Cannabis and Cancer
There has been an influx of ‘Cannabis Cures Cancer’ headlines I’ve noticed cropping up on Facebook and other daily scannings of social media websites.
I have first hand knowledge of the therapeutic benefits cannabis provides to cancer patients, but what are the facts behind the research of cancer and cannabis?
A blanket organization, The International Cannabinoid Research Society, has put together a few great fact sheets to help answer some questions around the how.
Here’s a summary of their answer to the question: Can cannabinoids treat cancer?
The cannabinoid is a much researched molecule at the moment. There have been many experiments done in-lab that support the claims behind cannabinoids treating cancer. However, the ICRS warns that lab results do vary from real-world scenarios, so keep in mind the complexity of the human body and the human condition when analyzing their results.
It has been discovered that various cannabinoids (both natural and synthetic) have a wide range of effects, including:
– Triggering cell death, through a mechanism called apoptosis
– Stopping cells from dividing
– Preventing new blood vessels from growing into tumours
– Reducing the chances of cancer cells spreading through the body, by stopping cells from moving or invading neighbouring tissue
– Speeding up the cell’s internal ‘waste disposal machine’ – a process known as autophagy – which can lead to cell death
They do warn that nothing is entirely miraculous (so far). The killing of cancer cells may also harm blood vessel cells. The body may develop a tolerance rendering cannabis of little help to the destruction of cancer cells. There is also fear there could be interference with the immune system recognizing harmful tumour cells.
But then again, some researchers have discovered that certain cannabinoids enhance the immune system, and defend specifically against cancer.
So far, I’d want cannabis in my corner.
The combination of cannabinoids with other chemotherapy drugs may be the best approach.
“This idea is supported by lab experiments combining cannabinoids with other drugs including gemcitabine and temozolomide.”
In a clinical trial, nine people with an advanced, aggressive and terminal brain tumour were given highly purified THC through a tube directly into their brain.
Eight out of nine showed a clear response to the treatment. The study showed that THC administered to patients with cancer, no matter how severe, is safe and without side effects. It may not be able to prolong life with great certainty, but if anything, cannabinoids are worth pursuing in more clinical trials.
There has been other intriguing results around prostate, breast, lung cancer, skin, bone and pancreatic cancers, glioma brain tumours and lymphoma.
Different cannabinoids seem to have different effects on various cancer types.
“Most research has been focused on THC, which occurs naturally in cannabis plants, but researchers have found that different cannabinoids seem to work better for different types of cancer cells. Lab experiments have shown promising results with THC on brain tumours and prostate cancer cells, while pure CBD seems to work well on breast cancer cells.”
CBD is a cannabidiol that makes up 40% of the cannabis plant, and is effectively the ‘stoney’, relaxant property of the medicine. There is worry around the psychoactive effects of purified THC, but scientists argue that it can be counteracted simply by administering CBD in conjunction.
Administration is another big area of study. Cannabinoids aren’t easily dissolved in water, (and therefore do not travel easily within human tissue) which means, without invasive delivery through injection, it’s difficult to pinpoint where the medicine is going.
But researchers are investigating other delivery methods such as tablets, oil injections, mouth sprays or even microspheres (that resemble super-mini medicine capsules).
The ICRS fact sheets continually remind the reader that there are many medicines that have been helpful in the fight against cancer, and that cannabinoids are an addition to that – not a straight alternative. But when there’s so much positive response to how well this medicine works – how can it still be considered bad?
In a fantastic article written for the examiner.com by Jeffrey Phelps (November 10, 2012), the history of cannabis use is looked at through the eyes of someone scratching their head, wondering how it all went so wrong?
I share the same view: that profit-driven politicians and fear sold to the masses began the prohibition – and it’s been a real battle to get back to the days of cannabis acceptance that was so strong before the ‘big change’.
Phelps writes, “Fortunately for freedom of choice and for the future development of many hemp-based products and medicines, countless studies have failed to find a link between cannabis smoke and cancer and have, in fact, shown that heavy marijuana smokers have fewer cancers than the general population and, surprisingly, even less than those who smoke nothing at all.”
The heart-breaking story of Cash Hyde, a 4-year-old boy who succumbed to cancer after two full remissions, begs again: how can cannabis be bad? Because of the legal damnation of cannabis, Cash was denied the therapeutic and medicinal properties of marijuana, a denial that his parents belief cost him his life. (read more here)
Clinical tests concluding the positive effects marijuana has on battling cancer; historical evidence that cannabis was used for centuries in the fight against illness; and stories of today where those who use the medicine benefit greatly, certainly back up the claim that cannabis can cure cancer.
I hope the headlines keep coming.
Arney, Kat. “Science Update Blog.” Cancer Research UK Science Update Blog. Cancer Research UK, 25 July 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. <http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/07/25/cannabis-cannabinoids-and-cancer-the-evidence-so-far/>.
Phelps, Jeffrey. “Will Cancer Rates in Colorado and Washington Drop Thanks to New Marijuana Law?” Examiner.com. Clarity Digital Group, 10 Nov. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. <http://www.examiner.com/article/cancer-rates-colorado-and-washington-to-drop-with-new-marijuana-law?cid=rss>.
Roberts, Chris. “Cash Hyde Succumbs to Cancer, Family Says Medical Marijuana Extended His Life.” SF Weekly Blogs. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. <http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2012/11/cash_hyde_dies_marijuana.php>.
Sarfaraz, S. et al (2008). Cannabinoids for Cancer Treatment: Progress and Promise, Cancer Research, 68 (2) 342. DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-07-2785