Given that 39.6% of World will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, cancers affects nearly everyone. Chances are, someone close to you has battled cancer.
Oncologists, more than doctors in any other discipline within medicine, support the option of recommending cannabis as part of a treatment program for patients suffering from cancer. However, while the positive effects of using cannabis to alleviate cancer symptoms have been well documented, the U.S. government continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule I drug — high potential for abuse and no known medical use. Consequently, the federal government’s position on cannabis stifles much-needed research on cannabis as a “cure” for cancer.
National legalization of marijuana may be drawing a smidgeon closer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI), one of the federal government sponsored agencies, has just updated the FAQs on its website to include recent studies on marijuana showing that it can and has killed cancer cells.
These are the findings of studies NCI have included:
Cannabinoids may inhibit tumor growth by causing cell death, blocking cell growth, and blocking the development of blood vessels needed by tumors to grow. Laboratory and animal studies have shown that cannabinoids may be able to kill cancer cells while protecting normal cells.
Cannabinoids may protect against inflammation of the colon and may have potential in reducing the risk of colon cancer, and possibly in its treatment.
A laboratory study of delta -9-THC in hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) cells showed it damaged or killed the cancer cells. The same study of delta-9-THC in models of liver cancer showed that it had anti-tumor effects. Delta-9-THC has been shown to cause these effects by acting on molecules that may also be found in non-small cell lung cancer cells and breast cancer cells.
A laboratory study of cannabidiol (CBD) in estrogen receptor positive and estrogen receptor negative breast cancer cells showed that it caused cancer cell death while having little effect on normal breast cells. Studies of metastatic breast cancer showed that cannabinoids may lessen the growth, number, and spread of tumors.
So we can say that the research is promising, but thus far it has been limited to preclinical studies, which are studies of drugs or treatments in animals prior to being carried out in humans. While the preclinical research offers hope, before anyone can confidently claim that cannabis can provide a “cure,” clinical research needs to be done.
Further, because cancer describes a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth, it’s unlikely there will be a single “cure-all” cannabis remedy. Likewise, naturally-derived or synthetic cannabinoid agonists may be need to be combined with traditional chemotherapeutic regimens or supplemental alternative medicines.
In order for cannabis to find its way into routine clinical cancer treatment, rigorous pharmacological and clinical studies need to be done. And to accelerate this process, the federal government should lift the federal ban on medical cannabis.