Could cannabis be a natural cancer ´cure´?
(Chris Woollams. CANCERactive) Officialdom is quite clear: Possession of cannabis is illegal and its medicinal use restricted.
However, there is a growing number of people including cancer experts and scientists who believe that cannabis (marijuana) could be an effective treatment for cancer; some even believe cannabis has the potential to cure cancer. So what´s the truth?
As regular readers will know, we are an evidence-based charity so here we look at some of the research, although we have left aside what some people would claim is the most important research. Namely, the anecdotal stories from a not inconsiderable group of people who believe that cannabis did indeed cure their cancer.
Cannabis and medicine
The fact is that cannabis has been used in medicine as a natural remedy for centuries. That is not enough for the modern medical world that demands hard evidence of effectiveness and chooses to belittle the benefits of cannabis for lack of support. However, what I found surprised me - over 250 research studies, at least 150 appearing on PubMed. The research on the potential of cannabis is there, if you can be bothered to make the effort to look for it.
Effective use for side-effects
The US Government ´National Cancer Institute´ web site states: ´The potential benefits of medicinal Cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep. Although few relevant surveys of practice patterns exist, it appears that physicians caring for cancer patients in the United States who recommend medicinal Cannabis predominantly do so for symptom management´.
So that´s a start - it has official ´approval´ for use with side-effects.
The active ´ingredients´ of cannabis are called cannabinoids and there are 21 of them, each with distinct properties: One, tetrahydrocannabinol and termed THC, is the primary psychoactive component; others like CBD, or cannabidiol, are known to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
Research - Frankly, I found a huge amount of serious research reports with ease when conducting my review of cannabis. To say there is ´no scientific evidence to support potential benefits´, as some orthodox cancer experts would have us believe, is rubbish. Cannabinoids seem to have potential with a great many cancers.
For example, research studies have suggested that phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids may be useful in the prevention and treatment of colorectal cancer (One of many studies would be: Curr Clin Pharmacol 5 (4): 281-7, 2010).
In another study (Natl Toxicol Program Tech Rep Ser 446 (): 1-317, 1996) using THC, liver cancers and benign tumours in areas such as the breast were noted to decrease in line with dosage. Another study in vitro and in vivo related to lung cancers (Br J Pharmacol 148 (2): 123-35, 2006). In 2007 a Harvard study concluded that ´THC cuts tumour growth in common lung cancer in half, and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to grow´. The study was done in both laboratory, and mouse experiments, and researchers concluded that THC affected certain receptor sites that stimulate cancer cell growth.
Further studies, for example one reported in 2008 in Journal of Clinical Investigation, showed that THC could possibly be used to treat brain cancer as it induced glioma death in laboratory experiments. This supported a previous study by Complutense University in Madrid and the University hospital of Tenerife and published in the medical journal ´Cancer Research´ on August 15th 2004. In this study researchers showed that cannabinoids could stop the action of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) which is needed by cancer tumours to promote blood vessel growth. The research looked at glioma brain cancer, but was extended to other cancers where blood vessel growth was essential.
A great many of the studies claim that cannabinoids may cause antitumor effects by various mechanisms, including induction of cell death, inhibition of cell growth, and inhibition of tumour angiogenesis and metastasis (for example, Nat Rev Cancer 3 (10): 745-55, 2003; FASEB J 17 (3): 529-31, 2003.; Br J Pharmacol 144 (8): 1032-6, 2005) Importantly, there is much research comment that cannabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect surrounding healthy cells.
The cannabinoid CBD has no psycho-active properties but has been shown in research to relieve side effects from inflammation and anxiety, to nausea. It has been used in the treatment of schizophrenia. Research shows that this compound too has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
For example, The California Pacific Medical Research Institute looked into the use of CBD with cancer concluding that it could well be a significant and natural treatment with effect in hard-to-treat cancers. In their various studies, the researchers showed that CBD acted by blocking a gene responsible for metastases - the Id-1 gene - which is responsible for the aggressive movement of cancer cells away from a tumour site. Work has been conducted with both brain tumours and breast tumours.
Since CBD has no psycho-active properties, the research team argued that it´s use would not violate common law.
The problem is that whilst there have been over 150 peer reviewed research studies, not once has there been a serious double-blind and controlled clinical study of the type that orthodox modern medicine acknowledges. I suspect this will end. The Western world, with Government health agenies and drug companies clearly joined at both the hip and wallet will eventually be surpassed by work in other countries, entrepreneurs and patient power. Even cost considerations may encourage the reconsideration of cannabis as a cancer ´drug´.
There are already Biotech companies looking into cannabis. For example: There is one in Denver called Cannabis Science Inc claiming that ´numerous patients are reporting that Cannabis Science extract treatments are killing cancer cells´. They have a Colorado-licensed dispensary and are pursuing Clinical Trials with the FDA.
It is worth noting that a common finding in my research trawl on the pages of the more staid health bodies and charities was this: Research from New Zealand concludes that smoking cannabis is 20 times more dangerous to your health than smoking cigarettes. Indeed, many cancer charities, when you search for cannabis and cancer, actually dwell on this research over anything else even remotely suggesting benefit!
Cannabis oil, or hash oil, is a thick resinous oil extracted from cannabis or hemp. It is often the form in which the treatment is commonly undertaken by ´alternative practitioners´. It has a very high THC content (between 70 and 90 per cent). Originally solvents used were often inflammable but now recipes (which are common on the web) use solvents like extra virgin olive oil. (see the Cannabis Chef http://www.thecannabischef.com/content/cannabis-cooking-oil).
Some complementary and alternative therapists argue for the use of cannabis oil, especially in the treatment of skin cancers. It can however be taken orally, but it is still an illegal substance.
To say that ´there is no evidence that alternative therapies like cannabis will make an objective difference´ (as I heard one cancer ´expert´ say on TV) is both ignorant and misleading. This small review shows that there is research - indeed, a lot of it - all suggesting that cannabis could play a part in a programme to treat cancer. But it is true that there are no ´Clinical Trials´ of the type espoused by medical experts in the UK. But then, at last count, only 15 per cent of drugs commonly prescribed in the Western World were supported by such rigorous Clinical Trial evidence yet medical ´experts´ continue to recommend the other 85 per cent with gay abandon. Is this just a case of the kettle calling the pot, ´black´? (Sorry, I couldn´t resist it!)
Many alternative treatments are ignored because they cannot be patented, and thus could not generate profit for pharmaceutical companies. This may, or may not, be the case for marijuana; cannabis; or hemp. I have the feeling that it will not be long before Clinical Trials are conducted and cannabis joins a long list of treatments for cancer, not merely being simply useful in managing side-effects.