Cannabis is becoming a major subject of discussion around the world and is the subject of much ongoing research. Many studies have reported positive effects of cannabis for some medical purposes. This trend has triggered public interest in the possibility of using cannabis for cancer.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death across the world and also in the United States. Over 1.6 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2017, and experts predict cancer cases to increase by 50% in 2030.
With many gloomy cancer statistics, it is no surprise that alternative treatment options garner a lot of excitement. Many believe that medical marijuana could be an alternative way of treating cancer. However, there is a need to look deeply at the available research and keep in mind that cannabis for cancer is not an FDA approved treatment option and does have risks and side effects.
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Cannabis and Symptoms of Cancer
Only medical professionals have a legal right to recommend cannabis as a treatment. Many states have adopted medical marijuana programs to enable doctors and patients to have cannabis for cancer as an option. Here are some of the cancer symptoms that medical cannabis is thought to help manage:
Loss of Appetite, Nausea, and Vomiting
It is not uncommon for cancer patients to lose their appetite. Additionally, chemotherapy and radiation treatments can add side effects like nausea and vomiting. This often results in unintentional weight loss, which is called "cachexia" when it’s severe. Medical cannabis is thought to benefit loss of appetite and weight loss because some strains may help alleviate nausea, stomach discomfort, and can stimulate the appetite.
Cancer Pain and Neuropathy
Cancer patients often suffer from pain. Cannabis contains many potent analgesic and anti-inflammatory compounds. Under medical marijuana doctor guidance, it is possible to use cannabis as an alternative to opioid pain killers.
Cancer patients are at risk of experiencing nerve damage during chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. This complication is called neuropathy, and some of the symptoms are a feeling of weakness, numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in hand and feet. In some cases, these nerve-regulated problems can be eased by supplementing the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a body system that interacts with cannabinoids and exerts effects through the nervous system. When there is dysregulation of the nervous system, the ECS could be used as a medical target to help increase balance. Of course, only a physician can advise on the proper cannabis products and dosage to accomplish this.
Cannabis has demonstrated exciting anti-tumor activity. Through the ECS, cannabinoids can interfere with cellular communication in tumors and also trigger cancer cell death in tumors. Researchers Guindon and Hohmann summarize their own research findings, saying:
Many in vitro and in vivo studies have shown that cannabinoids are efficacious in reducing cancer progression (i.e. inhibition of tumour growth and metastases as well as induction of apoptosis and other anti‐cancer properties) in breast, prostate and bone cancer. However, further research is needed because the complexity of the effects of cannabinoids and their interaction with other mechanisms and signalling pathways remain to be elucidated.Guindon, J., & Hohmann, A. G. (2011). The endocannabinoid system and cancer: therapeutic implication. British journal of pharmacology, 163(7), 1447-1463.
Can Cannabis Cure Cancer?
There is no cure for cancer, that is quite obvious. What is less obvious is whether or not herbal medicines and alternative medicines can really help in the treatment of cancer and management of cancer symptoms. In the case of cannabis, there is a lot of support for the thought that it can.
It is critical to talks to a physician before using CBD or cannabis for cancer. Both CBD and medical marijuana can have side effects and drug interactions. While it may be easy to get these products, you should never attempt to self-medicate with them.
There is no conclusive evidence to say that cannabis for cancer is safe or effective. It is certainly exciting, but may not be an appropriate option for everyone. When it comes to research on cannabis for cancer, its overall effect can be summarized as follows:
Cannabis and cannabinoids are known for their analgesic and anti-emetic effects, and therefore their application has increased for chemotherapy-induced nausea, vomiting, and chronic pain. Whether cannabinoids have an anti-cancer affect is yet to be determined. Recent studies suggested that some cannabinoid-based treatments might have anti-tumor properties.Almogi-Hazan, O., Khuja, I., Ritter, S., & Or, R. (2020). The Highs and Lows of Cannabis in Cancer Treatment and Bone Marrow Transplantation. Rambam Maimonides medical journal, 11(1), e0009. https://doi.org/10.5041/RMMJ.10391
Cannabis and Cancer Research
If you are interested in reading cannabis and cancer research for yourself, here are a few peer-reviewed scientific articles that can be accessed for free:
- Häuser, W., Welsch, P., Klose, P., Radbruch, L., & Fitzcharles, M. A. (2019). Efficacy, tolerability and safety of cannabis-based medicines for cancer pain. Der Schmerz, 33(5), 424-436.
- Shi, S., Brant, A. R., Sabolch, A., & Pollom, E. (2019). False News of a Cannabis Cancer Cure. Cureus, 11(1), e3918. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.3918
- Kerba M. (2019). Strong reasons make strong actions: medical cannabis and cancer-a call for collective action. Current oncology (Toronto, Ont.), 26(3), 160–161. https://doi.org/10.3747/co.26.5127