Medicinal cannabis is not a new concept. Truthfully, humans have been using cannabis as a treatment for a variety of ailments for thousands of years. According to Chinese legend, cannabis was used as early as 2700 B.C. for a variety ailments including gout, rheumatism, and even malaria. However, using cannabis to treat cancer is a fairly new approach, and the body of research supporting its use is growing as quickly as the plant itself.
Editor’s Note: Part of the reason cannabis wasn’t used to treat cancer in the past was because most individuals didn’t live long enough to get cancer in the first place. Different times!
Cancer isn’t a singular disease, it is a cellular mutation that grows and reproduces rapidly affecting the basic functions of one’s cells and vital organs that the cells inhabit. Cancer is essentially your own body turning against you, which is why it’s so hard to treat.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), cancer is the second leading cause of death among Americans, preceded only by heart disease. Many of us have had personal experience with a family member, friend, or loved one that has fought a battle against this deadly condition. Despite cannabis’ classification as a schedule one drug, recent research suggests that there are medicinal uses for cannabis that can benefit and improve the quality of life for those diagnosed with cancer.
Cannabis and Chemotherapy
For individuals who have cancer, chemotherapy is often a significant portion of the treatment they receive. Approximately 22 percent of cancer patients receive chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a combination of medications that are used to kill or slow the growth of cancerous cells in the body. Which chemotherapy drugs are used largely depends on the type of cancer being treated and where in the person’s body the cancer exists. Two of the most encountered side-effects of chemotherapy are intense vomiting and nausea.
Editor’s Note: Similar side effects are encountered with radiotherapy, a treatment which uses focused ionizing radiation on cancerous growths. The downside to both chemotherapy and radiotherapy is that both hurt living cells in addition to the targeted cancerous cells.
Cannabis has been shown to combat both nausea and vomit induced by chemotherapy, offering individuals who undergo treatment respite from these adverse reactions. Cannabis and its cannabinoids have been shown to decrease pain, increase appetite, and reduce the nausea commonly encountered in cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy. Additionally, cannabis can also serve to inhibit cancer progression and decrease chemotherapy-induced neuropathy.
Cannabis as an Anti-tumor Agent
As an individual’s disease progresses, cancerous cells form a mass called a tumor, which as it grows can decrease the efficacy of organs its inhabiting. As a tumor grows, it can metastasize and spread to various parts of the body. As these tumors begin to spread, the human body becomes unable to support such rapid growth, oftentimes resulting in death.
Editor’s Note: Metastasis is extremely dangerous, and happens when cancer cells break off from the main tumor and enter the bloodstream, growing elsewhere in the body. When this happens, cancer becomes much harder to treat as it becomes decentralized.
Cannabis shows great potential in its ability to fight tumor growth and spread. In a talk given at CannMed 2017, Debra Kimless MD, detailed the promise of low-dose cannabis oil and its potential to improve the quality of life of those suffering from cancer.
Cannabinoids are thought to combat cancer through a variety of means, including inciting apoptosis (otherwise known as spontaneous cell death), preventing the growth of the cancerous cells, and reducing or preventing the production of traveling cancerous cells. Cannabinoids, when used as a medical treatment, are typically tolerated well by patients, effectively bypassing many of the negative side effects of chemotherapy. Cannabis demonstrated efficacy in treating a wide variety of tumors including:
- Breast cancer
- Skin cancer
- Prostate cancer
Sean McAllister, Ph.D, showed evidence at CannMed 2017 that demonstrates cannabinoids’ ability to delay cancer progression, enhance palliative care outcomes, and increase survival in cancer patients.
Despite the federal government’s stance on the medical use of cannabis, many professionals in the medical community and cancer patients have found great promise in the use of cannabinoids. While chemotherapy is beneficial for many patients, it is also known to kill otherwise healthy cells in its efforts to destroy cancerous ones.
As an alternative to the risks entailed in chemotherapy, cannabinoids show promise in their ability to harm cancerous cells while leaving otherwise healthy cells intact. Since cannabis is still classified a schedule one substance by the DEA, research into widespread medicinal use in cancer treatment is still in its infancy. As additional studies are conducted, cannabis could become a widely-used treatment for a variety of cancers and those suffering from the side-effects of chemotherapy.
Interested in learning more about the link between treating cancer and cannabis? Join us for CannMed 2018 in Los Angeles this October for all the latest research, insights, and thought leadership concerning cannabis and its uses in the treatment of cancer. Register today.
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