Products derived from the cannabis plant are used to deal with the harsh symptoms of both cancer and cancer treatments. But is cannabis capable of completely curing cancer or simply a symptom reliever? The answer is a little more complex than you may think.
The Argument for Cannabis
The cannabis plant has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes from cultures as far-reaching and ancient as China. Advocates of marijuana use the plant’s long history with medicine, as well as studies that support its effectiveness against cancer cells, to argue for its potency as a cancer cure. Here’s how that research stacks up.
THC and CBD Against Tumor Growth
Two of the chemical agents derived from cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) have proven effective against tumor growth in several studies, often leaving healthy cells intact. Some doctors have found success in killing brain tumor cells and breast cancer with cannabinoids such as THC.
CBD has been classified as an anti-cancer agent in studies from the California Pacific Center. These studies demonstrated that CBD shuts down cellular growth receptors in cancerous cells. The chemical can also interfere with cellular communication between tumors and produce apoptosis, the programmed death of cancer cells.
CBD Oil for Cancer
The use of CBD oil for prostate cancer is perhaps the most effective evidence advocates have for their case. Prostate cancer is known for having higher cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) than other types of cancer. According to lab studies, the receptive cancer cells that absorb CBD undergo one of the following processes:
- Decrease in reception of androgen, which fuels prostate cancer
- Lack of nourishment for tumors when combined with THC
The De Petrocellis study later used CBD on prostate cancer tumor cells implanted in mice. Again, the CBD slowed growth and created apoptosis within the cells. Stories about the use of cannabis oil to slow down tumor growth are common, but they lack hard data due to United States restrictions on clinical studies.
The Argument Against Cannabis as a Cancer Treatment
There is opposition to the view that the cannabis cancer cure is real. While the detractors do not argue about the studies that show the beneficial effects of CBD and THC against cancerous cells, they doubt that cannabis is an effective, definitive cure. The skeptics cite the lack of clinical trials and the conspiracy theories surrounding cannabis cancer research as their arguments.
Lack of Clinical Trials
For some researchers, the lack of further clinical trials and experiments is proof that cannabis as a cure for cancer has no traction. Most of the studies related to cannabis treatment of cancer, from breast cancer to gliomas, are only in the pre-clinical (cellular) or animal testing stages and almost never reach human clinical trials. In fact, the only study in the clinical stage is from a Phase I trial that took place in 2012 and has no continuation. These studies are considered dead ends by some skeptics.
The process to bring cannabis cancer trials to the clinical stage is also long and complicated. There are over 8,000 clinical trials for anti-cancer drugs, where cannabis is a small part of the research involving numerous compounds. Only 5 percent of therapeutic cancer drugs make the jump from animal to human trials, and fewer than 10 percent are approved by the FDA for human use. Only around 0.4 percent of drugs tested on cells or animals reach human trials. The probability of cannabis-based medications reaching the human trial stage is slim to none.
Another point of contention in the argument for cannabis as a cancer cure is the use of conspiracy theories. Many of these speculations claim that large pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) are hiding the benefits of cannabinoids to profit from the lengthy search for a cure. Considering the frequency with which cancer affects mankind and the potential recognition and profits that would go with a cure, this premise is preposterous. Big Pharma would want to profit from a cure and conspiracy theories hurt the credibility of cannabis advocates.
Actual Uses of Cannabis Against Cancer
Despite the contested effectiveness of cannabinoids, they do have a proven role against cancer. Marijuana cancer treatment is used by patients to cope with the symptoms of both cancer and cancer treatments like chemotherapy.
Cancer patients use medical marijuana as a pain reliever, much like opioids. Marijuana reduces the inflammation of most body parts.
Relief from Nerve Damage
One of the common side effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments is nerve damage, or neuropathy. The symptoms of neuropathy include weakness, numbness, and burning hands and feet. Marijuana helps patients cope with the pain of the symptoms.
Help with Weight Loss and Eating Disorders
The artificial cannabinoid dronabinol is used to combat the effects of eating disorders such as anorexia and cachexia. The disorders are characterized by loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss, respectively. Marijuana can also improve appetite, curbing the effects of anorexia. Both dronabinol and marijuana are effective against nausea and vomiting, common symptoms of chemotherapy.