Some people seem to think that cannabis is a cure for cancer, some people talk about cannabis being good for end-of-life care but more about making someone feel comfortable during the process, and other people talk about smoking causing cancer.
How does cannabis relate to cancer ?
This is a great question! These days, everyone is talking about the connection between cannabis and cancer. It’s important to understand that not all cancers are the same, and not all people are the same. This sounds obvious, perhaps, but consider this: our bodies are programmed with a system to identify and destroy our own cells that have gone haywire (cancer). These immune cells hunt and kill the cells in our body that are not functioning properly. In fact, there is also a self-destruct system in almost all of our cells that should tell the cells that are malfunctioning to kill themselves! Unfortunately, though, for many reasons, these “savior” systems may not work in time, or have have malfunctioning parts themselves, and cancer occasionally does not get defeated when it should.
The positive for cannabis:
The most correct answer, building upon the best available evidence in the cannabis literature: the jury is still out on the relationship between cannabis and cancer. There are studies that have shown (quite impressively!) that cannabis can not only kill cancers, but it has the ability to stop some cancers from growing, and has the ability to stop some cancers from breaking through tissues to become metastatic, and in some other studies, it even may have the ability to flip those cellular switches to self-destruct, when they may not be working properly. Much of what we see about the effect of cannabis on cancer is from animal models, theoretical models, and from real people who have had amazingly positive, if not miraculous results using cannabis as part of their cancer treatment.
The not-so positive:
BUT – there are other studies that don’t show these same encouraging results. These other studies ether show no effects at all, or when they have repeated studies similar to what has been shown before as effective, they can’t seem to reproduce those good results. And then, there is a whole community of smart scientists who raise concerns about how applicable animal studies are to humans.
CED Clinic Evidence:
In my own practice, I have had the privilege of caring for hundreds of people with cancer, at various stages of the disease. For many, they came to cannabis as a last hope to reclaim comfort, dignity, or relaxation at the end of their journey fighting cancer. For others, hope was very much still alive and they wanted to learn how to try to fight cancer using cannabis, alongside the other more traditional methods of modern Medicine (chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, etc.) In a pattern of repeated heartbreak, I have observed the battle lost by many. But, in many cases, the tide does turn for the positive. Depending on someone’s original goals for how the cannabis will be used, some have achieved control over their disease, and some (perhaps nearly all) have found it helpful to ease the burden of the illness and the battle.
On the great balance of judgement, there is strong scientific evidence showing that it does help, but very reasonable arguments and strong evidence that suggests that we should not jump to conclusions yet, and certainly not too quickly.
What does what:
Some studies have suggested that THC helps more than CBD, and other studies have focused squarely on CBD as the powerful molecule doing the good work. And still other studies have shown that a combination of these two (and/or other molecules) is better than either of these actors on their own. The strongest, reproducible literature shows, quite clearly, that cannabis is especially effective with easing symptoms that come along with cancer, including pain, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. However, the long-term effects of cannabis use on the development or progression of cancer are not well enough understood and more research is needed. And in the works already!
DON’T smoke cannabis:
It is important to include here that smoking cannabis, like tobacco, has been shown to have an association with increased risk for lung health and is known to increase the risk of respiratory problems. In some studies, habitual cannabis smokers (those who smoke many times a day over a long period of time) may have other negative health consequences associated with smoking, and the possibly of smoked materials causing lung cancer is not out of the question. The use of any substance that involves inhaling combusted materials (which can include carcinogenic compounds), including cannabis, should be approached with careful consideration and caution. Check out www.CEDclinic.com/blogs for more on this topic.
Reduced blood vessel size (feeding the tumor) in the CBD treatment arm
Image showing them:
- smoking up the mouse.
- reduced tumor size with CBD
Of note – a paper was published a few months ago that looked at inhaled CBD against cancer in an animal model, and it found very encouraging findings.
This paper covers some very important background: First, lung cancer is a serious sickness that kills a lot of people (“Lung cancer is the most chronic malignancy and the leading cause of cancer mortality with the highest prevalence in North America and Europe, affecting men and women
Even though Medicine has improved at treating lung cancer, we still desperately need to find better ways to help treat it. In particular, the paper points out that cancer grows when blood vessels form around the growth, nourishing it and allowing it to grow beyond local control. There are some medicines that try to stop this from happening, but they often have intolerable side effects.
This study looked at using CBD as a treatment for lung cancer in mice. They found that CBD both slowed down the growth of the cancer as well as reduced the formation of blood vessels feeding the cancer.
The paper: Inhalant cannabidiol impedes tumor growth through decreased tumor stemness and impaired angiogenic switch in NCI‑H1437‑induced human lung cancer model