Can Cannabis Cure Cancer?

September 6, 2019

Cannabis has numerous health benefits associated with it. From relieving pain to reducing nausea, cannabis can sometimes seem like a miracle substance. One of the questions that come up regarding cannabis is whether it can actually kill cancer cells. You may read sources indicating that it has the potential to fight cancer, but is this really the case?

The Short Answer

The quick answer is that early research shows that cannabis might be able to kill cancer cells, but we need more research. For now, it is best to rely on traditional cancer treatments, and maybe supplement them with cannabis with your doctor’s approval.

Cannabis definitely can help with cancer symptoms, though. It can reduce nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and pain associated with cancer and its treatments. So while we need more research to show cannabis can kill cancer cells, it can still improve quality of life for those with the disease.

That is just a quick summary. The relationship between cannabis and treating cancer is much more complex. Take a look at the aspects of cannabis that help it fight cancer and cancer symptoms, and the research already completed on the topic.

The Role of Cannabinoids

The evidence that shows cannabis may kill cancer cells indicates that this is thanks to the cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis. Cannabinoids are commonly used for treating pain, inflammation, nausea, and seizures. These are all already accepted uses of CBD, and the FDA has already approved a medication that includes CBD and THC to treat epilepsy and seizures.

CBD Is Non-psychoactive

For those unfamiliar with it, CBD is a cannabinoid in cannabis that does not have any psychoactive properties. The psychoactive nature of cannabis mostly comes from THC. So as long as a CBD product does not contain THC, it should not interfere with daily functioning due to getting “high.”

How CBD Works

CBD provides its range of benefits by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The body’s cannabinoid receptors contain some nerve and brain cells, indicating that cannabinoids like CBD may help the immune system.

Success in Cancer Research on Animals

So far, most of the studies regarding the ability of cannabis to kill cancer cells are either test tube studies or animal studies. Scientists have already conducted multiple animal studies to explore how cannabis impacts cancer cells, with good results.

Colon Inflammation

One study conducted on mice found that the presence of cannabinoids led to a reduction in colon inflammation. That drop in colon inflammation, in turn, reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.

Protecting Normal Cells While Attacking Cancer

Other research on animals has shown that cannabinoids can protect the body’s normal cells at the same time that they attack and kill the cancer cells. These studies will restrict blood flow to cancer cells, leading to those cells becoming malnourished. This will either stunt the growth of the cancer cells or completely stop it.

The result is that using cannabis to treat cancer either stopped or noticeably reduced the growth of tumors.

Delta-9-THC

Other studies have looked at Delta-9-THC and its impact on liver cancer with favorable results. Scientists found that this particular compound in cannabis would kill the cancer cells related to liver cancer. There are also similar results for non-small cell lung cancer and breast cancer.

In breast cancer research, cannabinoids had minimal effect on the normal cells in breasts but caused the death of the cancer cells.

Studies on Humans With Cancer

Scientists have not yet conducted any large-scale studies on people to see whether cannabis can really kill cancer cells. There are multiple small studies, but they require larger groups of participants, or the results are not yet reported. In some cases, the results are inconclusive.

THC and CBD Cause Cancer Cell Death

The early research into the impact of cannabis on cancer cells indicates that THC has anti-cancer properties. It works through the body’s cannabinoid receptors to provide anti-tumor effects.

To understand how THC helps kill cancer cells, you need to look at apoptosis, which is the body’s natural process of destroying cells as an organism grows. Cancer cells will not acknowledge signals from the body, telling them to destroy cell growth. As cancer cells grow, this problem gets worse, but the endocannabinoid system and THC can step in.

The endocannabinoid system will help modulate the death and growth of cells, but at some point, it cannot handle it. At this point, metastasis occurs as the cancer cells spread. There are two primary receptors in the endocannabinoid system, CB1 and CB2 receptors. They are typically found in your brain and immune system, respectively. THC binds with CB1 receptors, regulating cerebral functions like behavior and mood. CBD connects to CB2 receptors to let the body know about any invaders in the body.

This lets the endocannabinoid system know that something is wrong so it can promote the destruction of the invaders, which are the cancer cells. At the same time, the process reduces the spread of cancer by reducing the ability of tumors to reproduce, metastasize, and participate in angiogenesis.

We Don’t Know Which Receptor Produces the Effects

The problem is that while there is early evidence that the THC in cannabis causes cancer cell death, experts do not know the details. Most importantly, experts need to determine the main cannabinoid receptors that lead to this effect.

Once scientists identify the receptors involved, they can develop treatments that directly target tumor cells to kill or stop their growth.

Cannabis Can Definitely Reduce Chemo Symptoms

While we still need to conduct more research on cannabis’s ability to kill cancer cells, there is already clear evidence that it can help those undergoing chemotherapy. This relief comes in the form of alleviating the symptoms associated with chemotherapy.

Some of the most common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, and changes in appetite. Cannabis can help with all of these issues, especially relieving nausea after treatment. Some studies even indicate that CBD can reduce nausea from chemo that does not diminish with traditional nausea medications.

Improves the Use of Chemo

By relieving some of the most bothersome side effects of chemotherapy, cannabis could encourage people to go further with their chemo treatments. Since the chemo kills cancer cells, that would mean that cannabis indirectly helps fight cancer. While a direct link between cannabis and killing cancer cells would be better, this is at least a step in the right direction.

Proven Methods With Approval

Nabilone and dronabinol are both FDA-approved and contain cannabinoids, including delta-9-THC. These medications treat vomiting and nausea due to chemo. These successfully provide treatment to patients that did not experience relief from traditional anti-nausea treatments. Clinical trials indicated that these drugs work at least as well, if not better than other drugs for reducing vomiting and nausea.

Nabiximols is an oral spray that contains CBD and delta-9-THC. A placebo-controlled, randomized, and double-blind study in Spain successfully showed it treats vomiting and nausea from chemotherapy. This was a small study.

There have been 10 smaller trials looking at inhaling cannabis to treat vomiting and nausea from chemo, with success.

Studies Related to Cannabis Treating Specific Symptoms

Studies have shown that taking delta-9-THC by mouth can increase appetite in some cases. In advanced cancer patients, delta-9-THC had similar results to an appetite stimulant, megestrol. For HIV/AIDS patients, however, it had better results than a placebo.

Combining vaporized cannabis with morphine reduced pain better than just morphine. Using vaporized cannabis with oxycodone did not increase the pain relief of oxycodone. Randomized trials of inhaled cannabis show those with nerve pain experience relief. Cannabis extracts sprayed under the tongue of advanced cancer patients showed some increased pain control. Some side effects are felt when used in high doses. Two separate studies showed that taking delta-9-THC by mouth relieves cancer-related pain.

How You Can Use Cannabis for Treating Cancer

The National Cancer Institute of the U.S. Department of Health indicates that cannabinoids and delta-9-THC can help treat cancer side effects and the disease itself as an herbal tea, when smoked, as an edible, or sprayed under the tongue.

Scientists have also looked into how cancer cells react to cannabis oil injected into them. The cells become weaker and can eventually die. This is incredibly promising, but we would need an effective method of delivering cannabis oil to every single cancer cell.

National Cancer Institute Suggested Methods

According to the National Cancer Institute, some studies involve taking CBD by mouth as a way to treat solid tumors. There are also studies with an oral spray that combines CBD and delta-9-THC to treat recurring glioblastoma multiforme. In the case of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, CBD taken by mouth may help treat acute versions of graft-versus-host disease.

Potential Side Effects

Cannabis and cannabinoids may lead to side effects, although these are typically milder than the side effects associated with traditional medicines for cancer. Potential side effects include bloodshot eyes, muscle relaxation, low blood pressure, fast heartbeat, depression, dizziness, drowsiness, paranoia, and hallucinations.

How to Use This Info to Treat Cancer

Cannabis Should Supplement, Not Replace Traditional Cancer Treatments

Before anyone uses cannabis to try to kill cancer cells, they should always consult their doctor. Since this treatment is not yet proven, it is safest to stick to proven treatment methods like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. You can likely supplement those with cannabis as a new angle of attack on the cancer cells. Until cannabis’s ability to kill cancer cells is explicitly proven, do not give up on traditional, proven treatments just to try cannabis. It should be used as a supplemental treatment or an option if the conventional treatments do not work.

Always Consult Your Doctor Before Taking Cannabis for Cancer

Furthermore, you should never start using cannabis to treat your cancer without first consulting your doctor. Cannabis can interact with certain medications, and you do not want to reduce the effectiveness of your treatments. Additionally, your doctor may be able to provide you some suggestions as to the quantities and strains of cannabis to try.

Your doctor will likely be familiar with the latest research related to cannabis for killing cancer, so they can let you know about any advances. This will let you take advantage of the most recent developments and get the most from the use of cannabis.

The Most Recent Developments and the Future

Recently, researchers from India’s Amity University published a scientific review that examines and explains the various pieces of scientific literature regarding how cannabinoids fight cancer. The review also outlined the evidence showing that cannabis helps with pain relief, fight nausea, and stimulate appetite in cancer patients. Most studies under review were in vitro, involving test tubes.

The review strongly encourages officials to change the legal status of cannabis so that more research can occur.

The Future

As mentioned, experts still need to conduct more research into cannabis’s ability to kill cancer cells. As more states legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use, this research should be forthcoming. However, while cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, it will be extremely challenging for scientists to make any significant advances as their research proposals may not receive approval.

The Bottom Line

For now, there are indications that cannabis can probably kill cancer cells, but scientists still need to conduct more research. Most of the studies so far involve test tubes or animals, so we would need human studies to confirm that cannabis can kill cancer cells. This poses challenges, as no scientist will deny a patient the traditional treatments that work in favor of an experimental treatment.

For now, those who are fighting cancer can consider using cannabis to supplement their treatments, with doctor approval. It can also be an option for those with cancer that does not respond to other methods.

As we wait for more research, cancer patients can continue to use cannabis and cannabis-related products like CBD oils to relieve the symptoms associated with cancer and chemo, such as pain and nausea.

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