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Medical Marijuana and Cancer

What Is Cancer?

General term frequently used to indicate any of various types of malignant neoplasms, most of which invade surrounding tissues, may metastasize to several sites, and are likely to recur after attempted removal and to kill the patient unless adequately treated. There are more than one hundred different types of cancer, and each type has its own set of characteristics. However, some common symptoms include persistent fatigue, pain, unintentional weight loss, fever, changes in bowel movements, and chronic cough.

Medical Treatments for Cancer and Their Side Effects

There are several intensive treatments for cancer, with three of the most common being surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Here is some information on each treatment, as well as side effects:

  • Surgery — Surgery is one of the oldest forms of cancer treatment. Not only is it used to remove cancerous tumors and tissue, it is also used to diagnose the disease and determine how far it may have spread. All medical procedures have risks, of course, but the risks with surgery can be particularly high. Complications could arise from the procedure itself, as well as the health of the patient and the types of medications used. The more invasive the procedure, the higher the risk. Side effects include tissue damage, reactions to drugs, blood clots, bleeding, severe pain, infections and several others.
  • Radiation therapy — This form of treatment uses waves or particles of concentrated energy to either damage cancer cells or destroy them completely. It is also a common method of treating the disease, and has potentially severe side effects. Fatigue is one of the most prevalent side effects, as is hair loss. Some patients lose the hair on their head, as well as eyebrows and eyelashes. The loss can be permanent. In some instances, when hair returns it is either a different texture than before or substantially thinner.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy drugs are designed to kill fast-growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, because the drugs travel throughout the body they often damage healthy, normal cells as well. Bone marrow cells that play an important role in forming blood, hair follicles and cells in the digestive tract, reproductive system and mouth are among those most commonly affected. Chemotherapy drugs can also lead to problems affecting the nervous system, kidneys, lungs, bladder and heart.

Medical Marijuana and Cancer

Millions of Americans are afflicted with cancer, the nation's second-leading cause of death. There are more than 100 types of cancer, including breast cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and lymphoma. Treatment options for cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which are often harsh and cause severe side effects.

Studies spanning more than three decades show that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for symptoms of cancer as well as the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. THC (the main chemical component in marijuana) is a natural antiemetic which has been shown to help decrease the pain associated with many types of cancer and chemotherapy agents. THC can also help battle chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV).

What’s more, recent research has shown that medical marijuana has cancer-fighting properties.According to more than eighteen major studies published between 2001 and 2003, cannabinoids have a significant effect fighting cancer cells and have also been shown to exhibit anti-tumor properties.

Marijuana and Cancer: Clinical Evidence and Research

The incidence of cancer in the general population has steadily increased along with accelerating advancements in medical technology. As people live longer, the ability for cells to faithfully copy their DNA is diminished resulting in mutations in somatic cells (everything excluding the sperm and ovum). Current research has shown that possible benefits of using medical marijuana to treat cancer and related conditions are evident in the prevention of the spread of tumors throughout the body, and in alleviating the side effects associated with chemotherapy and other aggressive drug therapy.

A number of scientific studies have looked at cannabis as an effective anti-cancer treatment, with promising results. Certain components of the cannabis plant, for example, may be able to help stop the growth of several types of cancer tumors, such as those found in liver, breast, brain and other types of cancer. They have also shown promise in helping to stimulate the death of tumor cells, a process known as apoptosis.

Although research is promising, so far it’s been limited to “preclinical” studies, which involve testing treatments or drugs in animals before they can be used on humans. This preclinical research is offering hope to many cancer patients, but a great deal more is needed. More rigorous studies must be conducted. In order for that to happen, the federal government will have to loosen the restrictions on medical marijuana research. Even though the National Cancer Institute — a program that runs on federal funds — has acknowledged that cannabis has shown the ability to kill cancer cells, the government still refuses to help researchers conduct more extensive studies into how marijuana may be able to help people fighting the disease.

Cancer and Marijuana Cannabinoids

The active molecular components in marijuana, known as the cannabinoids, are known to have neuroprotective and analgesic (pain relief) effects. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the cannabinoid that many cannabis researchers have focused on in the past several decades of studies of marijuana and cancer related ailments. However, many medical marijuana patients and physicians believe that the purified form of THC, or its synthetic counterparts are not as effective as orally consuming foods (edibles) or liquids (tincture) made with cannabis, or the smoking of the buds on the marijuana plant. It is possible that the marijuana plant’s multitude of different natural cannabinoids provide an increased therapeutic effect as opposed to a single synthetic cannabinoid.

Cannabinoids have also been researched for their possible use in cancer prevention and cancer treatment. Cancer is most notably defined by the multiplication of mutated somatic cells in the body. The mutated cells have damaged DNA that was not copied correctly during cell division. Cancer cells multiply more rapidly than normal cells and often have altered functions due to the cells’ mutated genetic code. Cannabinoids have been proven to stimulate the apoptotic pathway in cells, which is the programmed death of a cell that has acknowledged that it is no longer functioning efficiently. In this way, marijuana can actively prevent tumor growth by signaling cancerous cells to “commit suicide.” In addition, the cannabinoid receptors arrest the G1 (Growth 1) phase of the cell cycle. This ultimately prevents the cancer cell from maturing any further which would inhibit the amount of harmful toxins crated by the cancer cell.

The CB1 receptors also prevent inflammation in other parts of the body as an effect of the marijuana use with certain cancer patients suffering from inflammation. These were some of the first implications that suggested that the cannabinoid receptors activated by marijuana and cancer could help prevent cancer cell inflammation, and nerve pain associated with inflammatory response in cells.

Cancer and Marijuana Endocannabinoids

There are also endogenous (human) forms of cannabinoids, known as the endocannabinoids that occur naturally in the brain and are responsible for activating the cannabinoid 1 and cannabinoid 2 receptors (CB1 and CB2). These are a group of G-coupled protein receptors that are located within the lipid membrane of cells found all over the body. These receptors are also activated by phytocannabinoids, which are the natural cannabinoids found exclusively in the resin filled trichomes of the marijuana plant.

Oftentimes, the cancer is so prevalent that patients must take more drastic measures to treat their illness. Chemotherapy is a comprehensive drug treatment that involves targeting mutagenic cancer cells and killing them with a regimented use of a variety of synthetic drugs. However, the treatment is often accompanied by different debilitating side effects such as decreased appetite (people under harsh chemotherapy treatments often suffer from malnutrition) and nausea. The treatment can also harm normal cells and greatly weakens the immune system of the patient. The cannabinoid receptors in marijuana have been shown to be effective in preventing nausea induced by anti-cancer treatments and in stimulating appetite. Cancer patients can thus smoke marijuana to prevent nausea and stimulate appetite and avoid the wasting away that many suffer from.

Marijuana and Cancer Federal Study

The Center for Medical Cannabis Research, an organization sanctioned by state and federal oversight committees, conduct research on the possible medical applications for marijuana and cancer. A recent double-blind controlled study of smoked placebo versus smoked marijuana in patients with cancer-derived chronic peripheral neuropathic pain, found that 10 of the 16 patients they studied experienced a 30% reduction in pain after seven days of smoking cannabis. The study used a capsaicin based pain model, meaning that the pain felt from the subjects was due to heat or a burning sensation. The study not only produced invaluable data on marijuana and cancer-induced pain, it also paves a road to examining other ways in which cannabis can be used for analgesic effects.

The potential medical applications of the CB1 and CB2 receptors are growing exponentially and the appeal of using something natural over synthetic pharmaceuticals is becoming more desirable by society. The endocannabinoid system is essential to the life and death cycle of cells, proving a link between marijuana and cancer’s central operating mechanism. Cancer patients who benefit from the smoking of marijuana should not be denied the right to protect their life. The use of marijuana to treat cancer is a medical issue, to be discussed between a qualified doctor and their patient, not a legal one.

If you are looking to find relief from symptoms of cancer and/or side effects of cancer treatments with medical marijuana, can help. Book an appointment with a local, qualified physician through today. Let us help improve your quality of life!


This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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