Cannabis has many healing properties, but just how effective is medicinal cannabis at treating cancer? Here we dig into the evidence and suggest where and how cannabis may help.
Can Cannabis Help Treat Cancer?
We’ve known for a while that cannabis can have positive effects in the treatment of cancer. In the first study, carried out in 1974, researchers discovered that THC administration decreases tumour size with consistent use.
But that was still the 1970s, and the War on Drugs was still in full flow. Governments around the world were unwilling to open up a schedule 1 drug to mass scientific research, and things progressed slowly.
While the law prevented the development of medicinal cannabis in cancer treatment, anecdotal cases surfaced, showing that cannabis exhibited several beneficial cancer-fighting properties. One such example was that of a well-known Canadian activist who invented his own cannabis oil recipe.
Rick Simpson: The Man Who Cured Cancer With Cannabis
When a Canadian medical cannabis activist named Rick Simpson received a diagnosis for skin cancer, he took to producing his own cannabis medicine. He developed what is now known as Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), a form of concentrate particularly high in THC from Indica dominant strains.
After applying the oil to his skin with bandages over several days, he gradually began noticing improvements until they disappeared.
More recently, in 2017, a report published in the International Journal of Oncology showed that cannabinoids possess anti-cancer benefits, whether used alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy. Studies like this even led organizations like the Yale Cancer Center to endorse cannabis for children suffering from advanced forms of cancer.
But while some like Simpson experienced the profound healing effects of cannabis, the jury is still very much out on whether marijuana is actually a cure for cancer. While much positive evidence exists, the scientific community still falls on both sides of the fence.
Few accept cannabis as a cure-all, but what much of the scientific community does agree on is that cannabis really helps patients deal with the side-effects of traditional treatments for cancer.
How to Use Cannabis to Fight Cancer
Many of us know someone who suffered from cancer at some point. Anyone undergoing traditional treatment for cannabis with chemotherapy will often experience unpleasant side effects such as nausea, pain, and a loss of appetite.
For its part, marijuana is one of the few botanical medicines that can treat all three of these associated conditions. In addition, with its anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties, it also has the unique ability to lift the patient’s mood—an aspect so often overlooked in the healing process.
But while cannabis can help with symptom control, it can also interfere with some common chemotherapy medications in the liver. This means that edibles—which are always processed through the liver—may not be the best administration method. Rather, doctors recommend bypassing the liver by vaping, smoking or by using topical patches or creams.
Why a Full Plant Extract is Always More Beneficial than Synthetic Cannabis
Several pharmaceutical solutions exist that use synthetic cannabinoids—such as the THC drug Marinol—or plant-derived combinations of THC and CBD such as Sativex from GW Pharmaceuticals.
When it comes to treating the symptoms of cancer or side effects of chemotherapy, these products are inferior to the whole plant form of cannabis. That’s because there are a whole host of compounds within the plant trichomes that include cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that all act synergistically to enhance the medicinal properties of the plant.
A study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology described this very process in great detail. It turns out that terpenes play a role in accentuating the effects of the major cannabinoids like THC or CBD and lead to more potent medicinal properties in cannabis.
Strains high in terpenes like caryophyllene, linalool, and myrcene can all help promote the pain-relieving, anti-nausea, and appetite promoting properties of cannabis, according to researchers.
Cannabis and Cell Apoptosis
Apoptosis is a natural process where the body destroys old cells as it grows. What cancer really is, is the growth of malignant cells that hide from the immune system. When they no longer recognize the body’s instructions to destroy themselves, slowly but surely, their numbers begin to increase to the point where they become problematic in the form of a full-blown tumour.
The endocannabinoid system can play an essential role in regulating this all-important process. According to some research, CBD, which indirectly stimulates the CB2 receptors in the immune system, helps inform the body that these malignant growths are detrimental to the body and promote apoptosis. From the available evidence, it seems that CBD can impair cancer development by inhibiting cancer cell reproduction.
Concentrates or Flower: Which is Best in Fighting Cancer?
Whether a patient chooses a concentrate or cured flower to treat their cancer comes down to a variety of factors. Firstly, many forms of concentrates don’t contain the full spectrum of compounds necessary for maximum medicinal benefit. With high quantities of THC, they appeal much more to recreational markets but may not provide the same medicinal kick as those that preserve the full spectrum of plant compounds.
Anyone who plans on treating their cancer with cannabis should always search out a full-spectrum concentrate. They are often much more expensive, but they provide patients with the full array of medicinal compounds in the plant. The underlying synergies between these compounds will help enhance the therapeutic and cancer-fighting benefits of the plant.
By smoking or vaporizing cured flower, patients obtain the full-spectrum of compounds, but in lower quantities. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, many patients may require significant doses to combat symptoms, and ultimate relief may lie in a more concentrated form of cannabis.
Those who grow their own cannabis, or purchase it in bulk, can easily and safely make their own extracts at home. Cannabis oils such as Rick Simpson Oil, or rosin—a solventless concentrate formed by pressing the flower with heat and pressure—are two effective and easily made forms of cannabis concentrate that will preserve the full spectrum of plant compounds.
Whichever route you choose, remember that full-spectrum is always preferable, and it’s the prolonged use of cannabis that seems to lead to cancer-fighting benefits.