, cervical, blood-based, brain, and other forms of cancer. Currently, there are 25 states where it is legal for patients to use “marijuana” for medical purposes. Pending federal legislation may open up opportunities for federally-funded medical research, including human clinical trials. This will further prove cannabis’ track-record when it comes to healing a number of disease conditions − including cancer. Cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 are designed by the body to be specific targets for THC, while our natural endocannabinoids help to synthesize it. The process of THC-cannabinoid receptor binding and what this does for the body is what researchers have been studying for over two decades. They are doing this in order to find out exactly how cannabis works in healing cancer.
Microbiologist Dr Christine Sanchez of Complutense University in Madrid, Spain has been studying cannabinoids and cancer since the early 2000s. She was the first to discover the antitumor effects of cannabinoids.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, which does not have a psychoactive effect, has long been known as a potent anti-cancer agent. This is because of its ability to interfere with cellular communication in tumours as well as in its ability to instigate apoptosis or programmed cancer cell death. Some research studies, including in vitro and animal-based trials conducted by San Francisco-based researchers at the California Pacific Medical Center, have also shown that CBD may affect genes involved in aggressive metastasis. It does this by helping to shut down cellular growth receptors.