Sorting out fact from fiction in the world of medical cannabis as a cancer treatment.
For those with cancer, a world of information exists regarding the potential for treatment. From numerous websites with suggestions about curative therapies for the disease itself as well as relief for various symptoms, the internet contains a virtual treasure trove of data, evidence and testimonials. With so much information available, it’s a challenge to wade through it all.
One of the most hotly-debated forms of cancer treatment is cannabis. As with cancer, the topic of cannabis as a medical treatment opens up a rabbit hole of websites, links and studies. It can be tough to sort out science-based evidence from anecdotal information. Is cannabis really a cancer wonder drug with the ability to shrink tumors into oblivion? Can patients really avoid surgery and chemotherapy by simply applying hemp oil to kill their cancer? Is cannabis really a helpful medication for the nausea and other side effects that often come as a result of conventional cancer treatments?
Cannabis is Not a Cure
Although some insist that consuming marijuana or using hemp oil can shrink cancer cells, scientific evidence doesn’t currently support those claims. While some studies have shown positive results in using cannabis-derived compounds in animals and cancer cells in petri dishes, more research is needed to figure out how this can translate into useful medical treatment. It’s important for patients to understand that the compounds used in these studies are not the same as ingesting or applying regular cannabis. Furthermore, lab studies have not yet proven the cannabis-derived compounds to be as effective as conventional cancer treatments in actually curing the disease in human patients.
“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 laboratory 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.
Relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences”.
Cannabis as a Supplementary Treatment
Simply put, while there are some preliminary studies suggesting that certain substances within cannabis that have been isolated and lab-modified may potentially have certain anti-tumor effects, science has yet to apply this to a real-world cure. These early studies are being touted by some as a reason to abandon conventional cancer treatments and opt to treat the disease using substances such as hemp oil. There is no evidence to suggest that smoking/ingesting cannabis or using hemp oil is useful as a cancer cure in humans. Anecdotal evidence can be dangerous and misleading, as discussed by Mary Otte in the Huffington Post:
“The problem is that though there are many who’ve reported having been cured or seeing their tumor begin to shrink once they began rigorous cannabis treatments, their stories are overwhelmed by the number of instances where individuals end chemotherapy for the oil at a painful or crucial juncture and die within weeks or months. Their quality of life is always reportedly improved. The nausea and pain from chemo goes away, the appetite returns, words flow more easily and many have an easier and more dignified passage”.
That last bit is important. Just because cannabis isn’t a cure doesn’t meant that it isn’t a useful medication for cancer patients. There is plenty of evidence that it can be used to supplement conventional cancer treatments. Chemotherapy often comes with a whole host of unpleasant side effects – and with those side effects come an entire list of medications. Drugs for nausea. Appetite stimulants. Drugs to help patients get sleep. Drugs to ease anxiety. Cannabis can work as a replacement for many of these.
Nausea and Loss of Appetite: Another common side effect of chemotherapy is nausea and vomiting. With this comes a steep drop in appetite – something that can weaken a patient and cause them to lose weight. Cannabis can help combat both nausea and suppressed appetite – eliminating the need to take a separate medication for each condition. In an interview with Newsweek, Dr. Donald Abrams said that marijuana “is the only anti-nausea medicine that increases appetite”.
Anxiety and Depression: Cancer patients are often prescribed antidepressants to combat the emotional side of battling the disease. Most of these medications cause unwanted side effects such as upset stomach, drowsiness, or increased agitation. The cannabinoids in marijuana have been proven to alleviate anxiety while elevating mood.
Insomnia: Studies have shown that given at the proper dosage, the THC in cannabis is effective in helping people fall asleep faster once they’re settled into bed. It’s also helpful for reducing sleep interruptions throughout the night. Again, proper dosages are important; in studies where the THC dosage was as high as 30 milligrams, patients reported feeling “hung over” the next morning. When the dose was reduced to 20 milligrams, patients experienced no “morning-after” effects. This sets marijuana apart from most sleep aids that cause grogginess and disorientation in the first few hours after waking up.
For now, cannabis has demonstrated its effectiveness at treating a huge list of medical conditions, including many of the symptoms that people experience as a result of cancer and treatments such as chemotherapy. While there is currently no hard evidence that marijuana or hemp oil are effective as a cancer cure, studies continue as researchers investigate to see if any of the various compounds that make up cannabis can be isolated and used to combat the disease. Organizations such as the American Cancer Society are pushing for reclassification of cannabis that will allow more thorough research to explore its medicinal uses.